10 Growth Restricting Habits

By Franklin Dumond

While churches fail to grow for a number of reasons there are several habits that restrict growth. Habits that restrict growth, unlike obstacles that restrict growth, can be broken or relearned without official action by the congregation. That is to say that these habits are learned behaviors, not requirements mandated in the bylaws. Culture can be changed without a vote but new ways of thinking and acting take time to develop.Certain church habits can restrict the growth of your congregation.

Habits that often restrict growth include:

  1. Seating patterns. When the congregation huddles in the back one-third of the auditorium it not only emphasizes emptiness it also takes all the best seats that would often be preferred by visitors.
  2. Announcements. Need to be reduced or eliminated if a printed bulletin is being used. Announcements on the screen should run before and after worship not during. Verbal announcements should be limited to features that impact everyone. In a smaller church most information that cannot be written or projected can be transmitted by word of mouth. Announcements, if needed, should NEVER be used at the beginning or in the middle of a worship service.
  3. Proofing. The tendency these days to use projection systems and word processors that save files for future use introduces the need to be especially vigilant regarding errors. Errors in lyrics where words are misspelled or misused, or when stanzas do not match what is being sung, cannot be corrected just by saving the file for next time.
  4. Guest Friendly Atmosphere. Everything must be filtered through what a first time guest would expect/experience. If it is confusing or boring to the first time guest then it should not be said or done.
  5. Décor. Most church décor should be simplified and targeted more toward men with fewer flowers, ornaments, and pastels.
  6. Too many hats by too few people. Often willing volunteers are few and far between. Capable volunteers may then take on too many responsibilities, leaving them tired and frustrated while not providing a place for new folks to serve.
  7. Solo rather than team ministry. Capable volunteers forge ahead knowing it is easier to do it yourself. This results in solo ministry rather than team development and thus long term service by the same volunteers.
  8. Status Quo. Doing what we’ve always done out of habit (because we’ve always done it) rather than doing what we’ve always done because it works is a habit that restricts growth.
  9. Dust, clutter, decay. We get accustomed to dust, clutter, and decay but fresh eyes see it and often avoid return visits.
  10. Loss of Celebration in Worship. Where there is no celebration in worship a sense of duty and obligation makes growth unlikely.

In a follow-up post, I will suggest a few solutions for church leaders to use to change these habits.

What do you think? What habits have you noticed in congregations that restrict their growth potential?


Ed Stevens Day

In October 1946, Ed Stevens, a General Baptist foreign missionary, arrived in Guam to share the gospel with the people who called it home.  Ed and his wife would go on to serve on Saipan and Chi Chi Jima also, until Ed died on a ship en route to Guam for medical treatment on September 20, 1952.  We have set aside the third Sunday of September every year to remember his example of faith and missionary commitment with an annual offering for international mission work.  This year, Ed Stevens Sunday is September 21.

Ed was born in Boonville, Indiana on January 23, 1917.  He accepted a call to ministry and was ordained by United Association Presbytery in September 1945, and appointed by the Foreign Mission Board to serve on Guam in July 1946.  Ed arrived via steamship October 6, 1946, and led the first service on Saipan on April 4, 1948.  Ed Stevens was the first General Baptist missionary to die while serving on the mission field.  We remember the sacrifices Ed and Gertie Stevens made to serve as pioneering missionaries for the General Baptist movement.

ClothingDistribution_SlumAreasThis year, the Ed Stevens mission project is dedicated to the General Baptist work in India.

India has a population of 1.252 billion people, and only 2.3 percent claim Christianity as their faith.  Most Indians have never had an opportunity to hear the good news of the gospel.  Pray for our missionaries and national workers as they minister in a hostile Hindu environment.  Pray that Indian Christians may demonstrate true spirituality and life transformation to their culture.

General Baptist outreach is targeted in two areas of South India:

Kakinada/Pithapuram in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which has a population of 84 million.  FoodMinistryOnly 1.51% are Christian, and General Baptists have been working to spread the gospel to those in this area since 1982.  Ministry in this area is under the direction of Dr. Prakash and his wife, Jemima.  Their work in Andhra Pradesh includes operating 10-15 Dorcas Sewing Centers, Grace Home for widows, holding pastor’s retreats to provide proper training to those leading churches, a witnessing group called Bible Women, and a bedding and clothing ministry for those who cannot afford their own.

Siddipet in the state of Telangana boasts a population of 35 million.  The General Baptist work here is headed by Jessey Vemula and his wife, Brittany who work to raise the 1.2% Christianity rate.  The work begun by the Vemula family now includes the Good Shepherd’s Children’s Home, Lydia Sewing Center, audio Bibles for illiterates, a Jesus Film ministry, digging water wells, and the Timothy Initiative that trains pastors and church planters to do effective ministry.

The offering goal this year is $50,000, to help fund the purchase of a badly needed mission vehicle for use in each of the India mission areas to help transport equipment for ministry RiverBaptismand food and clothing for distribution in the slums and remote areas.  These funds will also be distributed to the child care ministry, sewing centers, and poor widow ministry.  To be a part of the 2014 Ed Stevens Day, mail your contributions to International Missions, 100 Stinson Drive, Poplar Bluff, MO 63901.  You can also use our online form to give.

Be a part of spreading the gospel in India.  Help the 2014 Ed Stevens Day Campaign reach it’s goal of $50,000 to help support the work that God is doing in such a hostile environment. 

5 Reasons You Should Attend Leverage 2014

By Tyler Feller

For only the second time, young leaders from across different platforms and regions of our country will convene together in Evansville, Indiana to talk about Jesus, life, and ministry at the 2014 Leverage Conference.

leverageLast year, I was able to bring several young adults from our church who serve in high capacity areas as volunteers.  We left with a greater sense of purpose and passion for the work God has called us to do.  The relationships we built with other General Baptist leaders from across the nation were invaluable, and we even met with many of them again throughout the year.

As a young person, it is easy to feel like you are one of very few kingdom builders.  I personally felt deeply inspired and encouraged last year by meeting other young people living for Jesus just like me.

It’s simple. . . attending Leverage 2014 will not leave you disappointed!

Here are 5 Reasons to Attend Leverage 2014 

1.  Develop a  network you can grow with and rely on

Thinking about a problem by ourselves just brings us back to what we already know.  None of us can observe our self in action.  We need outside advice to stimulate thinking.  Having a group of people that are going through some of the same challenges you are can be invaluable.  My most valued leadership moves always come after seeking counsel from trusted friends.  The Leverage Conference connects some of the brightest young leaders from across the nation to enhance a network of support.  Attending this conference will help you get connected with other young Christians experiencing success in the same areas you are, whether it is in ministry, the public school system, or business.

2.  Inspiration

The speakers and breakout leaders lined up for Leverage 2014 have been through the fire and will leave you feeling more passionate about using your influence to impact those around you.  After hearing from and meeting with people living out a Christ honoring life, you will feel inspired in a new way to carry out your mission even stronger than before.

3.  Increased leadership skills

By choosing to attend Leverage 2014, you will sharpen your skills and gain new ones.  You will hear thoughts and ideas from leading experts in leadership and from you specific industry (ministry, public schools, business, etc).  You will gain relevant and practical advice you can implement into your own leadership approach.  The result is that you will become a better person and a better leader.

4. Future employment opportunities

You may or may not be looking for a new job at the moment, but you never know when you or someone you know might be.  The more connections we have, the better positioned we are to make a move when God leads us that way.  I’m not looking for a job myself, as I am happily employed, but I did meet Pastor Dustin Thompson at a GB conference a few years ago, which led to my current employment.  You never know who you might meet, or who they might know, who is looking for just your skill set.

5. Go to the next level

Leverage 2014 is designed with the end in mind: stronger leaders mean stronger churches.  The heart of this conference is to equip young people to reach their God-given potential.  The general sessions, breakouts, and networking time is all designed with intentionality, to increase the capacity of the attendees.

This investment will be well worth your money and time, and will use very little of either! Be sure to come say ‘hey!’ when you see me at Leverage 2014. . .

Tyler Feller is currently serving as the Student Pastor at Genesis Church in West Plains, Missouri, and is very active in the General Baptist movement. 

Turnaround Denominations

By Clint Cook

In his 2010 book entitled Breakout Churches, Thom Rainer studied churches that had gone from declining attendance to unprecedented growth.  What Thom and his research team discovered was a statistical approach to identifying key patterns and characteristics common in churches that experience turnarounds.  I certainly enjoyed reading this insightful book.

Reflecting upon this issue, I started looking at our General Baptist network of churches.  When looking closely at our denomination, one would discover that even though we are making great strides in church planting and international missions, we still find ourselves facing areas of decline.  This is a very disheartening observation, but as Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, recommends, we church leaders must confront brutal facts so that we can push forward to advance the Great Commission.

So what would it take to turn around an entire denomination?  How can we realize unprecedented growth, resulting in more and more people hearing the message of Christ?

First, I believe it requires very focused prayer. Summit Clint Prayer If there is one thing we can discover from the Bible it is that God chose to work only as God’s people prayed.  Today, He has chosen to limit his work until pastors, church leaders, and church members pray.  Many verses come to mind to support this, but perhaps it is said best in 2 Chronicles 7:14:

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Second, I believe it would require church leaders to have a “holy discontent”, a dissatisfaction with the status quo in their church.  As Rainer writes, “It is a sin to be good if God calls you to be great!”  This is especially true living in a world with so many who need to hear the Gospel!  As a pastor, I understand and believe in the need to provide care for church members; but as Jesus reminds us, we must also be passionate about reaching those who do not yet believe the gospel.  This requires church leaders who will exhibit bold faith and a willingness to take risks.  I know there is criticism with this idea, and that we must not be “numbers-driven,” but we cannot forget that behind every number is a soul, and every person won to Christ is therefore a number in God’s Kingdom.  Jim Garlow, pastor and speaker, has said that in any organization someone needs to stay focused on the numbers.

Third, I believe it would require pastors and church leaders to humble themselves and be willing to be trained and coached.  Church work in the 21st century has to be approached differently and in a more strategic and efficient manner.  This is more true today than perhaps at any other time in the history of the church.  I can personally testify to the benefits of receiving coaching and the impact it has had on the church I have pastored for 29 years.  I have also been privileged to coach more than 100 p 18-19 workshopchurches over the past five years and am amazed to hear their inspiring stories.  Many of these churches were plateaued or declining, but are now experiencing growth with conversions and baptisms.  Their ability to embrace and implement new concepts with a renewed passion to reach their communities has caused me to have hope for more and more General Baptist churches to have similar results.  This is also the reasoning behind the decision to change our national meeting from the G.A. (three-day business session) to the Summit, which is a training environment where we receive encouragement through worship as well as training and resources that can automatically be implemented into our churches.

General Baptists are at a critical crossroads.  We must do something now to turnaround our denomination.  Pastors and church leaders, it is of great importance that you take the time to pray diligently and resolve to be trained and coached so you may fully attain God’s purpose for your church.  Church member, it is essential that you pray and support your church leadership and present a strong, united front to Satan.

Over the next few weeks I will break down the changes, vision, and determination essential to becoming a turnaround denomination.

Family Does Matter

By Franklin Dumond

The concept of family continues to change in our secular culture. Despite the rapidly changing dimensions of nuclear family, however, a genuine sense of family continues to characterize our Christian gatherings. Bill Gaither wrote a description a generation ago that continues to be descriptive of local churches and other gatherings of like-minded believers: “You will notice we say brother and sister around here, it’s because we are family and these folks are so dear.”

During our recent international General Baptist gathering, the Mission & Ministry Summit, the sense of family could be felt everywhere. I saw it in at least four variations.

1. There was the atmosphere of a family reunion during hallway chats, shared meals, and photos exchanged by folks who had not seen each other recently and were now able to get reacquainted. During our new afternoon break in the exhibit hall and our reception in honor of our missionaries, even more of this family reunion atmosphere was present.

2. There was the discovery of new friends and acquaintances that added to the family connection. With several hundred church leaders present it was obvious that not everyone knew everyone else, but it is always amazing to find that we have so much in common—once we get acquainted.Summit Crowd Prayer

Since I travel throughout the denomination I am acquainted with several folks. It was my delight to introduce two of our pastors to one another late one evening. They were standing on either end of the lobby and as I walked by I realized “They are both originally from Canada and probably don’t know they form a Canadian caucus among General Baptists!” What a surprise to learn that they had both immigrated to the United States in the same year and had both become naturalized citizens in the South.

3. Family also shows itself in the shared tasks that require cooperation. As I lookedour GB family comes together to complete tasks around the exhibit hall before the Summit began I saw a group of folks organizing one of the T-shirt tables. Sitting on the floor, working at a table, or reaching into boxes I saw folks from several states sharing the load. Then, just next to Executive Director Clint Cook sat Jemima Prakash from India. She was just as busy folding and organizing T-shirts as everyone else was. Isn’t it incredible that our General Baptist family is international in scope?

The worship team that lead our main sessions showed that same sense of family cooperation. Musicians from four different churches each brought their gifts and talents and worked together to lead us in praise.

On Tuesday evening we joined as one large family to pray a blessing over our Summit Clint Prayermissionaries and church planters. These folks assembled at the front while we all crowded around them. I looked out at the crowd and noticed that joining in our prayers for these missionaries was Dr. David Cummings. He was our guest speaker from Australia, but on Tuesday evening he became part of the family as we prayed for God’s blessings on our missionary spokesmen.

I loved the way Moderator Elect Josh Carpenter summarized his experience in 1999. He attended the old General Association meetings that year for the first time. There, he admitted, he found a connection to the larger family of General Baptists.

Cousins of mine recently showed up at the family reunion. As one of them reported, “I baked my casserole and hurried to the meeting place.” She went on to say, “There sure seemed to be a different crowd this year and one of the ladies kept quizzing me about the family.” Finally she discovered she had the right place and had baked the proper casserole but had come one month early. She concluded her story with a quick laugh as she summarized the event by saying, “No wonder they asked so many questions!” Among General Baptists there is a common connection that binds us together—even if we arrive at the wrong time!

In an increasingly secular culture there will always be many dimensions to family, but among General Baptists there remains a deep sense of family. We remain connected by that core theology that Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man. Aren’t you glad he has included you in the family?

The Journey

By Patti Thornton

The journey to El Paso, Texas was almost as long as the flight to the Philippines, and seating space in the two cars that burned up the road between small town Missouri and the desert city was about as spacious as a standard airline seat.  But the comparison ends there; we didn’t have to pull the shades to fool our bodies into nighttime rest, and we slept overnight in a horizontal position with real pillows and a shower shared by just a few in a roadside hotel.

Still, it was a long drive.  It was fascinating to watch the landscape change from the green, rolling hills of southwest Missouri, to the endless flat-ness of Oklahoma, to the sandy, stark brown-ness of southern Texas.  And every town we passed through was home to a myriad of churches.

On Monday, we crossed the United States border.

mexico 1Geographically speaking, El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico are no different.  With the exception of meticulously watered landscapes of affluent homes and businesses in Texas, sightings of green in the brownish-grays of sand, dirt and concrete are rare.  Honestly, there is very little change in culture as you cross the Rio Grande from a mostly Hispanic population in an American state to that of Mexico.

But there IS a difference.  The further we drove into Mexico, the more obvious it became; both economically and spiritually.  The Bible Belt’s church on every corner was replaced by Tienditas (small convenience stores) as the subdivisions of the United States gave way to the “colonias” of Mexico.

Pastor Pedro and Elida Quezada have been trekking across the border almost daily for years.  With hearts swollen huge with love for a people of few resources, opportunities, or churches, they have been watching the ripe sheaves of harvest wave in the wind of a swollen field, desperate for harvesters. the people of Juarez make the journey to a small stucco house for worship

Not only does Pastor Pedro successfully pastor a packed house of dedicated workers at Agua Viva General Baptist Church in Juarez, but  this church has planted another ministry further into the city that meets in a borrowed stucco home smaller than most of your garages.  There, in the midst of a colony of such homes where no other church exists, residents (mostly children and women) follow the sounds of worship music to activities in the front sand yard as if the Pied Piper had beckoned them.  And there, ministry happens.

Stumbling over language barriers, our small team of seven (bolstered by two when Sid and Wilbur joined us as driving, packing, hauling, praying, fixing companions extraordinaire) was privileged to worship, play, craft, dispense school supplies and snacks, and huddle closely together as a sudden storm chased all 80 or so of us inside the small house.

Our team was unique in its makeup.  Of the seven of us, only one had never traveled outside the U.S. With three former missionaries and two repeat MVP teamers along, there was plenty of experience to go around.  And that experience validates our excitement for the ministry potential in Mexico.the long journey to Juarez was well worth the time and effort for the WM MVP team

There are many opportunities for you to partner in this ministry that crosses geographical borders, as well as other burgeoning ministries within our denomination that speak to the  relevance of Hispanic ministry in these times.  Start listening as the Holy Spirit calls harvesters to gather.

If you would like to know more about the many ways that you can partner with General Baptist mission efforts in Mexico and all around the globe, visit www.generalbaptist.com or call 573-785-7746.

Let’s GO!

By Clint Cook

I recently had a phone conversation with Carl Nichols (the chair of the National Missions Advisory Team) to receive an update on our upcoming Church Planter Assessment, which is essentially a boot camp for prospective church planters.  It was exciting to hear about our current prospects and how God is already making a way for us to accomplish the GO Project.

Carl Nichols discusses the new church planting initiative (GO Project) at the 2014 Summit.The GO Project is our National Missions five-year initiative to start 15 new churches. While this seems like an aggressive goal for General Baptists, we have to have vision and faith as leaders to achieve our objective.  However, we must also realize our limitations. God is the one who must call up men and women, husbands and wives, to take on these assignments.  Not only must the GO Project have the call of God upon it, our National Missions Department must determine if a prospective planter’s gifting is a good fit for church planting and the demands that will be placed upon them, or if they may be better suited for other types of ministry.  If we do not align ourselves to His plan, the 15 churches will not be accomplished.

In Acts 16:9, we find the outline for church planting, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”  God issued the call to GO, He had gifted and equipped the burdened individuals with the specific skills and talents needed to plant a new church, and He revealed the location of where He wanted the new church to be started.  That’s the Lord’s part.

We are not all church planters, but all of us still have a part. As in Matthew 9:38, we are to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send our laborers into his harvest.”  As individual General Baptists, our responsibility is to pray.  We must pray that God issues the call to prospective candidates and that they respond to His call, pray that He fine-tunes their gifts for church planting, and pray that He reveals the location of the church plant.  Unless all of these criteria are met, the GO Project is merely a collection of words on paper.

These are exciting days to be partnering with God to fulfill the Great Commission in our generation. God will surely do His part, and we must be faithful to do our part by responding as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6:8-9, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’ And he said Go.”

Let’s GO!

What I Learned from Walt Disney

By Brandon Petty

I can still remember the first time I watched Disney Channel.  I was a young boy and visiting my aunt’s house. It was like Christmas, watching cartoons like Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse Club. Remember that one? M-I-C-K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E! Mickey Mouse! (Donald Duck), Mickey Mouse!  That one might show my age a little bit, but I loved watching it.  To me, Disney Channel had this magical feeling when you would sit down and watch it.  We didn’t have the channel at my house, so whenever I was able to watch it, I felt as if I was a part of the magic.

A few weeks ago my family and I were able to go to Disney World for the first time.  My wife had visited in high school, but for me and my girls, this was the first time.  We were blessed by generous friends with five days of park passes to Disney World.  This was definitely a dream come true for me as well as my kids.  I had no idea what to expect, but what I experienced made me think about what I could learn from Disney and how it applies to the church. Here are a few things that I learned:

A Vision Embraced by Others Will Never Die

Walt envisioned Disney World but never got to see it.It’s amazing to think that Disney World was built after Walt Disney died. Most of what we see in Disney’s mainstream success today is the result of a dream that Disney never got to see in person.  But he envisioned it way before it ever happened.  One of the men who helped design Magic Kingdom is quoted as saying; “It’s too bad that Walt never got to see this.”   To which someone replied, “He did…that’s why it’s here.”

A powerful dream and vision that is embraced and lived out by others can never die.  Think of the vision that Jesus had for the church. Upon His death and resurrection only 150 people called themselves believers.  Now there are millions of believers all over the world!  That is the reason we encourage every GC owner at our church to own the vision.  It’s yours, too!  This church is not about my agenda.  It’s about a vision that was given by God and intended for others to live out and fight for with all of our being.  The most wasteful thing we can do with our lives is living them out without ever giving ourselves over to a vision that’s larger than us.

Be Excellent in the Details

My mind was blown at the details inside each theme park.  Every single employee, from the security guards to the tram workers, called each kid a “prince” or “princess”.  Every single employee.  Each employee had the title “cast member.”  And a person dressed up as a character never stepped out of that character, even if they Characters at Disney World never break out of their role.were talking to an adult.  We even played an interactive Perry the Platypus spy game in which our kids were handed actual cell phones and we had to complete a mission in Epcot.  At each meeting spot, a different element of the park would come to life by pressing a button on this phone…it was incredibly creative!  From the thoughtfully shaded areas for waiting in lines, to the parades, fireworks, and character meet and greets, our walk in the humidity was worth it.

What if every single week, we served people in our church with that kind of attention to detail?  What if we served people with that kind of joy and passion?  From the parking lot to our kids’ ministry, we should come ready to make it the highlight of every single person’s week.  It’s easy for us to get caught up in the weekly routine of doing what we do on a Sunday, but we only do it once a week.  These people do it every single day.  As a church that has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us, we should be even more excellent than Disney.  After all, we have so much more to offer than a child’s theme park.  We have the greatest hope on the face of the planet!

No One Wants to Leave

Orlando, Florida has intense humidity in the summer.  Every single day by four or five o’clock, rain would come in a downpour.  And every single day, people bought ponchos, used umbrellas, or simply walked around soaked.  Rides would shut down temporarily, and yet people waited.  No one wanted to leave.

Some people may wake up on a rainy Sunday and re-think the whole church thing.  But what if the church worshiped, served, and loved with such passion and energy that people never wanted to miss it or leave?  I think of moments in Scripture where believers wouldn’t let prison, persecution, or trials keep them from coming together to worship God and serve others.  They even met in underground cemeteries to hide from such persecution because they never wanted to miss an opportunity to worship and fellowship.  I want to be that kind of church.

Exhausted, but Worth It

If you’ve ever been to Disney World, especially for multiple days in a row, then you know one thing is true: you will be exhausted!  The walking, sweating, carrying your kids when they’re tired of walking, waiting in long lines, running to your fast pass lines, and did I mention SWEATING?  But we kept going back.  We got up early and stayed late.  We would be sore, stinky, and sleepy and yet we stayed longer.  Yet we kept going because at the end of the day, it was fun and worth it.

How many of us quit the church the moment we get tired?  The moment that things get tough in our lives, the church is the first thing The Disney castle is a symbol of the vision of Walt Disney.that gets crossed off of our list.  We quit serving, giving, and attending worship services.  We throw out terms like “burned out,” but our calendars are still full of other “stuff.”  I long for a church of believers that keep going no matter how tired we get, because we realize IT IS WORTH IT.  It’s worth our time, energy, sweat, emotion, investment, and frustrations.  It’s all worth it.  I can’t look at the image of our Savior nailed to an old, wooden cross and tell Him, “Sorry, I’m tired from doing too much stuff.” I just can’t.  I read about the saints before us who gave their lives so that we could live out their faith today.  What we do matters WAY more than what Disney is doing or will ever do.  I want to be able to keep going in those times of doubt and frustration, because at the end of the day it will be fun and definitely worth it.

I absolutely loved seeing my kids enjoy the vacation of a lifetime. I was grateful for the generous gift that made it possible.  But all of that pales in comparison to how much I love Jesus and His church. As we left Magic Kingdom on our last night, they began playing the music to When You Wish Upon a Star. I stood there looking up at that grand castle. I thought about how amazing it is to experience a dead man’s dream and how hard he worked to see it continue after his death. But we’ve been handed a dream by the only man to ever conquer death. His dream lives on just as He lives.

I pray that we could all take a lesson from the Walt Disney experience. But most of all, I pray we catch a much larger vision for a much greater purpose.

Older Now But Not Old

By Franklin Dumond

I’m older now. It seems to have happened all too rapidly, but I now show every minute of my 39+ years. I’m older now and I can look past 44 years of ministry to memories of that first summer of church camp ministry. As a teenaged college student, they trusted me with Flannel graphs are old and outdated nowelementary school children.

I used the cutting edge tool of flannel graph technology to share the gospel. Those colorful backgrounds and the pre-printed cut outs of biblical characters did the work, and about two dozen students responded to the Good News.

I’m older now but the gospel is not old and outdated. I saw it again this summer at our National Youth Conference. More than 1,000 teens and their sponsors listened to Brandon Petty share the gospel. He used the cutting edge technology of multi-media, on-stage props, and a working microphone to share the message of who Jesus is and how everyone can be connected to Him. Hundreds of teens responded with new or renewed commitments to surrender to Jesus Christ. Nearly 50 of them made a first time profession of faith!

I’m not sure what cutting edge techniques will arrive next to advance the cause of the gospel. The printing press, religious art, Camp Meetings, bus routes, radio broadcasts, television programs and movies have all been cutting edge tools used at one time or another to advance the cause of Christ.

Now a new wave of digital communication and social media advances the cause. Despite the varieties of tools that will develop, however, the message of “one Savior crucified, risen and coming again” will always remain true. Elmer Towns says it so well:

“Methods are many, principles are few.

Methods may change but principles never do”

The message of a General Atonement—Jesus Christ by the grace of God tasted death for every man—has not and will not change. Aren’t you glad that it does not become old and outdated?

Thriving or Surviving

By Tim Reese

The song Thrive by Casting Crowns includes the lyrics:Casting Crowns wrote 'Thrive'

“We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive”

In life and ministry I have often found myself just surviving when overwhelmed by life’s demands, a need for personal spiritual growth, family responsibilities, ministry needs, and a changing workplace environment.

All too often it seems as if I am just trying to survive-to balance all life’s demands, to keep my head above water.  When I heard this song I could not help but think of my own life and wonder why I do not feel like I am thriving. Are we really made to thrive?  As I wrestled with this for a few days, God began revealing to me that we are! In 1 Peter 2:16 God says “Live as people who are free…as servants of God”.

Thrive: to grow or develop well.

We need to keep the definition of thrive in mind. It is not a feeling or status in our culture but rather a status with God. When we look at Jesus’ life, we can see that He thrived and did not try to just get by. We cannot say that we have more on our plate than He had. With family turmoil, social turmoil, and the knowledge on the upcoming sacrifice for the world’s sins, He really did have the world on His shoulders.

So how do we thrive? Here are three suggestions.

1.  Listen to God and others. For me this is a learned task that I am still learning. A lot of stress in this life can be decreased if we would listen to God and those around us. This helps us work through life situations by not trying to take on problems by ourselves, but by praying and listening for God’s direction. All too often we talk at God and not with Him. We also need to listen to those around us. For example: when my wife has a problem I feel the need to fix it. (Often without listening to her actual needs, I am already ahead of her and assessing the problem that I think she needs “fixed”.) Jesus says in John 18:37 “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” An important part to thriving and not just surviving is to hear what it is that God wants us to say or do in all situations.  We also need to be listening to those around us to see what they need and how we need to respond to them. Whether that is with our spouse, kids, co-workers or fellow brothers or sisters in Christ, we must listen.

2. List your priorities. A way to reduce anxiety and to thrive is to prioritize our life. What’s most important? “The Enemy of the best is the good. ” -Jerry Rice. As pastors and leaders within the Church it is easy to become so busy with many “good” things that we become God's Word makes it plain that we are to thriveoverwhelmed and miss out on God’s best calling for our lives.

Listening to God’s Word shows us what should be our first and second priorities in Matthew 22:37 & 39 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” God says that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we are not loving ourselves and are neglecting our needs and our family’s needs because we are so busy loving everyone else then that is neglecting what scripture teaches on how we are to lead our lives. When we put those two highest on our list of priorities then we will be in a mindset to follow God’s perfect direction in all other areas of our lives. Thus, being able to grow (thrive) in Him.

3. Live life accordingly. In order to thrive, or to grow and develop well, we must live both in God’s promises and in His perfect will.  We see just as God promised Joshua that He would not leave or forsake him, so we can trust that He will also be with us! We are NOT alone and we need to cherish and trust that promise. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that whatever we do, do all to the glory of God.  In all situations in our lives if we are going to thrive, then our aim must be to glorify our Creator and Savior! Without that we are not going to grow and mature as God desires.  He has plans for all of us. The question is:  Are we listening for God’s guidance in those plans? Are we making God’s plans a priority?  And are we living out those plans?

When we look at the world’s definitions of thriving, (big house, nice car, good paying job) we will always fall short and be discontent with our lives. The world’s definition is a moving target.  When John D. Rockefeller was asked the question, “How much money is enough?” his response was, “Just a little bit more. ” This will be our answer as well if we are living by the world’s definition of thrive.  As Christians, we will be frustrated with God because in our eyes we aren’t thriving like we think we should. In reality, God reveals how He wants us to thrive in 1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn infants, long for the spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation”. God wants us to be with Him! How much more thriving could we need?  God created us to be in a thriving relationship with Him. Are you trying to just survive this life on your own or thrive in an intimate relationship with your Savior?

Originally from central Illinois Tim Reese came to Christ at White River Youth Camp after moving to Southwest Missouri. He and his wife have served in youth ministry at Nixa General Baptist Church since 2011.