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September 1, 2014

Listen to the Shepherd

If you’re going to follow God, you have to recognize his voice


Living life well requires following God. Leading others well requires following God.

Following God requires hearing God. Yet usually, our Lord doesn't speak in an audible voice. We can't hear him with our physical ears.

He has given us Scripture. We can read what is God-breathed. What treasure! Yet no matter how faithfully we study God's Word, it remains locked to us if we cannot recognize God's voice. Thankfully, he has made the way for every one of us to hear.

In John 10, Jesus said of a good shepherd, "The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice" (verses 3-4, NIV). Jesus announced, "I am the good shepherd" (verse 14).

If Christ is your shepherd, you have the capacity to know his voice.

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August 28, 2014

6 Ways to Make Sabbath Realistic for Ministry Leaders

Yes, you really can

Make Sabbath Realistic

Finding the middle spot in the dim room between round tables draped in white, I push high heels into the carpet under a ceiling of twinkle lights and speak to women seated around china tea cups and glass plates of cookies. They've asked me to tell them about the Sabbath Society.

I share about my weekly email sent to a group of nearly 300 Sabbath-keepers who observe rest as a routine instead of something that suits convenience. How disciplines are easier in the embrace of community—dieting, Bible reading, exercise—when accomplished with accountability.

The weekly encouragement is proving life-changing for many, transformational for relationships and physically healing in some instances.

My eyes shift to the pastor's wife leaning over her empty cup balanced between both hands, mouth slightly open. A handful of volunteers sit nearby. Pausing, I know what their blank stares are saying. I've heard the question echo among ministry leaders in many cities.

How do you do it?

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August 25, 2014

We Are Better Together

Co-leadership really can work

We Are Better Together

Are two heads really better than one? Does anything with two heads really resemble a monster? It all depends on how we look at it.

English writer John Heywood actually coined "Two heads are better than one" in 1546. I am sure he did not realize he was speaking prophetically. But two heads together can work only when God is at the center. King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote, "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble" (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10).

I have had the privilege and honor to share leadership with some phenomenal men and women in the body of Christ. Each of these experiences incited growth as a person and as a leader. My husband and I share the responsibility of pastoral leadership; we are as different as night and day. Making it work effectively has taken some crucifixion, prayer, fasting, and humility from both of us. It works beautifully now.

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August 21, 2014

The Secret to Volunteer Retention

Just say thanks

The Secret to Volunteer Retention

A sign loomed outside my son's Sunday school class: "Room closed (unless someone wants to jump in and help today)." Fortunately, it was propped near a door but wasn't yet pulled out into the main area of the hallway. Apparently there were enough volunteers to staff that at that point in time, but if too many kids came and ratios were exceeded, the doors would be closed and the sign would get pulled out. I was grateful my little guy could still do his craft and hear a Bible story on that particular morning, but the sign offered a menacing warning: Volunteer or else.

Most anyone in a leadership role knows the value of relying on volunteers. The benefits are enormous, such as multiplying manpower, staffing positions that aren't allowed for in the budget, and so much more. Yet the problem that doesn't need to be stated is that volunteers are just that: volunteers. There is no guarantee they'll be there when they say (hopefully they will!), but worse yet, there is nothing that obligates volunteers to keep giving their time to your cause.

I don't want my son to be turned away from Sunday school any more than you want to cut programming because of a shortage of volunteers. So what are we to do?

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August 18, 2014

One Reason People Won’t Join Your Church

Remember hurt can make commitment scary


The book of Hebrews urges us not to forsake assembling together with fellow Christians, but it does not say I have to be a member of your church (Hebrews 10:25). We have all heard the phrase “Church hurt is the worst hurt.” I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but it has been true for me. The world is a dark place, so many seek to find light in the body of Christ. People expect love from their church families, but when they are bruised, they feel a pain that cannot be described. It pierces the soul. For a victim of church hurt, the thought of church membership can be paralyzing. It can be overwhelming and suffocating. Thus, many have opted for fellowship beyond the walls of church buildings.

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August 14, 2014

How to Really Address Declining Attendance

Reviving the committed in a low-commitment culture


When I was growing up in the Bible Belt, Sundays consisted of church, fried chicken, an afternoon nap, and then another dose of church in the evening. My childhood memories are full of handbells, youth choir, discipleship training, visitation, and potlucks. Fast-forward 20 years and Sundays look very different around town. No longer is the church the center of the family’s social network. According to a recent Barna poll, only 2 in 10 Millennials (those age 30 and under) believe church attendance is important. Even the definition of regular church attendance has changed from those who attend several times a month to once every four to six weeks.

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August 11, 2014

We versus You

Membership makes a church stronger

We versus You

I came to Christ through a parachurch organization as a teenager. Before that time, I had absolutely no church experience. I had attended Sunday school with a friend for a year when I was 9, but other than that, I knew nothing about how churches should operate.

However, when I became a Christian, attending a church became very important to me. I got involved in a low-key church that catered to college students. The idea was to draw in as many students as possible, so the commitment required of us was almost nonexistent. I bought into the idea that any formal church accoutrements were unnecessary and even detrimental. A popular thought bantered around in my church was that the body of Christ could exist without much of anything, even a building. After all, we could meet under a tree and do fine (which was rather odd, since we lived in a northern clime with pretty severe winters).

But as I matured in my faith, I began to notice some flaws in this approach. People didn't stay around one church but quickly flitted from one to another, trying to find something that would hit their fancy. I also noticed a lot of complaining about church, and it usually was phrased, "You should do this in your church" or "If you'd just do that at your church…"

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August 7, 2014

The Promise of Church

Reasons we must go—and keep going

The Promise of Church

In Confessions, Augustine tells the conversion story of Marius Victorinus, an honored philosopher in ancient Rome whose statue stood in the Roman forum. Before his baptism as a Christian, he had vigorously defended the idolatrous Roman cults. After his study of the Scriptures, Victorinus was converted, though he did not immediately pursue membership in the Christian church. "He was afraid to offend his friends, proud devil-worshippers," Augustine concluded.

Victorinus did, however, privately announce his conversion to Simplicianus, a church leader. "Did you know that I am already a Christian?" he asked eagerly.

"I shall not believe that," said Simplicianus, "or count you among the Christians unless I see you in the Church of Christ."

This is a strange story for evangelical ears. Today we can hardly imagine refusing recognition of someone's sincere confession of faith or making salvation conditional upon church membership. Yet 1600 years ago, this was an agreed-upon formulation of obedient Christian faith: if a person wanted to follow Jesus, he or she belonged to the church.

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August 4, 2014

Turning a Blind Eye Is Not an Option

People of God, we must speak up and out against abuse

Turning a Blind Eye

Years ago when I served as an assistant prosecutor, I was approached by a few coworkers (on different occasions) who were working on cases where children were sexually abused by someone in the church. Prosecuting cases where children are abused are the toughest cases to prosecute, in my opinion. Children are among the most vulnerable members of our society, and someone taking advantage of them pierces my heart.

One of the most troubling aspects of those cases was when the churches took sides with the offenders. On more than one occasion they tried to keep the offenses "in house" without going to the proper authorities. Many times the parents didn't go to the police until the church failed to appropriately respond. As a believer, it broke my heart when my coworkers asked me why church members would side with offenders and demonize the victims. They often received phone calls from angry church members who pronounced that the offenders' sins were forgiven. They told us that our office was wrong for prosecuting these cases.

I didn't know these Christians, so it was easy to write them off as crazy. It did bother me that fellow Christians would respond this way, but I subconsciously wrote them off as unbelievers. This is how I processed it. That way, I was able to make sense of it and make peace with it—until I met Taylor* and Bobby*.

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July 31, 2014

On Not Getting Killed

I have a lot to learn about Jesus’ kind of love


Great psychological thrillers, combined with innumerable episodes of crime drama, have given me a healthy appreciation of the dangers of picking up hitchhikers.

In sum: hitchhikers bad. First nicey nicey and uber-friendly. Then stabby stabby and a cold, shallow grave. Generally and basically, it's not the way I want to end my life. So up to this point, absolutely and categorically no picking up strangers along country lanes.

But then there was a bright autumn week that turned out unexpectedly to be hitchhiker week.

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