The Thriving Church Backstory


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Very soon The Thriving Church: The True Measure of Growth will be released. I want to tell the story of how it came to be.

Churches should be growing. I believe this with my whole heart.

Models and methods of church growth abound. During my first years as a pastor, Willow Creek and Saddleback were hot. Later it was Mars Hill. Many churches copied their formulas for growth.

As I formed my own ideas of how a church should grow, I determined to be guided by truth. I looked for key passages of Scripture to instruct me.

What causes growth? How is authentic growth measured?  How does a pastor lead a growing church? What do people in a growing church do? Can my church thrive?

I kept landing in Ephesians 4:1-16. I read, reread, translated, diagrammed, researched, taught, preached, and preached again and again the principles in that text. In 25 years of pastoral ministry, this was the primary passage of Scripture that shaped my thinking about church life. It guided me in establishing goals, setting direction, and shaping ministry.

I was privileged to serve as lead pastor of two churches, one for 9 years and the other for 12. Both churches experienced growth. There were seasons of multiplication, but also maturing. My experience of pastoring through these stages of church life increased my understanding of the Ephesians 4 model of growth and what causes a church to thrive.

Three years ago the Chief Shepherd gave me a new assignment. I now equip a new generation of pastors as a Professor of Pastoral Studies at Faith Baptist Bible College. I don’t teach during the summer, so I have time to write.

I asked my friend Nancy Lohr, Acquisitions Editor at JourneyForth, for suggestions. Her response, along with some helpful guidance: “Figure out what your passion is and focus on that.”

And here we are.

The Thriving Church: The True Measure of Growth is scheduled for release December 6, 2019.

A Pastor’s Perspective on Senior Adult Ministries

My wife Faith teaches a college class at Faith Baptist Bible College called Ministering to the Aging. She invited me to speak in her class. It was the first time I wrote down my thoughts on senior adult ministries in the church. Below are my notes. I added some ideas as I spoke that are not included here. I hope this perspective may be helpful.

A Pastor’s Perspective on Senior Adult Ministries

I had the opportunity to pastor two churches that had specialized ministries to senior adults. One was developing and the other well-established with a full-time pastor overseeing it. As the lead pastor I did not directly oversee this ministry, but definitely had a heart for these people’s spiritual growth. As I look back over the years of ministering to these dear people, I am grateful for their vital role in the church and their personal impact on me. They are some of the most faithful, prayerful, generous, and supportive people I have known.

Ephesians 4:11-12 says that pastors equip the saints for the work of the ministry unto the edifying of the body of Christ. Senior adults are included in the saints that pastors equip, and they are capable of effectively doing work that builds up the body of Christ. These objectives provide guidance for thinking about effective senior adult ministries in the local church.

A ministry to and for seniors should help them do the following:

Continue growing in godly character.
Did you know there is a passage of Scripture that describes the kind of character a senior adult should have? It’s in Titus 2:1-5.

Paul tells Titus to teach his people “the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (v. 1). “Sound” means healthy. “Proper” means fitting , suitable, appropriate to. What follows are attitudes and actions that are fitting for a  person who lives life by God’s Word.

What age group is “older men” in verse 2 referring to? Hippocrates the Greek physician who lived about 4 centuries before Paul wrote his letter to Titus categorized people according to age. He used this term to refer to people who were over fifty years old. That is younger than we think of senior adults being. But the age range it refers to definitely includes those we think of as senior adults today.

What about “older women” in verse 3? This is a little different from the men. In their culture, grown women were categorized by whether they were of child-bearing and child-rearing age or beyond. A typical married woman who would bear children from her teens into her early forties would be rearing her children up to about sixty years old.  The term “older women” generally referred to a woman who was past the age of having and bringing up children, so sixty or older. “Young women” in verse 4 were younger than 60.

Paul instructed Titus to teach the senior men and women he shepherded to demonstrate attitudes and actions that were fitting for the truth contained in God’s Word. Sounds like a seniors ministry to me!

Let’s take a quick look at these character qualities. They are probably not exhaustive, but a representative list addressing the situation in the Cretian church.

FOR MEN

  • Sober – not under the influence of alcohol or any substance that keeps you from thinking clearly
  • Reverent – worthy of respect; a personal dignity and seriousness of purpose that invite honor and respect
  • Temperate – sensible, using good judgment
  • Faith – trusting God for salvation and through every test and trial of life
  • Love – selfless concern for others, putting others before yourself
  • Patience – endurance with a purpose

“Older believers have lived long enough to see many people . . . experience serious misfortune, suffer great pain, and perhaps die at an early age. They may have seen a spouse or a child suffer from cancer of some debilitating disease. They have learned the value of time and opportunity. They better accept and comprehend their own mortality, the imperfections of this present world, and the inability of material things to give lasting, deep satisfaction. They have seen utopian ideas fall and have learned how short-lived and disappointing euphoric emotional experiences can be.” John MacArthur

Seniors need to exercise faith in God, love toward all, and endurance to the end.

FOR WOMEN

  • Reverent – view life as sacred, approach each day, role, responsibility as a sacred duty and privilege
  • Not slanderers – avoid malicious gossip
  • Not given to much wine – similar to “sober” in verse 2, but evidently addressing a specific problem of alcoholic women in Crete
  • Teachers of good things . . . admonish the young women . . . – be a mentor

Seniors can fall prey to the idea they do not need to grow or they are not vulnerable to temptation. They can become self-indulgent and self-centered, influenced by the world’s idea of enjoying retirement and old age. They need to challenged to remain vigilant against the flesh, to show genuine love to others, and to influence the next generation. A biblically based senior adults ministry will teach these principles and provide opportunities to live them out in relationship with others, especially the younger generation.

Another objective of an effective senior adults ministry is to guide and help seniors to

Stay involved in ministry.
The qualities of love and impacting others motivates them to be active in various roles in the church and help with ministry projects. Some seniors are in a secure financial condition that enables them to give toward ministry projects and missions support. The church that provides ministry opportunities to seniors will benefit from their wisdom and generosity. They are also some of the greatest prayer warriors in the church.

Have gospel impact on their friends and neighbors.
Seniors are often connected to people in their neighborhoods and community organizations. Activities and trips provide opportunities for them to invite people they know who are looking for things to do and enjoy social events.

Engage in mutually encouraging fellowship.
Seniors may grow lonely, depressed, and anxious. Some are grieving the loss of a spouse. They have unique financial pressures, medical issues, and family burdens. Christian fellowship provides truth-based friendship and encouragement. Also, the church can facilitate opportunities for cross-generational fellowship that is healthy for both young and old.

Be faithful until God calls them home.
Senior adults can be treasures in the life of the church. As they age, by God’s grace, they exhibit the character of Christ in ways that bless everyone. With encouragement from their church family, godly senior saints endure the trials of old age. One day they are called home by their Heavenly Father and a comforting refrain sounds around the church family,

Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.
Psalm 116:15

They Said Yes!

Old TypewriterThis week I have been blessed with an answer to prayer and a major step in fulfilling one of my heart’s desires. Allow me to give thanks to God and share with followers and friends.

Two years ago I began using summer and Christmas breaks as well as early mornings during the school year to turn stacks of study notes and sermon outlines into a manuscript. Last October I submitted the result of my efforts to a publisher for consideration.

After six months of review by editors and a few revisions on my end, I received a letter this week which began, “We are excited about your book titled Growing Body. The topic of church growth from a biblical perspective is important, and your book will speak to that need . . . If you accept the terms of the contract, please add your electronic signature . . . “

My heart leaped. Praise God!

Months of editing, revision, and production still lie ahead. I’ve discovered that while writing is hard work I enjoy the process. I look forward to the finished product and the impact it will have.

I am grateful to God for giving me the vision and energy to write and to my wife for her support and encouragement. I am thankful for the opportunity to partner with JourneyForth Books.

Many thanks to JourneyForth Acquisitions Editor Nancy Lohr who, eight years ago, first encouraged me to turn a sermon series into a book and who is now walking me through the process. It took a while, but here we go!