Blogs by Dr. Don Mathis, KBC President
"IT IS NOT ABOUT NUMBERS! OH, REALLY?"
After hearing a variety of people recently say, "It's Not About Numbers!" I suggested to a person recently who defended his declining ministry in a rapidly growing area by making that statement that the next person who says that ought to automatically have his or her salary cut by a $1000 for each time he or she says it. My statement seemed to offend my friend. "That's not what I mean," he exclaimed, "I'm talking about churches that are only concerned about how many people they have in Sunday School and Worship!" Not wanting to get into an futile argument, I knew it was time to drop the conversation rather than loose a friend. But here is what I thought:
My friend had just revealed that he was more concerned about money than about people. He would get upset to loose a thousand dollars in salary, but if the church he serves drops hundreds in attendance, he is not upset. Excuse me, if I do not buy the statement "It's not about numbers!"
While it is true that to play with numbers on a calculator or computer has no merit. I also admit that I am a numbers person. However, I submit that numbers are important because they represent something else and in the case of dollars or people they represent something of value. My friend seemed to be saying (I don't really think he believed it) that a decline in his salary was worth getting upset about, but not so much a decline in church attendance. Well what does the Bible consider most important?
Jesus asked, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). Then Jesus emphasized this point in three parables in Luke 15--the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost boy. Here Jesus kept saying, "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:7,10).
Then the Bible very carefully documents the saving of a lot of "ones" in the book of Acts as if to say when 3,000 or 5,000 are saved there is rejoicing of 3,000 x 1 or 5,000 x 1. At Pentecost, the Bible says, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). Then there were "five thousand." Then it says "the Lord added unto the church." Followed by "the number of believers multiplied."
I certainly am not advocating numbers for numbers sake. I am opposed to unhealthy, non-biblical, or unethical means to pump up numbers. On the other hand, if the numbers decline because of my bad doctrine, my personality flaws, because I am lazy, because of my bad manners, or I am simply a jerk, shame on me if I excuse the decline in attendance by trying to sound spiritual and say, "It is not about numbers."
It is about numbers... one more, and one more, and one more for Jesus. Thus the more that Jesus adds to His churches the better.
TAKE THE COOPERATIVE PROGRAM FOR GRANTED!
A couple of weeks ago while in revival out-of-state, my hotel was next to a large independent Baptist church which was conducting a national conference. In the elevator and breakfast area, I met Baptist pastors from New York to California. Having attended conventions and conferences all of my adult life, I saw interaction and heard conversations similar to what I have heard for years. However, these were "independent" Baptists, but they were definitely Baptists so I felt right at home.
As I engaged a young pastor in conversation, his curiosity was aroused. He asked, "Are you a preacher?" To which I responded, "Yes, I am a Southern Baptist preacher from Kentucky." He said, "Well, I am an independent Baptist?" I said, "Me, too." He looked surprised. "I thought you said you are Southern Baptist." I said, "I am. The Southern Baptist Convention is made up of autonomous, independent Baptist churches." Then he said, "I am conservative." I said, "Me, too." The conversation was very pleasant. He was very well dressed, mannerly, and impressive in every way. And, it was fun. Every time he would make some declaration, I would say, "Me, too." Finally, he said, "Well, what's the difference?" To which I said, "It is mostly how we support missions." So I began to tell him about the Cooperative Program.
By the way, I am for independent Baptists and their efforts to share the message of Christ around the world through direct missions. They are not only my brothers in Christ, but they are Baptists brothers and sisters. I believe that many of them have good methods of supporting missionaries. I just happen to believe that the Cooperative Program is better.
I began to explain to my young friend how we through the Cooperative Program join together in supporting about 5,400 missionaries around the world and that last year there were more than 2,000 new churches started and 500,000 baptized by Southern Baptists and our partners. When he mentioned mission trips, I told him that because we have missionaries already on the field and our national organization, The International Mission Board, the structure in already in place for thousands of volunteers to go for a week, a year, or longer to supplement the work of our missionaries. They are there because of the Cooperative Program.
My new friend then asked, "Where does the money come from?" It was then that I wish I could have said, "All of our churches give at least 10% of their budget and some give more." Instead, I said, "Remember that I told you that our churches are independent and autonomous, so each church decides what percentage of their budget they give to the Cooperative Program. Some give 10%, some 15%, some more, some less, but each church decides how much they will give." I wish I could have said, "All of our churches give at least 10%, some 15%, some 20%, some more." (Oh, how I wish I could have truthfully said that!)
Then my friend said, "Well, we get so excited when we take big mission offerings and the people feel much more involved than just taking it out of the budget." So I said, "We do that, too. It is called the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The Cooperative Program provides the foundation so that all of the Lottie Moon Offering (named after one of our great missionaries to China) goes directly to the mission field. By the way, very little of the Cooperative Program giving goes to administrative costs and none of Lottie Moon."
Then I assured him that it is not as complicated as it sounds and with our system we provide supervision of our missionaries to ensure doctrinal soundness and effective ministry.
By then, breakfast was over. Before he left, I said, "I wish I had time to tell you about how we support missionaries all across North America. It works in similar fashion to International Missions. And, our state convention, the Cooperative Program works in Kentucky and our other states as well."
I just didn't have time to talk about disaster relief, hunger programs, our seminaries, colleges and schools...on and on.
As we shook hands to part company, he said, "Wow! That sounds like a great way to do missions. I did not know all of that."
As he walked away I thought. "Yes, it is a great way to do missions. The best! I believe God gave it to Southern Baptists, but unfortunately many Southern Baptists don't know either. If they did, surely I would have been able to say, "All of our churches give at least 10%, some 15%, some 20%, some more. We really, really believe in the Cooperative Program!"
DO IT YOURSELF CHRISTIANITY
Indeed, we live in a strange day.
In a newspaper article immediately before Easter, a Baptist church member pointing out that 70% of the world is not Christian said, "I have a hard time believing the Lord...is not going to allow that 70 percent into what heaven may be." In other words, he believes in universalism. He went on to say that he knew his views were not the views of his church, but those were his convictions anyway. At that one point he is right, those are not the convictions of his pastor and church. I am sure they were embarrassed by this newspaper quote. All of us who have been pastors have been embarrassed by church members' statements. I once had a 100 year old member who was quoted in the newspaper as crediting "a shot of whiskey a day" for her long life. You can imagine, with my hatred of alcohol and what it does, what that statement did to me!
Then our President on the day before Easter said, "On Sunday, my family will join other Christians all over the world in marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And while we worship in different ways, we also remember the shared spirit of humanity that inhabits us all - Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, believers and nonbelievers alike... So, on this Easter weekend, let us hold fast to those aspirations we hold in common as brothers and sisters, as members of the same family - the family of man." Then he said, "Our health is the rock upon which our lives are built." Beyond the first sentence, what meaningless politically correct nonsense!
Further, a Pew study indicates that a majority of non-Jews believe that Judaism can bring eternal life. 52% of non-Muslims say Islam can lead to eternal life, and a similar number of non-Hindus, 53% believe that Hinduism can lead to eternal life.
What a mess! In a society that says, "have faith." Then we ask "faith" in what? In whom? They say, it doesn't matter just "faith." That is not what Hebrews 11 says.
Forgive me for being narrow minded. On the other hand, I take that back. I want to be as narrow minded as Jesus who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). Eternal life now and Heaven for eternity is not based on what people think. It is based on what God has declared. One does not have to guess about what God has decided. Acts 4:12, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name (Jesus) under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
BEYOND "FIND IT HERE"
One of the most exciting events in recent times in the Kentucky Baptist Convention has been "Find It Here." Leading up to Easter Sunday a gospel witness and an invitation to attend worship was either placed in the hand of residents or hung on the door knob of 1.5 million homes in Kentucky. This has been in partnership with the North American Mission Board and KBC (and other state conventions). The coordination of this effort has been led by our associations with church volunteers making house to house visits. What a magnificent job as been done by all.
"Find It Here" followed a time of prayer walking communities in preparation for the distribution. It will be followed by a High Attendance Day in Sunday School on April 18.
Positive results are being reported by many of our churches. The KY church were I preached in the revival the week before Easter already has had five new families who have attended as a result of "Find It Here." A neighboring church reported 24 first time guests since the distribution. More than they have had in years. I preached in revival in an out of state church with revival beginning on Easter Sunday. With a normal Sunday morning attendance of 84, they had 174 and more back on Sunday night than a usual Sunday morning. I am sure that many, many churches have experience similar results from "Find It Hear."
What will be result from "Find It Here" in the near future? What about months and years from now? God only knows, but it will inevitably be positive. God has promised that His Word will not return void. An even more important question becomes, "What do we do now." Let me make a few suggestions:
1) Immediately start or re-energize your existing evangelistic visitation program. Knock on the doors of the persons discovered through "Find It Here." There are a lot of "programs" for doing visitation. Use one of them, develop your own, whatever...but if we don't knock on their doors, they won't come through ours. By the way, more important than the number of weekly participants (and do it weekly) is consistency. It is amazing how many lives can be touched by a few people who go week in and week out over a period of weeks that become years. This, of course, must be led by the pastor. It can be led by someone else but not nearly as well as when it is led by the God appointed shepherd, the pastor.
2) ASAP enrolled every possible person in a Sunday School class. This is a good time to start some new classes. Remember, new classes grow faster than existing classes.
3) Pray, plan, and work toward your best Vacation Bible School ever. Make it an outreach VBS. Enroll and involve every possible person of every age. Almost half of the people baptized each year in our churches come from VBS. This too will be at it best with the direct involvement of the pastor including his leading the invitation time.
4) Follow up with a Harvest Revival sometime between August and November. Couple this with a High Attendance Day in Sunday School and special revival nights. With the actions mention above, many of the gospel seed sown now be ready for God to give a harvest.
5) How about simultaneous revivals in the Spring of 2011. We always baptize more people when we have revivals than when we don't.
In short, let's not let "Find It Here" be another program that comes and goes. We can deliver the gospel to every home in KY. What about the 63% of our population who apparently do not know Jesus. They need for "Find It Here" to be more than a one time event.
IF IT IS BROKE FIX IT! IF IT ISN'T DON'T!
As I was preparing a few days ago to preach in our Evangelists' Conference, I was faced with a sobering reality--what we are doing right now is not working very well.
Now hear me clearly, I am an optimist. My style has been to see the glass as half full. You can take my word for it or ask my friends. However, occasionally reality trumps optimism. The fact is that we are not baptizing as many people as we have in the past. Not surprisingly all other statistics follow baptismal trends.
In 1972, we Southern Baptists baptized 445,725--the most in our history. In fact, it was not an isolated spike but an upward trend with the expectation that soon we would be baptizing half a million every year. Then something happened. We now baptize about 350,000 and the trend seems to be going the wrong way. What is the problem? More importantly, what is the solution?
Nothing short of a revival from God is going to reverse the trend. I believe that is an absolute fact. Our biggest needs are spiritual, but I believe we also have had this tendency to take the attitude that: (1) If it is working, change it. (2) If it is old, it can't be good. (3) If it is a new idea, even if it is untried, let's do it. So maybe we changed some programs and gave up on methods that were working.
I was a young pastor in 1972, so what I am about to share comes from my remembrance, not hear say information. So I began to ask myself, what were we are doing in 1972? Let me list a few things:
1) The pastor preached both Sunday morning and Sunday night with Bible study and a real prayer meeting on Wednesday night.
2) Sunday School was working as well as it has in our history. We had just gone through Shaping the Seventies. Thus, we probably had started more new SS classes in 1971 than we had in years. And, many of us had become disciples of the Action Program with the practice of knocking on doors and inviting people to enroll in Bible study through Sunday School. Obviously, these were open enrollment Bible classes called Sunday School with the assignment to reach and teach.
3) Many churches, in my area, 60-70%, had Discipleship Training on Sunday night before Sunday night worship.
4) In many associations, nearly 100% of our churches had Vacation Bible School for a whole week.
5) Youth Choirs were a big deal in the 70's. Many of them were large and active. Enlisting youth to participate led to many youth baptisms. By the way, it was more than singing. It was fellowship and discipleship, as well.
6) Virtually every church had an annual revival and a lot of churches had two. And, it was unheard of that a revival meeting would be shorter than Sunday morning through Friday night. Not surprisingly more decisions were made for Christ later in the week than early.
7) Our churches had fewer staff ministers and more volunteer leadership. The first impulse was not to hire someone to do the work of the ministry, but to use gifted individuals within the church. Staff was added as size demanded.
I know that society has changed, but maybe we let it change us more than we have been changing it.
WHY HAVE A REVIVAL MEETING?
Actually, the question ought to be: Why not have two revival meetings this year and every year?
Evangelism is one of the five basic functions of the church. However, without evangelism there would be no people in the church to participate in the other four. Evangelism is why we exist. It is the Great Commission. So what is evangelism?
Evangelism.—Evangelism is reaching out to lost people with the gospel for the purpose of leading them to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Saying “everything we do is evangelism” is not enough. Evangelism must be intentional. To do evangelism as it should be done, the driving force of every organization, every program, every budget, and special activities must be evangelism. However, the tendency of any church is to drift away from doing evangelism. Therefore, a wise church will set aside those special times for the church to be called back to evangelism. That's where a revival meeting comes in.
Obviously, I believe in revival meetings. I have preached in about 700. Of these, 300 were before becoming a "full-time" Evangelist and 400 since being called to Vocational Evangelism 11 years ago. But my belief in revival meetings began years ago.
Early in my ministry, the settled belief was that churches that have two revivals a year baptize more than churches that have none or only one. Immediately, I determined that the churches I served would have two. I’ve never changed my mind on that. Even now, revivals will work if we pray, plan, and participate properly. In fact, one of our state conventions recently made a study of revivals to see if they were really effective in the 21st Century. Their conclusion after looking at a convention of about 3000 churches was: Churches that did not hold a revival reported a baptism-to-church-member ratio of 1 to 36, while those churches that held revivals but had no decisions had a baptism ratio of 1 to 24. Churches that held a revival and had at least one conversion had an even better ratio of 1 to 19 (Christian Index, February, 2005).
When you have a revival meeting, pray for God’s leadership in selecting your evangelist. Don’t just invite a buddy. Invite the very best evangelist available, the one God most likely will use in your church. If the evangelist is a friend, fine; but above all, he should be gifted for what is needed in your church.
Have a revival meeting. In fact, let’s have two this year! If not this year, next year.
GETTING READY FOR A GREAT REVIVAL MEETING
For weeks before the revival meeting, focus the congregation’s attention on prayer. Pray for the revival in every service and in every Sunday School class or other group. Use a 24-hour prayer chain or similar prayer emphasis. Bathe the revival in prayer! At least six weeks before the revival, preach continually toward the revival. If you are involved in a sermon series, keep preaching it; but let the illustrations and applications flow toward revival.
FINDING THE WILL OF GOD (Part 3)
Question # 3: Is It Scriptural?
This ought to go without saying, but it needs to be said anyway. Is there anything in the candidate's life that morally or spiritually does not line up with Scripture, thus eliminating him from the committee's consideration? Does he hold doctrinal views that do not stand the test of Scripture? How does his ministry measure up to the clear commands of such passages as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?
These three questions can be used as guidelines to focus the evaluation of each profile to decide whether it ought to be kept active and/or in what order it ought to be ranked by the committee.
The Bible is always the ultimate evaluator. We must not try to line the Bible up with our thinking but we must always line up our thinking to the Lordship of Jesus with what the Bible says.
The three questions that I have asked in this and the previous two blogs are asked in the context of a pastor search committee and its responsibilities. However these three questions based on Romans 12:1-6 can and have become for me three good questions to ask in finding God's will in my life. I recommend them to you.
(Portions of the above are taken from Pastor & Staff Search Committee Guide, p. 41, by Don R. Mathis) If interested in the book feel free to contact me.
FINDING THE WILL OF GOD (Part 2)
Question # 2: Is It Spiritual?
Look at Romans 12:1-2 again. As we surrender to God's will, the Holy Spirit has a way of impressing on our "renewed mind" the thoughts He wants us to have. This means that God may simply give within us a feeling of "oughtness." Often committee members make statements like: "________________'s biographical profile just seems to keep coming back to the top for me." "At this point, I feel impressed that we ought to look further at _________." Sometimes specifics can be pointed to as being the hook the Holy Spirit seems to have used to grab someone's attention. It may be something in the candidate's background, a particular word used in his testimony, where the person appears to be on the path of life, or some other factor. It may be a matter of having the experience of looking in the direction God is looking (see Ps. 32:8).
Because God seems to be causing the committee to look at a particular person does this mean the committee can be certain, at this point, that this candidate is the one? Not necessarily. God has a way of working step-by-step to reveal His will. My third pastorate came as a result of a search committee being confident that a particular pastor was the one to whom God was leading them. Were they right in going that direction? Yes. Was he the one God wanted to be their pastor? No. Each time the committee approached this pastor, his response was "no." Each time he recommended someone else. After this happened a number of times, the committee decided to follow his recommendation and look at the person whose profile they did not even have. That recommendation turned out to be the one that God was directing the committee toward all along--me. (Portions of the above are taken from Pastor & Staff Search Committee Guide, p. 41, by Don R. Mathis)
FINDING THE WILL OF GOD (Part 1)
In working with a Pastor Search Committee some years ago, a member said, "Bro. Don, you keep talking about 'The Will of God,' how do we find it?" Great question!
I suggest that you take the time to carefully read Romans 12:1-6. In this passage Paul discusses the "good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." He was not talking about the permissive will of God or the ultimate will of God, but he was talking about God's best plan for us in the decisions we face. The context, of course, assumes two important factors--a surrendered life (v. 1) and a willingness to do God's will within the context of the body of Christ, the church (v. 4).
In other words, we must be a surrendered people willing to do that which is best for the welfare of the kingdom, the body of Christ, the church. Against this backdrop, the committee (or the person) can make great progress in knowing the will of God by asking and answering three questions:
Question # 1: Is It Sensible? Notice the number of times in verses 2-3 that the passage uses the words "mind" and think." In application to a search process, the committee should ask, "In light of what we know about God, what we know about our church, and what we know about a particular candidate, does it make sense that he could be the person God wants to bring to our church at this time?" We are to use our brains! Our thinking is to be that of a "renewed," "transformed" or renovated mind. This means a thinking that is different from the secular or business model. It means looking at the gifts of the individual involved (vv. 3,6) and the needs of the church as best the committee can ascertain them. Again ask, "Does it make sense that this person may be the one God wants at our church at this time?"
Although I have made application of "Is It Sensible" to a search committee, in reality it ought to apply to any area of Christian living as we are make decisions regarding God's will for our lives. (portions of the above are taken from Pastor & Staff Search Committee Guide, pp. 40-41, by Don R. Mathis)
HELP--THEY PUT ME ON THE PASTOR SEARCH COMMITTEE!
My phone rang and I heard those exact words from the caller. Then his next words were, "Bro. Don can you help?" As a matter of fact in can and did.
Some years ago while with LifeWay, I wrote the Pastor & Staff Search Committee Guide used by thousands of churches. Well, it went out of print. So a few weeks ago, I had it re-printed. Now here is the deal--when I hear of a church that is out of a pastor, I send a gift copy. If you or your church could benefit from one, just let me know.
Of course, no book can guarantee that you will find exactly the right pastor or that a pastor will find exactly the right church, but when God's will is found--that's the guarantee! If my book can be of help, that will be a blessing to you and your pastor, and as a by-product to me.
45 YEARS IS A LONG TIME... OR IS IT?
This past Sunday (December 27th) was a bit unique. It was 45 years ago on Sunday December 27th at Pleasant Hill BC a few miles out in the country from Hopkinsville, KY that I was ordained to the Gospel Ministry. No one was more surprised than me that God had called me to the Ministry. After all of these years the "surprise" remains.
What wonderful experiences God has given... five churches as pastor for a bit more than 29 years. My how good my churches have been to me! Six years in denominational ministry--about three years each as Executive Director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists and as Director of Pastor-Staff Leadership at LifeWay. Now a little more than 10 years in full-time vocational evangelism. Now, even as I write this note--I realized than I am blessed to have had quite a variety of ministry assignments. Yet, I am always in the core of my soul, a pastor.
On the 27th a bonus was to preach near home. For the first time ever, all at the same time, in the congregation was my whole family--wife, son and daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law, and my precious granddaughter. In fact, my granddaughter had never heard granddaddy preach. I'm sure she won't remember but granddaddy surely will! None of them have been with me all of the journey, in fact I didn't even know my wife when I was ordained 45 years ago. We met in my second pastorate. What a blessing she and the ministry journey have been. What a blessing they all are. God is good!
WE GROW TOO SOON OLD AND TOO LATE SMART
This is the background. So says an old Dutch proverb. The first part of this proverb is the absolute truth. The second part, I would adjust a bit. I would actually make it to read, "Too late wise." You see there is a big difference between being smart and being wise. "Smartness" may involve the gaining of information and/or skills, but "wisdom" is the ability to make the right decisions.
Where can we find wisdom? James says, "If any man (person) lacks wisdom , let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and holds back nothing."
Interestingly enough when one tries to know and do the will of God through the years, age tends to produce more and more wisdom. (Not that any of us have arrived.) Yet, some of us who have lived a number of years begin to think: I wish there was a way to pass along what I have learned. This the back gound of my new book: Surviving and Thriving in Today's Ministry. It is an effort on my part to pass along especially to young pastor what I think that I have learned in 45 years in the ministry.
WHY ALL THIS FUSS ABOUT JESUS?
I was watching a cable news channel with a panel discussion dealing with a small town mayor that had decided to become politically correct and disallow the city manger scene a tradition of many years. One of panelists just blurted it out: "What's all this fuss about Jesus anyway?"
I was so shocked she had said it. "What's all this fuss about Jesus anyway?" Why does He cause such decisive responses? Who does He think He is anyway, God? Absolutely! Not only does He think He is God, He is absolutely eternally God!
God became a man. Born in purity. Lived without sin. Went about doing good. Died on the cross as our substitute. Rose from the dead. He lives! He lives! He saves! He is God. The baby in the manger, He is God. That's why all this fuss about Jesus!