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Archive for December 2015

6

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 7 - The Buck Stops With The Pastor

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 7 - The Buck Stops With The Pastor

Two years ago, my wife, Angel and I put our pride, reputation and comfortable lives on the line to answer the call of God to start The Body Church in Atlanta, GA. In this blog series we highlight the top twelve lessons we learned and are still learning along the journey. For the full list of all twelve points, click the following link, "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor - Top Twelve Lessons Learned".

Today, we highlight the seventh point; "7) If you don't take personal responsibility for the success of your ministry, do not expect anyone else to do so.

For the previous point click the following link; "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 6 - People's Giving Reveals Their Hearts"

Luke 12:42-48(NLT) - And the Lord replied, “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful. “And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

Leadership is more about responsibility than it is about authority. On the most basic level, when people assign a leader to a task they make that person ultimately responsible for getting it done. When things go well, good leaders are rewarded but are still expected to share the glory with everyone else involved who helped them make it happen. On the other hand, when things go wrong, leaders are expected to take the blame for themselves. Good leaders know that they don't get to pass blame on to their team without implicating themselves. Even when it's not really their fault they can't throw other people under the bus to save themselves. This is even more pronounced when it comes to spiritual things.

The leader of The Church is Jesus Christ which makes Him ultimately responsible for His people. However, pastors are low to mid-level managers given the responsibility by Jesus to lead other servants in the local church. When things go right at a church assembly, first and foremost God gets all the glory. Once God gets the glory, everyone else who serves in the ministry deserves appreciation for the part they've played including the pastor. We should all understand that.

Running a church successfully takes a team of dedicated, selfless individuals whose hearts are submitted to The Will of The Lord. However, when things go wrong in the church, blame is not shared equally. Those who are in positions of leadership, especially the pastors are judged more strictly. People don't look around at each other when things are falling apart, they look up to the leader to do something. Not just that, if that leader is a mid-level manager like pastors are in The Body of Christ, upper management, namely Jesus Christ is looking down to that leader to take responsibility for his/ her assignment.

James 3:1(NLT) - Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.

I remember our first year as youth pastors. We planned our first youth conference at the church within a couple months and laid out the schedule for the entire team in advance. Everyone was excited. The first session took place on a Friday night. We arrived early, rehearsed all the roles and responsibilities with the team then anticipated smooth sailing through the weekend's proceedings. At 7:00 PM sharp the Friday night proceedings began. We promptly took our seats in the front and looked forward to enjoying the service with everyone else. At least, that's what we thought.

It didn't take long for things to start going wrong. I can hardly remember exactly what happened but I do remember how it felt. We just wanted to sink into our seats and pretend we were not involved. Then from across the room we could feel the eyes of our pastors. People were looking at them and they were looking at us. I remember that look because I saw it before. It's the same look my parents gave me when I had done something wrong. If a picture says a thousand words, that look said one million.

I looked at Angel, she looked at me and we both knew what we had to do. Get up and get to work. That day we learned a valuable lesson. We can't be in charge of a church department then expect to sit down and enjoy an event our department is putting on. We have to take up residence in the back of the church and quarterback the event to success. As the leaders we must take personal responsibility for our department's success. If that means running wild behind the scenes to ensure everything looks smooth to the public so be it. That's our job!

Hebrews 13:17(NLT) - Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.

This scripture is one of the main reasons why I was initially hesitant to become the pastor of a local church. Our job is to watch over the souls of the people God has assigned to us. Hence, God holds us accountable. That's why it hurts when members of our churches lose their way and walk outside of The Will of God. It's not just their problem. It's our problem. That's one reason why we pray for our members early in the morning each weekday. It's also why we don't just sing random songs for worship, preach random messages or carry out random initiatives at the church.

Everything we do at the church has a purpose. That's to ensure that the people assigned to us are successful in every area of their lives with special emphasis on the prosperity of their souls. So when people fail we feel like we fail. I remember dealing with a situation recently at my father's church where a lady at the church had lost her husband to senseless violence. As a fellow believer, I was so frustrated at seeing the pain on her face and feeling essentially powerless.

What happened to the angels who are supposed to lift us up lest we dash our foot against a stone? (Psalm 91) Why wasn't his life redeemed from destruction? (Psalm 103) Why didn't it work? The truth is that we don't know and I guess that's where the frustration came from. Pastors are supposed to have the answers. Yet, situations arise that we cannot explain. Hence, when we don't have the answers what are we supposed to say? Nothing! If people look to us and we have no idea what to do, we join them and look to God because He alone as the ultimate leader of The Church always knows what to do. In those instances we must remind ourselves and The Church that our ultimate leader will always be Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:28(NLT) - Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.

We thank God for Apostle Paul's honesty. As a man, it's hard enough to be responsible for your family. As a pastor, it's hard enough to be responsible for your local church. Yet, he was an Apostle over more churches than any of us and successfully navigated the challenges. Every Epistle was a letter to a particular church or group of churches in a region. In each letter, he addressed the issues in that church including answering the difficult questions that were posed to him. He had to hear from God to create updated spiritual guidelines which were not already clearly outlined in the scriptures.

There was no television. There was no Internet. There was no radio. There were no telephones. There was no mobile communication. There was no air-travel. He had to write letters to the churches until he could physically get there by land or sea. Now consider how he felt when he received a letter from a church about some mess going on there. What was he supposed to do? Not a whole lot. He could pray and he could write. That's about it! Well, not really. This is Apostle Paul we're talking about here. He didn't need technology. He was a spiritual giant. Our cell phones, Internet, private jets, Facebook and "Face time" have nothing on the spirit realm. Check this out!

1 Corinthians 5:1-15(NLT) -I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship. Even though I am not with you in person, I am with you in the Spirit. And as though I were there, I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.

WOW! While Paul was in Ephesus, he received a letter about some trouble in Corinth but the distance was no problem for him. He told the leaders of the church to call a meeting and both he and Jesus will show up to the meeting in the spirit. He said what? He didn't just say he would show up to the meeting he said that he was already there. Now that's some kind of Apostolic anointing. He dealt with the issues with boldness and spiritual authority. Put the man out! Paul said to hand the guy who was giving trouble over to Satan to destroy his body so his soul could be saved. That's bold!

Yes, he walked around with the daily burden of the churches on his shoulders but if he ever needed to take care of business he could handle it from wherever he was. Why? There is no time or distance in the spirit. From wherever he was in Ephesus, he passed judgment on the person in Corinth prior to the meeting and the meeting was just a formality. It was his personal responsibility to ensure that the churches he founded were successful. Therefore, he wasn't afraid to use the authority and power that Jesus gave him in the spirit to take care of his business.

Jeremiah 3:15(KJV) - And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.

Pastors don't volunteer for the job. They are called out from among the people by God. They are then given to The Church as gifts to feed His people with knowledge and understanding. That is a big responsibility and can feel like a burden sometimes but God has given us His power to do it. Jesus said in Matthew 11:30 that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. It sure is when we carry it with His power. When we don't cast our cares on The Lord (1 Peter 5:7) and decide to carry it all in our own strength we get completely worn out and feel like giving up.

Ephesians 4:8-14(NLT) - That is why the Scriptures say, "When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.” Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.

Don't take your apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for granted. We are responsible for equipping God's people to do His work and build up The Church. We have to do this until the entire church is unified in the faith and all Christians have a proper understanding of Jesus. Most importantly, our assignment ensures that all Christians mature in The Lord and become more and more like Christ. When we carry out our calling, the immaturity that allows Christians to be vulnerable to false doctrines will be broken throughout The Body of Christ. It's a high calling but God has equipped us to carry it out.

7

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 6 - People's Giving Reveals Their Hearts

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 6 - People's Giving Reveals Their Hearts

Two years ago, my wife, Angel and I put our pride, reputation and comfortable lives on the line to answer the call of God to start The Body Church in Atlanta, GA. In this blog series we highlight the top twelve lessons we learned and are still learning along the journey. For the full list of all twelve points, click the following link, "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor - Top Twelve Lessons Learned".

Today, we highlight the sixth point; "6) There's a strong correlation between the consistency of people's giving and their commitment to your ministry." For the previous point click the following link; "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 5 - Enthusiasm Is Not Commitment."

Matthew 6:19-21(NKJV) - “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Find your treasure, find your heart. One of the best ways to find out who's really for you out of everyone who is with you at your church is to check the giving records. Anybody can say they are with you but you can separate the real from the fake when you find out who is giving and who is not. Not just that, giving records allow you to see the changes in a member's attitude to your ministry. When someone with a reputation of consistent giving starts scaling back without some legitimate financial reason it's an early sign of pending trouble.

This is one lesson we did not learn until after getting it wrong. We totally missed the signs until it all blew up in our faces. At that point, we had the benefit of hindsight which is always 20-20. Even when we don't know what's going on in people's lives, their giving reveals what's in their hearts. If you value your money, you will invest your money where you see value and that's a fact. The best way to evaluate your life's priorities is to find out where you invest your time and your money. Thus, the more you invest in the ministry, the more of a priority it is to you.

2 Corinthians 8:1-5(NLT) - Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.

Let's take this discussion into another dimension as we analyse what Apostle Paul is saying in the aforementioned scripture. The churches in Macedonia were full of poor people who were also going through tough times in other areas of their lives. However, they were full of joy and extremely generous. Their giving was completely voluntary and not in response to any pressure or gimmicks. In fact, they insisted on giving more and more even when it appeared that Apostle Paul wanted them to take it easy.

They outdid themselves and didn't use their financial state as an excuse. Why? Before they gave the little money they had, they gave themselves both to The Lord and to Paul's ministry team. Think about it. That's the proper order. Once they had given themselves to God and the ministry first, their money came along for the ride. It didn't matter that they were poor. It didn't matter that they were in the middle of difficult times. Nothing could stop them from giving their money because they had already given their hearts. There was no struggle to give what was essentially already given.

As a result, we can safely conclude that giving money is not just about the actual money. It's about giving your heart. Your money is a tool used for expressing what's in your heart. We know you've given your heart to The Lord and to us, when we see you giving your money. Why? Whoever or whatever has your heart, has your money. How much you give, how often you give and how you give reveals what's on the inside of your heart. Like the Macedonians, when you've given yourself first to The Lord and to the ministry, you will give lavishly, frequently and with joy.

1 Corinthians 9:7-18(NLT) - What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. Since we have planted spiritual seed among you, aren’t we entitled to a harvest of physical food and drink? If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ. Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. Yet I have never used any of these rights. And I am not writing this to suggest that I want to start now. In fact, I would rather die than lose my right to boast about preaching without charge. Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News! If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust. What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News.

All preachers want is your money! Right? You should only give if you know how they plan to use it. Right? You should only give if all the money went to the poor? Right? WRONG! Have you ever heard any of that before or have you even thought or said it? Apostle Paul really set the church straight and we're so happy he did. He was willing to preach for free and work on the side just so that nobody would confuse his desire to preach the gospel with greediness for money.

I completely understand where he's coming from and applaud many pastors I know who work hard on the side developing multiple streams of income. These are great men and women of God who don't have to do that but choose to do so due to the sometimes toxic atmosphere that exists around the topic of money in church. People who don't have a heart for the ministry always struggle to give because their heart is elsewhere. It also pains them to know that the pastor might benefit in some way from their money.

I've confronted people over the years concerning their giving in church long before I became a pastor. I did it with a clear conscience because I understand the principle. We don't make the rules, we just remind people of their existence. Everyone has to give including us for the spiritual flow to be smooth in the church. We give our time. We give our money. We give spiritual food. We give everything we have. I know pastors who took furniture from their homes and brought it to the church so that the church would have furniture.

I know of pastors' wives who work at the church for little to nothing while the pastor works another job to support the family. Come on! May God bless them 100 fold in this time and with eternal life in the time to come. The giving in the church can't pay their salary so what are they supposed to do? They gave themselves to The Lord first and then to their church so even if they had to sacrifice to make things work, they would do it with joy.

Your giving to The Lord through the local church or the ministers you support around the world is about you and God. It is not about the preachers and if you make it about the preachers you are completely misled. When you understand the concept of spiritual exchange, you will understand that God put the principle of giving in place. It exists so that you will have a way to respond when you receive spiritual food. It exists so that you will benefit from The Anointing that's on the person you give to. Therefore, once again, it's true that if you value The Anointing on the pastor and the ministry, you will give with joy.

2 Corinthians 9:1-15(NLT) - I really don’t need to write to you about this ministry of giving for the believers in Jerusalem. For I know how eager you are to help, and I have been boasting to the churches in Macedonia that you in Greece were ready to send an offering a year ago. In fact, it was your enthusiasm that stirred up many of the Macedonian believers to begin giving. But I am sending these brothers to be sure you really are ready, as I have been telling them, and that your money is all collected. I don’t want to be wrong in my boasting about you. We would be embarrassed—not to mention your own embarrassment—if some Macedonian believers came with me and found that you weren’t ready after all I had told them! So I thought I should send these brothers ahead of me to make sure the gift you promised is ready. But I want it to be a willing gift, not one given grudgingly. Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God. As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!

There's no better way to end this point than with 2 Corinthians 9. Do you know that one of the hallmarks of the early church was their giving? I don't hear many people talk about that. We talk about the miracles. We talk about their sense of community. We talk about their passion for The Lord. We talk about their prayer. However, we also need to talk about their giving because they worked hard to out-give each other. The Macedonians were big givers but the Grecian church would not be left in the dust. Apostle Paul challenged the churches to give to support the ministry as he traveled around and they responded.

It pays to give and it pays to give with joy. As leaders in The Body of Christ our job is to challenge people with The Word of God and then let God's people respond. His Word says that He will reward and multiply everything you give. He will also provide all of your needs. He considers your financial offerings as seed and intends to multiply them and return to you a harvest. Also, when you give it causes those who receive to praise The Lord. It's a win, win, win. Nobody loses.

Join us next time for the next point;

7) If you don't take personal responsibility for the success of your ministry, do not expect anyone else to do so.

5

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 5 - Enthusiasm Is Not Commitment

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 5 - Enthusiasm Is Not Commitment

Two years ago, my wife, Angel and I put our pride, reputation and comfortable lives on the line to answer the call of God to start The Body Church in Atlanta, GA. In this blog series we highlight the top twelve lessons we learned and are still learning along the journey. For the full list of all twelve points, click the following link, "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor - Top Twelve Lessons Learned".

Today, we highlight the fifth point; "5) When people act "over the top" eager about your church when they first show up, don't assume they'll stay long or even show up again." For the previous point click the following link; "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 4 - You know more about being a pastor when you're not an actual pastor."

Enthusiastic Visitor: Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! I absolutely love your church! I've been looking for a place like this for so long. This is what I've been praying for. You guys are so awesome. I can feel the love in the air. Hallelujah! (Sobbing) I.... I... am... finally... home. I... have... found my church. My search is over. I just love this place. Pastor, whatever you need I will do it. I have the heart of a servant and don't believe in just sitting in a church. I am ready to work. You have a soldier on your side. When I say I'm with someone I mean it. Let's do this!

Pastor: Well, Praise The Lord! (Overjoyed) He has answered our prayer. We have the person we've been praying for. Hallelujah! What a mighty God we serve. We can start putting things in place. After we do some planning this week let's talk some more about it when we see you at church next week.

One week later.... Enthusiastic visitor does not show up at church.

Two weeks later.... No sign of enthusiastic visitor.

Three.. four... five.. weeks... months... years. No sign of enthusiastic visitor. 🙁

Matthew 5:37(NKJV) - But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

Jesus could not be more direct. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Just say what you mean and mean what you say. Don't lie to people even if you think it will make them feel better. Don't swear to God. Don't promise. Don't do anything extra. Don't pretend. Just express your true intentions or say nothing at all. That's the example God set for us. If He says something He means it. Actually, that's the foundation of our faith because faith comes by hearing and hearing by The Word of God. (Romans 10:17) If we can't trust that God will follow up on His Word, we're done.

Isaiah 55:10-11(NKJV) - “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

As you can clearly see, God's Word is guaranteed. Sadly, it took us much too long to realize that very few people even try to live up to this standard. People have come to our church, looked us in our eyes and say they are with us but then completely disappear off the face of the earth. We have heard it all and initially we believed every one of them. We were gullible because we trusted the sincerity in their eyes. If everyone who said they would be back actually showed up we would need to have multiple services. We would have absolutely no room to hold them all.

It's unfortunate but true that many people, including those in The Church, don't give high value to their words. They can say something and not follow through without feeling an overwhelming sense of conviction. I don't know how they do it. If I tell you I'll do something I feel horrible if I don't. My words have been given power by God so I don't make declarations that I don't believe or promises I can't fulfill. I rather just tell you the truth even if it offends you, say nothing or delay my decision until I am sure. Those are my three options. Lying is not one of them. I won't say I'm with you if I know I'm not. Fortunately, Jesus shared in our experiences.

Luke 9:57-62(NLT) - As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

"Jesus, we love you so much. We'll follow you anywhere you go. If you can use any thing Lord you can use me." Does that sound familiar? That's what people told Jesus when He walked the earth and that's what many of us tell Him now. However, even though that's what we say, what we mean might be slightly different. That explains why Jesus never got carried away with people's enthusiasm about following Him. He made it clear that the path He walked was not the convenient path and there was a high price for anyone who chose to walk it with Him.

John 2:23-25(NLT) - Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

Jesus had the distinct advantage of knowing people's hearts. As a result, nobody flattered Him. He knew why people wanted to follow Him and why the numbers swelled after He performed great miracles. That's why He didn't trust them. He knew human nature. Many of those people wanted to be entertained by the show He was putting on while others just wanted to see what He would do for them. So if Jesus had a problem finding committed people who wanted to be with Him just for who He was and not for what He could do, why would it be any different for us?

We're in a new generation with new ideals, mindsets and standards. However, they're not really new. They existed in the time of Jesus. It's just that we see it so much more now. Many people are free spirits. They consider themselves to be free agents that can be part of The Church as a global body without committing to a local church family. They can show up anywhere on any given Sunday, support any ministry and do anything, anytime in any way. It feels like bondage to be tied down. They don't want to commit. They don't want to settle. Even if they commit, they don't want to give their all to grow their local church community.

Honestly, there's a bigger problem than merely a lack of true commitment to church membership. Many people struggle with commitment as a whole. It's hard to commit to marriage, family, career, working out, eating right or anything else that's good. It doesn't matter what it is. Commitment is a challenge and being enthusiastic for a short time doesn't compensate for a lack of commitment. Think about the upcoming new year. How many of us are going to make promises to ourselves that we won't keep? This year I'm going to.... Yeah, right. Did you keep your promise last year?

With all that being said, what makes someone truly committed to a local church community? We're not talking about what makes someone like a church or enjoy being at a church. That's not commitment because as soon as you don't like it anymore or you don't enjoy it, you're no longer committed. We're also not talking about what The Church needs to do to get someone to be committed. Commitment is a personal decision. I can't make you be committed and you can't make me be committed. If what we do causes you to commit, your commitment is temporary because if we ever stop doing it, you'll be gone. For The Bible's position on why you should be committed to a local church, read the following blog, "Ask Donnell: If we're the church must we still go to church?"

What does it take for a Christian to be committed to The Body of Christ through the local church? Thankfully, we can find a very comprehensive answer to that question in the scriptures.

What Empowers A Christian To Be Truly Committed To A Local Church Community?

1) Personally Commit To The Lord First Then To The Ministry

2 Corinthians 8:1-5(NKJV) - Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.

The Macedonian Church had such an unusual commitment to the ministry of Apostle Paul that he highlighted it in 2 Corinthians 8. They were poor but in spite of their poverty they gave more than every other church in the area. So what was their secret? They first gave themselves to The Lord, then to the ministry by The Will of God. Pay close attention to that statement because it's loaded. They carried out God's Will by giving their all to God first. It was that initial commitment which enabled them to then be committed to supporting the ministry led by Apostle Paul.

When you give yourself over to The Lord, you will do His Will and it is His Will that you commit to a local church. It doesn't have to be our local church but you have to commit somewhere. As a result, "church hopping" for an extended period of time without any intention or desire to commit is direct evidence that an individual has not given themselves wholly over to The Lord. You can't say I'm committed to Christ but you are not committed to The Body of Christ. You also can't say you're committed to The Body of Christ and you are not positioned where God has placed you in His Body. This leads us to the next point.

2) Understand and Accept How God Builds and Structures The Church

1 Corinthians 12:12-18(NLT) - The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.

Just like the human body, God puts each part where He wants it. He has a very specific plan for The Body of Christ and very meticulously places people where they need to be to carry out His Will. If you are not where God has placed you, you are not in God's Will. The people who have shown the highest level of commitment are those who were directed by God to be with us. It's alright if God sends you somewhere else because that's where you're supposed to be. However, it's easy to jump from ministry to ministry when you're not sure where God has put you. Just like it's strange for a part of your body to be attached to the wrong place, it's strange for a Christian to be out of place in The Body of Christ.

When you understand this very simple principle of Church structure you will understand why every person must commit to a local church community. In fact, that's one of the most important decisions you will ever make in your life. It's one you don't want to get wrong because not only does it affect you but it affects the entire body. If your heart was growing out of your foot, your entire body will have a problem. Hopefully, you get the point with that one which leads us to the next point.

3) Count The Cost Before You Commit

Luke 14:25-33(NKJV) - Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

Jesus made sure that everyone knew the price they had to pay to follow Him even if that meant He would lose followers as a result. When we commit to Jesus we commit for eternity so it's not a decision we take lightly. He doesn't want temporary followers. He wants those who will be with Him all the way to the end. Therefore, He doesn't expect us to make a snap decision concerning Him. He wants us to think it through, prepare our hearts to pay the price then broadcast our decision.

We have a beautiful family of five at our church who have been with us since the beginning. The father is a deacon, the mother is an elder and the oldest son is an usher. In addition to their leadership roles in the church, each parent is a successful business owner. They are blessed in every way and God continues to increase them mightily. They are an example of commitment and dedication to both The Lord and the ministry.

What's important to note is that they took their time before making the decision to join The Body Church. They were not over the top at the beginning. They were sober, patient and thoughtful. They understood their family's needs and the available resources at what was their current church home at the time. They also understood that as a new ministry, at that point, we could not offer the programs and ancillary ministries other established churches could offer. They took their time and sought The Lord. They counted the cost of their decision then one day, they made the decision to commit to our local church community. The rest is now history in the making.

What's the difference between that family and the scores of others who showed up to church with eagerness and excitement? They counted the cost before they made the commitment. People who show up and in one day act like they could dedicate the rest of their lives to you have not counted the cost of their decision. The same way you don't get married at first sight, you don't commit to a church in an instant. You think about your decision, you weigh the options, you hear from God then you commit. That way, you won't change your mind after a few days, weeks, months or even years.

Luke 22:31-34(NKJV) - And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”

Don't be so quick to say you're ready to go to the ends of the earth with someone. Peter did it and Jesus didn't trust Him with good reason. As we saw earlier in John 2:23-25 Jesus didn't trust anybody on the earth because He understood human nature. When people are emotionally charged they say more than they need to say. Peter was excited about Jesus but at that point he didn't understand the cost of following Him. His heart was in the right place but he just wasn't ready yet.

Biblical Examples of True Commitment

1) Elisha and Elijah

2 Kings 2:1-15(NKJV) - And it came to pass, when the Lord was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they went down to Bethel. Now the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent!” Then Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they came to Jericho. Now the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” So he answered, “Yes, I know; keep silent!” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So the two of them went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood facing them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over. Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him.

If you want to see commitment modeled in The Bible look no further than this example. Elisha would not leave Elijah even though Elijah tried to get rid of him. Elisha understood that God had assigned him to Elijah and if he left Elijah, he would leave The Will of God for his life. That's how important it is for people to know not just where they have been called to but also who they have been called to. It's because of Elisha's commitment to Elijah that he was able to receive a double portion of The Anointing.

Consider this. What if The Anointing God has for you is connected to the ministry or person God has called you to? Many people do understand that so they flock to ministries where they see the greatest display of The Anointing. That's great but attending a church does not automatically turn into a transfer of The Anointing. As a result, even if you choose to go somewhere that has the power of God on display that doesn't mean you'll walk in that power. Elisha was committed to Elijah. He served Elijah. He cared for Elijah. He didn't just watch Elijah do the work of The Lord, he helped Elijah do it. Then, when the time was right, he received twice Elijah's anointing.

2) Ruth and Naomi

Ruth 1:6-18(NLT) - Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah. But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept. “No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.” But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.” And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.” But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.

Do you want to know why there is no Book of Orpah in The Bible? She left Naomi. When Naomi had nothing left to offer and sent Ruth and Orpah away, only Orpah left. Now, Ruth is a part of church history forever as one who is in the lineage of Jesus while Orpah is only mentioned as part of Ruth's story. That is how God operates. It's totally contrary to what we see around us. People make emotional decisions to join and leave churches every week while God expects us to think about our decision, then stick with it.

Even when Naomi had nothing to offer, Ruth stuck with her. It was Ruth's commitment to her broke, depressed, frustrated mother-in-law that led to her meeting Boaz and her name becoming synonymous with God's restorative power. How many of us can commit to a ministry even in the tough times? What if you don't like everything that's going on? What if all of your needs aren't being met the way you want them to be met for a season at your church? Are you willing to ride through the challenging times at your church until God manifests His blessing to you the way He did for Ruth?

Acts 15:36-41(NLT) - After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.

When John Mark abandoned Apostle Paul in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13) it hurt him deeply because they had built a history of ministry together. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas started their ministry together and they took John Mark along with them as an assistant on their first trip. From that point on, John Mark continued travelling from town to town with them. Hence, when John Mark suddenly left in the middle of their journeys Paul was effectively done with him.

The next time Barnabas brought up John Mark's name as a potential ministry partner Paul was having none of it. In fact, Paul would not back down and was willing to move on without Barnabas because he insisted on including John Mark. Barnabas left Paul that day to team up with John Mark and that was the last we heard of both Barnabas and John Mark. Paul, on the other hand simply changed partners and continued to make history with Silas.

Apostle Paul would not partner with John Mark because of his lack of commitment to the ministry and that's an example for all of us. Initial excitement doesn't matter. Short term enthusiasm doesn't matter. Emotional declarations of love don't matter. Just show up and keep showing up. Let's start there. Once you're consistently showing up make the decision to stay for the long haul. Once you make the decision, commit to it. The Church of Jesus Christ can't be built with people who are here today and gone tomorrow. It is built with committed people.

We hope this blog series is enlightening and informative. Next time we'll discuss Point 6) There's a strong correlation between the consistency of people's giving and their commitment to your ministry.

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Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 4 - You "Know" More Before You Start Than After!

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 4 - You "Know" More Before You Start The Church

Two years ago, my wife, Angel and I put our pride, reputation and comfortable lives on the line to answer the call of God to start The Body Church in Atlanta, GA. In this blog series we highlight the top twelve lessons we learned and are still learning along the journey. For the full list of all twelve points, click the following link, "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor - Top Twelve Lessons Learned". Today, we are highlighting the fourth point; "4) You know more about being a pastor when you're not an actual pastor." For the previous point click the following link; "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 3 - You Can't Technically "Start" A Megachurch"

I once heard a pastor joke that he knew the best way to solve everyone's problems in the room. It's simple; everyone switch problems with the person next to you. 🙂 He did have a point that we will address today. We always seem to know what someone else should be doing to solve their own problems instead of solving our own.

When I wasn't a pastor, I could come up with so many solutions for the pastor of my church. I always knew ways he could have done things better. I knew more about pastoring than he did. Of course, that's until I became an actual pastor. At that point I discovered that I knew nothing. In fact, I probably know even less now.

On another note, we constantly meet people just like us who have all the answers to what we need to do for our ministry to be successful. "All you guys need to do is this and your church will be successful. All you need to do is that and the church will grow." It's really easy to volunteer answers off the cuff when it's not your problem because your answer does not have to actually work. Everyone has the secret for someone else's success but can't seem to find the secret for their own.

Single people know what married people need to do to have successful marriages. Poor people know what rich people should do with their money. People who don't have children have the best parenting advice for those who do. Seriously, let's all switch problems so we can eliminate them all. If I wasn't a pastor and I was talking to myself I would probably know exactly what I need to do. However, now that I'm a pastor I don't have the answers anymore. Now, I actually have to trust God which is a strange concept when you think you can figure everything out.

Romans 10:2(NKJV) - For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

From our vantage point in the pews we all know how to run the church. I understood it all as I sat and watched someone else do it. Being a pastor was a breeze I thought. I knew exactly what I was going to do and when I got my chance I would do it better than every pastor I knew. I was ready or at least, I thought I was. Church planting here we come. I had my five point plan for church growth. I knew how to choose leaders. I could raise funds for any project we needed. I had a plan for everything.

I thought that once God called us to do something and He anointed us to do it, things would just work out. Well, not exactly. Everything changed when it was time to start and things didn't work as easily as we thought it would. We had a zeal for God but not much knowledge about the reality of pastoring a church in Atlanta. It's not that we didn't have information but the information didn't work the way we thought it would. Some theories look great on paper but they are only proven when applied in real life.

Ephesians 4:11-15(NLT) - Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

The Lord now has us on a journey through Ephesians 4:11-15 as He brings understanding of the basic responsibilities of the fivefold ministry gifts including pastors. This is what He called us to do and this is where our focus lies. We had to let go of our preconceived notions about pastoring and learn the basics once we got started. We must equip God's people to do His work and build up The Church. We must continue until there is true unity in the faith, everyone knows who Jesus is and people become spiritually mature. That in a nutshell is what God has called us to do.

Jeremiah 3:15-16(KJV) - And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.

In the process of carrying out God's call to be pastors, we must continue to feed people with knowledge and understanding. We knew so much more before we started but once we started we had to learn the basics. The truth is that things are so much simpler now. We're not called to be experts, we're just called to do God's Will and that's all we need to do. Starting the church was the best decision we could have ever made. We love being pastors and we love the people we have at The Body Church. Regardless of the challenges, we'll never regret the decision to say yes when we heard God's call.

Proverbs 3:5,6(KJV) - Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Starting this church has taught us how to trust God all over again. We don't know what will work anymore other than what God shows us. We ran out of smart ideas and just had to sit before God and wait to hear His directions. I do thank God for my parents, Apostles Emanuel and Jemma Duncan because several times The Lord has used them to speak to us.

They went through this process successfully a long time ago. They now guide and encourage us along the way. We knew it wasn't going to be easy but we thought we would be able to figure it out. Well, there's no figuring out what can't be figured out. There's only trusting The Lord for direction. The only other option is failure and that's not an option for us.

See you next time for "Point 5) When people act "over the top" eager about your church when they first show up, don't assume they'll stay long or even show up again."

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Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 3 - You Can't Technically "Start" A Megachurch

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: You Can't Technically "Start" A Megachurch

Two years ago, my wife, Angel and I put our pride, reputation and comfortable lives on the line to start The Body Church in Atlanta, GA. In this blog series we highlight the top twelve lessons we learned and are still learning along the journey. For the full list of all twelve points, click the following link, "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor - Top Twelve Lessons Learned".

Today, we are highlighting the third point; "3) If you're starting from the ground up and your only example of church is a mega-church you will get your feelings hurt.". For the previous point click the following link; "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Did God Really Say Leave The Church?"

My church is huuuuge (with Donald Trump's voice). It's huuuuge. We take up an entire block. We don't have a church building we have a church campus. We're so big that there are people I go to church with each week that I have never even seen. We're so big that when we turn the pages of our Bibles together it sounds like waves in the ocean. In fact, our church choir is the size of a small congregation and our children's ministry building is bigger than the entire church up the street. We have 50,000 people on 50 campuses in 50 states. We're huuuuge.

In the USA, there is an obsession with size. Bigger is assumed to be better. We want bigger houses, bigger trucks, bigger corporations, bigger portions of food. We don't want a large #5 at the fast food joint, we want it super-sized. So it logically follows that the same attitude has entered the church. Swelling with pride, we say, "my church is bigger than yours" with the unspoken message being, "hence, my church is better than yours". Whether or not bigger is better doesn't really matter right now because that's not what this discussion is about. Regardless, that mindset is everywhere.

Acts 2:40-47(NLT) - Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Wow! I can see this in my dreams. The Holy Ghost falls on us in a room, we talk in tongues, then I stand and deliver the message of my life. In response, 3000 people get saved on the spot. From that point on, our church continues to grow as a community with frequent signs and wonders while God keeps adding people to the community daily. I would love to say that's the story of The Body Church but it's not. That's the story of the early church led by Apostle Peter. Perhaps, it's the story of Billy Graham, Benny Hinn or Reinhard Bonnke but definitely not our own. Anyway, back to earth now.

Today, we are talking about being young, naive and starting a church with unrealistic expectations. Welcome to reality. I sat in an Atlanta megachurch for about twelve years and completely lost touch with the real world. There were times when I sat transfixed by what looked like complete perfection in motion before my eyes; thousands of people in attendance, a perfect choir, a perfect worship team, perfect band, a perfect sermon, perfect media presentations, perfect drama team, intercessory team, men's ministry, women's ministry, youth ministry, security, parking attendants and the list goes on and on.

There were moments when I lost my mind and thought that when I started a church it would be just like that. That's about as unrealistic as expecting parents thinking that when their son is born he would be a 6 ft tall, 200 lb professional athlete. Impossible. The only way you can start a church with all the pieces together is if those pieces come directly out of someone else's church. Hence, you're not really starting a church, you're taking a piece of another church and transplanting it elsewhere under a different name.

That's a church transplant and only a few people get that opportunity. Believe me, if you get the opportunity to start like that, take it because you don't want the stress of starting from scratch if you don't have to. If we could have inherited a team of mature, faithful, consistent, dedicated Christians from someone else's church we would have gladly taken them. Nonetheless, let's now focus on what we've experienced stepping out on our own and what's a much more likely scenario for the average young pastor in a similar situation.

Zechariah 4:10a(NLT) - Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin...

You're probably going to start small like we did. Perhaps, not as small but definitely small in comparison to the mature churches you've seen or modeled yourself after. However, don't despise your small beginnings because God rejoices to see the work begin. With small beginnings come big responsibility. I've had to sing, play the keyboard, beat drums, clean, set up, break down, run the projector, run the video camera, etc, etc and oh yeah, preach a little here and there. Until someone was willing to take my place, I had to do it.

Unfortunately, the toughest part of the whole thing is not being able to execute church on the level that you desire which comes from not being very good at certain things and having no choice but to do it. Nobody feels worse about something in a church service not being at the highest level of excellence than we do.

After watching such excellence at the megachurch I attended for so many years, my dream was to operate on the same level. Yet, here we are, two years in and we're not there yet and that's sometimes very hard to deal with. We have had to prioritize and ask ourselves the question, "What must a church have?" Once we found the answer we had to focus only on that. The rest will come later.

People want perfect churches and I get that because megachurches have it all. They want flawless worship bands, top of the line children's ministry, high profile guest speakers and gospel artistes, smiling greeters, excellent ushers, dance ministry, pantomime ministry, single mother's ministry, legal ministry, jail ministry, free ministry, street ministry and the list goes on. Well, we want the same thing too. We're just not there yet. In fact, we're not even close. If we knew the formula for growing the church quickly we would have used it. Yet, the truth about growth is contained in the following passage.

1 Corinthians 3:5-8(NKJV) - Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

After trying everything we knew and failing miserably, we've finally settled in our hearts that we cannot make the church grow. We can sow The Word, love people, advertise, invite people, pray, make confessions, connect on a personal level, prophesy, do personal ministry and participate in outreach. We can water with encouragement, Godly counsel, follow up, support and accountability.

The one thing we cannot do is bring the increase. That's God's job. We have to let Him do what He does the way He chooses to. We pray for The Lord to send us the people we need. We ask the people we know to help. We advertise and put ourselves out there. Yet, all we're really doing is sowing and watering. God and God alone will bring the increase.

Job 8:7(KJV) - Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase.

We receive that Word like it was directed to us. The end of our story will be bigger and better than the beginning. We don't expect it to be quick nor dramatic. We just expect it to be done right and the right way is God's way. If He makes it quick and dramatic then we'll take it. If He takes us through this process for a long time as He builds our character and establishes the church's structure so we can handle the increase we'll take that too.

Maybe you're in a similar situation where you started something and it's small right now. Don't let the lack of size frustrate you because beginnings are supposed to be small. Since God is no respecter of persons, follow His directions and expect Him to greatly increase it. I thank God for the time we spent at Christ United Church prior to starting The Body Church. They gave us a much more realistic perspective of starting a church and helped us to be better prepared for the small beginning. See you next time for; "Point 4) You know more about being a pastor when you're not an actual pastor."

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Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Did God Really Say Leave The Church?

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Did God Really Say Leave The Church?

Two years ago, my wife, Angel and I put our pride, reputation and comfortable lives on the line to start The Body Church in Atlanta, GA. In this blog series we highlight the top twelve lessons we learned and are still learning along the journey. For the full list of all twelve points, click the following link, "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor - Top Twelve Lessons Learned". Today, we are highlighting the second point, "Some people need to hear from The Lord to join your church but don't need to hear from The Lord to leave."

Setting: Local grocery store.

Circumstance: Awkward run-in between local pastor and a member who's been M.I.A. (Missing In Action) for some time.

Pastor: "Hey, how have you been? Is everything alright? We haven't seen you at church in a while?"

M.I.A. Member: "Hey pastor. I didn't expect to run into you out here. Umm... well.. I heard The Lord saying that it's time for me to leave your church."

Pastor: "Did He also tell you not to let us know you were leaving?"

.......silence.........

Exodus 20:7(NLT) - “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

This story can have two alternate endings. One is what we will call the "Acts 5" ending which comes out of Acts 5:1-11 and goes something like this.

Alternate Ending #1

Pastor: "Why do you think it's okay to lie to The Holy Spirit? Why would you misuse God's name and say He told you to leave when you know He did not?"

.....Thud!... Member hits the ground... THE END!

Alternate Ending #2

M.I.A. Member: "Pastor, to be honest I just chose to leave. I was offended by some things that took place and didn't want to be there anymore. My family's needs also weren't being met."

Pastor: "Oh really? Well I appreciate your honesty. If you want to talk about it now, I'm all ears. If not, just let me know and we can make an appointment."

M.I.A. Member: "OK! Thanks."

..To be continued....

People in church know that if they say that The Lord said something there's no way to dispute them. Even as a pastor, the last thing any of us ever want to do is contradict God's instructions. However, isn't it a coincidence that God's instructions to leave a church many times coincide with our desire to do so also? How is it that when we really want to leave it's easier for many of us to hear God's Voice saying leave instead of His Voice saying stay. At those times of agreement, it's interesting how His Voice tends to sound allot like our own as He says exactly what we want to hear.

1 Corinthians 12:12-18(NLT) - The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.

Do you understand the analogy of The Church as The Body of Christ? Today, we're going to focus on 1 Corinthians 12:18 which states that God has put each part just where He wants it. What does that mean? If you're a part of The Body of Christ, God has a place for you and if He puts you there that is where He wants you to be.

If you choose on your own to leave your place in The Body of Christ and go somewhere else, it would be the same as a part of your body leaving where it is and reattaching somewhere else. In other words, not only is it a problem for you when you are out of place. It's a problem for the entire body. Hence, if you know God has put you somewhere it would behoove you to stay right there until He puts you somewhere else.

Ephesians 4:15-16(NKJV) - but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

How do you know God put you in a church?

1) You fit. - The same way each part of your body fits into the space where it is attached, so it is with The Body of Christ. There is a specific space in The Body of Christ for each person. If you don't fit where you are, perhaps God didn't place you there. You will know when you're in the right place because you will feel like you fit.

2) You function. - Another reason why each body part fits in a certain location is because that is where it functions at its best. If your hand grew anywhere else in your body it wouldn't be in the best place for it to function. In the same way, when you find the place you fit in The Body of Christ you will be able to function at your absolute best.

So if you're sitting in a church for years and can't use the gifts and talents God has given you there, stop wasting your life and find the place where you're supposed to use them. There's a church up the street fasting and praying for The Lord to send you there. In the same way, don't say God told you to leave a place where you function in your gifts and go somewhere where you cannot.

3) You feed. - People in a church don't only feed off The Word of God they get from the pastor, they feed off each other. Every joint supplies something to The Body and when every part does its share, we all grow. That's what church is about. When you're in the right place, you will feed off The Word, The Anointing and The Love from those around you.

What's the best sign that you're receiving good spiritual food? Spiritual growth. Regardless of your level of spiritual maturity, if you're in the right church you'll keep growing. You should be a better Christian this year than you were last year. In the right church, you will always be challenged to be better. As a result, don't get offended and leave the right church for you because you've been challenged. Remember, that's a good thing.

It's true that God sometimes tells you to leave a place and go somewhere else. That's not at issue here. What is at issue is when He does not and you claim that He does. That's never good. It was your decision. Don't bring The Lord into that. Now let's see one way this can be done right.

Acts 16:6-10(NKJV) - Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Sometimes God directs you the way He did Paul and Silas. He tells you not to go to certain places and calls you to somewhere else. In Paul's case, God responded to the prayer of someone in Macedonia and took Paul away from where he was and sent him there. Perhaps, there are people in a church praying for you to come help them. Listen to the Voice of God, get up from where you are and go help those people. Don't go where you want to go but go where God sends you because if He sends you somewhere, you have an assignment to carry out there. God knows how to direct people so there's no need to make stuff up and attach His name to it just wait for His direction.

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Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor - Top Twelve Lessons Learned

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor

James 3:1(NKJV) - My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

Aaahh church life. There's nothing like it. I turned 36 on Sunday, December 5th and can't help but reminisce on 36 years and 9 months of life in the church. That's right. I didn't just grow up in church. I was in there before I was even born. So over the years I've seen all kinds of interesting things within the hallowed halls of the church building.

However, none of those experiences could have prepared me for the experience I've received in the last two years since starting The Body Church in Atlanta with my wife, Angel. Thankfully, The Lord has been with us throughout the entire process and now you can too. In this new blog series we will share the valuable lessons we have been learning throughout this journey starting with the top twelve.

Top Twelve Lessons Learned From Starting A Church

1) Some people are with you until you correct or offend them.

2) Some people need to hear from The Lord to join your church but don't need to hear from The Lord to leave.

3) If you're starting from the ground up and your only example of church is a mega-church you will get your feelings hurt.

4) You know more about being a pastor when you're not an actual pastor.

5) When people act "over the top" eager about your church when they first show up, don't assume they'll stay long or even show up again.

6) There's a strong correlation between the consistency of people's giving and their commitment to your ministry.

7) If you don't take personal responsibility for the success of your ministry, do not expect anyone else to do so.

8) Some people will think your ministry is awesome, just for someone else.

9) If you're not sure that The Lord called you to be a pastor, quit now because you'll eventually do it anyway.

10) The easiest part of being a pastor is preaching. If that's all you want to do, preach on the street. It's less stressful.

11) Be careful who you trust. You will be shocked at who might be smiling in your face and talking behind your back.

12) Many people choose a church for what they can get from the church instead of what they can give.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is just the beginning. We are going to address each of these top twelve in detail in the coming weeks and you are going to love it. Why? Because you know it's the truth and it's about time that someone said it. Let's start with Lesson 1 today.

1) Some people are with you until you correct or offend them.

John 6:60-69(NLT) - Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God. ”

When Jesus taught parables, worked miracles, kissed babies, showed mercy to sinners and challenged the religious elite, He was popular. People were excited to be His followers and they believed He was The Messiah. They loved to eat the bread and fish that He multiplied. They lined up to receive their healing. They sat at His feet and loved every Word He said. He was everything they dreamed of. That was, until He offended them. Then all but the twelve disciples left Him because they could not accept what He had to say.

How do we know they left Jesus because they were offended? That's what Jesus said. "Does this offend you?" He asked. As a young pastor, I learned this lesson early and often. Some people are with you until you say something that offends them and instead of seeking to understand what you said or why you said it, they just leave. What's unfortunate is that the disciples who left Jesus let offense rob them of words that were Spirit and Life. That was their loss.

When Jesus noticed that those other disciples were becoming offended He shared some words of wisdom that should inform all of us.

a) If those simple words offended them, they could expect to be offended even more in the future.

b) Those were not merely human words, those were the life giving, spirit-filled Words of God and some still would not believe.

c) The deserters were free to go because the only people who were meant to be with Jesus were the ones assigned to Him by The Father.

What does that mean for us?

a) If people are offended by something we say today, don't think this will be the only time those people would be offended. You will be like a dog chasing his tail if you try to avoid offending them in the future.

b) Even when you give people The Word of God that doesn't mean they will believe it.

c) When people leave as a result of offense let them go. The only people meant to be with you are the people God assigns to you anyway.

Now pay close attention to the response Jesus received from The Twelve Disciples when He asked if they too would desert Him. Peter stood up and said three things;

a) To whom shall we go.

b) You have the Words of Life.

c) We know that You are The One God sent.

What does that mean to us?

a) People who belong to your church know that they are supposed to be there and can't go anywhere else. They understand that God sent them there and they can't just walk away when they are offended by The Word of God that you deliver. On the other hand, those people who believe they have options should go now because they are not called by God to be with you and will probably eventually leave anyway.

b) People who are supposed to be with you know the value of what you're saying. They can tell it's The Word of God and accept it as it is. They understand that you won't say anything that God didn't put on your heart. People who don't belong to your church think your messages are your opinion and everyone's entitled to their own.

c) People who belong to your church know that you are sent by God. They can recognize the anointing on your life and won't miss out on what God has for them through that anointing. People who can easily walk away have no idea who you are so they should go.

What's the bottom line?

i) Always preach like God Himself is speaking. Leave personal opinions for politicians.

1 Peter 4:10-11(NLT) - God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

ii) Expect some people to get offended when you preach because some Christians want to pick and choose what they hear at church.

II Timothy 4:1-5(NKJV) - I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

iii) People who are really called by God to be with you will receive The Word of God from you like God Himself came into The Church and said it.

1 Thessalonians 2:13(NLT) - Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.

That's all for today. See you next time for Point 2.

2) Some people need to hear from The Lord to join your church but don't need to hear from The Lord to leave.

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How Do We Evangelize? - Be Relevant: Connect With People Where They Are

How Do We Evangelize? - Be Relevant: Connect With People Where They Are

Written By: Dr. Angel

Welcome to Part 20 of our current blog series; "Evangelism". Click here for Part 19, "How Do We Evangelize? - Sola Scriptura: Stick to the Word of God".

The fifth practical key to evangelism is “Be relevant: Connect with people where they are.”

One of the fastest ways to lose people’s attention in a conversation is to begin talking about something that is irrelevant to their interests or the topic at hand. Imagine a group that's entrenched in a deep discussion when someone interjects with a notion that is completely off topic. Now imagine the awkward pause and puzzled looks as a result of the interjection.

After this brief loss of connectivity, the conversation continues without the slightest acknowledgement of the random words that were previously presented. Realizing the irrelevance of the comment, the originator is unable to connect and slowly fades into the background in silence. They’ve just been irrelevant!☺ We have all observed similar situations or have even been the one responsible.

When you are irrelevant you are ignored. As human beings it is in our nature to connect and be relevant. Why do you think Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, etc. are so popular? Humans need to relate to other humans! So why not connect over something that brings us life like The Gospel? However, for this to be possible in the process of evangelism, we must connect with people where they are.

In today’s society, there are people who need to hear the Good News in every setting. There are lost people in parks, palaces, slums, mansions, alleys, boardwalks, shelters, corporations, and even churches. In any environment you can find lost souls and Jesus longs for every one of them to know His love.

Luke 19:10 (NASB) – “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

John 7:37 (KJV) – “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”

So how can you be relevant and connect with people right where they are?

First, take a minute and survey the environment that you are in. Where has God placed you to influence people for Christ? What is your occupation? Where do you frequently shop in your community? Who are your neighbors? What streets do you pass while doing errands? What public transport do you take to the office? What school do you attend? What outreach or missions opportunities are offered at your church?

Second, think about the people you encounter daily within these environments. Are the people you encounter different from you? What ways can you be relevant to people within your environment. How can you relate to the people around you? How might you demonstrate love and humility in your interactions? What might be some common areas of interest you could discuss? What topics might you discuss with them to build a basis for cordial conversation? What needs or concerns do they share? What suggestions, advice, or resources can you offer to meet their immediate needs if they show interest?

Paul modeled this process by displaying love and humility when sharing his faith with the lost. He also demonstrated relevance by creating common ground between himself and those he was seeking to witness to in order to win them to Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:19 – 23 (NLT) – “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.”

Jesus also modeled this process for us when He lovingly and humbly spent time with the tax collectors and sinners. He demonstrated relevance by going to the places where the lost were and showing His interest in them.

Matthew 9:10 (NASB) – “Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.”

Luke 5:29-31(NLT) – “Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.”

Jesus demonstrated His ultimate love ad humility by leaving heaven and coming to earth as a human being to die for our sins. He was relevant by becoming a human being for our sake, sheding His blood for our sins, and rising again.

Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT) – “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges, He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Daily, we must die to self, uphold the truth, and use wisdom to become relevant to those around us in order to evangelize. Jesus has made a way for everyone to come. Let’s follow His example to reach the lost!

Luke 4: 21-24 (NLT) – “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. ’After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

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The Joseph Principle: Ancient Biblical Wisdom For Modern Financial Success

Genesis 41:39-41(NLT) - Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.”

Per Genesis 41, Joseph saw the future when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. He then came up with a brilliant plan which turned Egypt into the richest country in the region not during a time of prosperity but during a time of lack and famine.

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