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Thanks for visiting our website! This month’s picture is of a seminar in Guatemala at Ezell Clinic, December 2018. [Click picture to enlarge.]

Seminar in Guatemala

Ministry and mission work is a team effort -- Jan and I have shared the task of ministry and mission work for over 50 years! (We traveled together to preaching appointments during the year before we were married.) Countless people have encouraged us, supported us, loved us, and prayed for us. In addition to the customary "Brother Bob" or "Hermano Bob," I am also known as dad and papaw. One of my favorite breakfasts is huevos fritos, frijoles, and tortillas, with a good hot sauce and a cup of rich Colombian coffee! My greatest joy in life is being part of the kingdom; my #1 priority is to advance "kingdom things" and to help develop authentic "kingdom people." I seek to share the good news about Jesus everywhere I go, helping people find Jesus and helping people mature as disciples of Jesus. One of the greatest blessings of my life is to be loved by countless people around the world!


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Archive for the ‘Renewal’ Category

Church Renewal–How?

Monday, August 18th, 2014

The church is in constant need of renewal. The past is never good enough; the present is fleeting; we want the future to be better–as bright and good as it can be. In my experience, many churches desire renewal but do not know how to find it. Church renewal occurs when multiple dynamics are brought into play simultaneously. This blog identifies and describes three essential components of church renewal. These are not a cure-all or a guarantee, but they are essential to the renewal process.

Church renewal seldom occurs unless the church is reasonably healthy. Many authors have written about church illness and church health. Here is a list of eight symptoms of church illness from Kent Allen: maintenance complex, failure syndrome, credibility gap, fellowshipitis, people blindness, overcrowding, leadership tensions, and old age. A church may function reasonably well despite the presence of some of these symptoms, but experience confirms that churches that look inward, cannot see outward, lack bridges of communication and credibility to their community, and have a history of failure seldom have the spiritual strength to move forward. Allen also lists eight signs of health: effective leadership, an agreed agenda, believing prayer, life-related Bible teaching, mobilized membership, community minded, ongoing evangelism, and new member assimilation and incorporation. Such lists suggest two needs: eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.

While negatives must be addressed, many churches can take a major step toward renewal by focusing on the development of a healthy congregation. Committed leaders can actively work on processes for identifying a vision and mission that can unite the church, mobilize the members, and encourage the active involvement of new members. Coupled with prayer and fresh Bible teaching, these positives can help initiate renewal. Churches with a clear sense of identity and purpose are more likely to have the energy to reach others.

Churches struggle with renewal when they do not know who they are. Church identity is not an easy task. What we were in the past is not what we are today. Some think the church is the same as it was, but such cannot be. Churches that seek and find renewal usually find a renewed identity. There are lots of ways to give a church a fresh identity. Some of the more obvious ones are name, descriptions, vision, mission, personnel, and leadership. The church must know itself; the church must also escape any false identities that have arisen in the minds or perceptions of the community. The latter is usually more difficult that the former.

Churches that find genuine renewal have a clearly defined mission. That mission should be grounded in Scripture and God’s mission for the church. A church that knows who it is and what it is about is well on its way to renewal. Add a commitment to healthy church dynamics, and renewal is even more likely.

Churches that find genuine renewal have a sense of purpose that transcends self. God has exceedingly great goals for the church. He lends his exceedingly great power to the task. God’s glory dwells in the church that is genuinely his–indwelt by Christ, energized by a power beyond mere human efforts, fervently seeking to understand God’s purpose which has been demonstrated by God’s love and mercy.

How Should We “Do” Church? (3)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

In two previous articles, I have suggested some changes that we must make in how we “do church”. These include a renewed focus on Christ, Scripture, and others; a commitment to the world around us and a commitment to discipleship and involvement rather than consumerism.

Because I am a minister, and have spent my life preparing for ministry, studying ministry, practicing ministry, and teaching ministry, I conclude with four observations for my friends in ministry. I hope by sharing these in a more public forum that I can also help the church understand ministry. Such is essential, because we have developed a model of church where ministry is focused at the top of a pyramid in church leaders and paid staff. We have paid lip service to the thought that “every member is a minister,” but we have not practiced it well in most places.

What kind of minister will help us answer the challenges before us? What kind of minister will help the church be church? What kind of minister will help us “do church” effectively. While many answers can be given, I focus on four commitments from my own life.

  • I want to be a minister that helps the church encounter and wrestle with Scripture as the very Word of God. The preacher must preach the word as it is, not as we have always thought it was. Bible study must be fresh and vibrant. We must study to learn, not just to reinforce what we have always thought.
  • I want to be a minister that lets people see and experience Jesus in their everyday lives. This begins in my personal life when I see and experience Jesus daily. The church will not advance beyond its leaders. I must seek the spiritual life; I must model genuine surrender to the priorities and call of God in my life.
  • I want to be a minister that understands and feels with the hurts of the world that God wants to save. I want to speak the language of our world and culture.  I want to be a viable voice in a world of conflicting siren songs. I want Jesus to have a voice.
  • I want to be a minister that releases Jesus to a waiting world. While we live in a secular world where many have rejected the church, there are many in this world who have not turned their back on Jesus. These are waiting for someone who can show them the reality of Jesus. I want to minister in that way, in a church that has caught the vision.

How Should We “Do” Church (2)

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

[This blog is a continuation from yesterday. Here are some additional items to consider as we ask whether our focus is biblical and healthy.]

3.  We must focus on people more than task. We must know who we are, and not only what we must do. One can do the right things without being the right person. One cannot be the right person without doing the right things. Thus, we must move our focus from rules to relationships. We must focus on intimacy more than issues. People matter to God. The Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath. This priority will change your life. God is calling us to togetherness in Christ.

4.  We must focus externally more than internally. What we do as Christians, both down at the church house and in our daily lives, is not about us. It is all about God. It is about God’s desire and plan in this world. Thus, we must move our focus from the church (club) to the community. We must see God’s purpose in our world. We must learn to think glocally (both global and local). We must focus on God more than self.

5.  We must focus on genuine discipleship. You can be a member of most churches of Christ by doing nothing more than attending a time or two each month. You may be able to be a member of the church with such antics, but you cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ! Discipleship is demanding. Discipleship is hard. Discipleship calls us to discomfort, and giving up self, and cross-bearing, and priorities that are not natural is our world. Discipleship calls our focus away from personal needs, possessions, prestige and prominence, power, and even parents. How should we do church? We should say to one another, because it is what the Bible says, that being a Christian is demanding. You cannot just “get by.” You cannot be half-hearted. Faithfulness is not something that is turned on and off. A Christian everywhere, or a Christian nowhere. Ever a Christian or never a Christian. Christianity changes more than our Sunday schedule.

6.  We must focus on involvement. We must move our focus from consumerism to involvement. The question is not, “what will the church do for me?”, but “what will I do for the church?” (to paraphrase the famous phrase of John F. Kennedy). We are not here to be consumers, and we must not guide our outreach and evangelism by encouraging others to become religious consumers. Church is not about getting comfortable. Jesus came to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. We should call people to become Christians, and to live that out daily. Discipleship is daily.

7.  We must focus outside the building. This is not easy. We have built religious centers that attract few. We have put up steeples to say, “Here is religion; here is the church.” God is calling us to be light and salt and leaven in our world. He is not calling us to see how many people we can get inside a building; he is calling us to see how many Christians we can get into our communities and world to provide an example of transformation and spiritual reality.

I hope we have the heart to learn how to do church right. If we fail in answering the call of Jesus in our contemporary world, I fear that we are destined to nothingness, and that more quickly than we can imagine.

How Should We “Do” Church? (1)

Monday, July 14th, 2014

A preacher friend of mine and I were visiting about the greeting program at the church where he ministers. He wanted to make some changes to insure a better contact with visitors. His problem? The same deacon had organized the greeters and the greeting program for a long time. It was generally ineffective. My preacher friend couldn’t make any headway against some strong opposition to improvement and change. The only solution we saw was to let the current program continue to function and institute a new parallel program that would do essentially the same thing, only better.

In the course of our conversation, he mentioned a conversation with a minister friend. His friend works in ministry outside the churches of Christ. His friend was trying to help him understand why the churches of Christ are plateaued or declining in growth and are generally ineffective in touching our current world. The comment of his friend was revealing: “You guys have the best preaching in the world. You know how to preach; you know how to work with the text. You just don’t know how to do church!”

You may not agree with this objective assessment from a person who understands ministry and is able to see us with unbiased eyes from a vantage point outside us. My worry is that he may be right. How should we do church? When we come together for worship, are our shared activities informed by Scripture (we would like to think so), by the world about us (God forbid!), or by a body of tradition and habit that has arisen over a long time (the most likely answer).
That this is generally true of our churches becomes more obvious when one spends a little time on the mission field. Our brothers and sisters in other places do a lot of things differently than we do. Visiting the mission field is fresh and vibrant. When I visit other places, I am challenged and encouraged.

Think with me. How must we change?
1.  We must focus on Christ. We must move from our historic focus on church to focus on Christ. Our allegiance is to Christ. He will never disappoint us. He is always the answer–to a whole host of problems. Christ is perfect; the church is imperfect. We are human. The church is not the goal, Christ is the goal. My little children, I suffer the pangs of birth for you, until Christ be formed in you. We conform our lives to Christ. He is our example and model. The model is not the NT church; the model is Christ. The church is the means to the end. This doesn’t mean we never talk about the church. You cannot have Christ without the church. But our focus is Christ. We must focus on Scripture more than tradition. We read the Scripture through the rose-colored glasses of our heritage and our traditions. We cannot change the slightest thing. We have lost freedom in Christ, exchanging it for a box of our own making.

2.  We must focus on others more than self. We must move from self-centeredness to others-centeredness. Christ did not come to the healthy, but to the sick. He did come to rescue saved people; he came to seek and save the lost. Frankly, what we do is mostly for us. We do what we do because we like it and are comfortable doing it. I could make a long list of things that we could do that would not contradict Scripture, but we will not do them because they contradict our traditions and move us outside our comfort zone.

Affirmations: Renewing Our Thinking

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

“Don’t be like the world, but be transformed by constantly renewing your mind and thinking. In this way, you will know the will of God and understand how good, complete, and pleasing it is.” (Rom. 12:2).

Every day, the temporal value system and “advertising” of the world bombards us through the things we see, hear, and read. It enters our minds through television, radio, email, websites, daily conversations, and observing what it takes to get ahead in this world. Many of the messages we receive are intentional—encouraging us to adopt the values and behaviors of this temporary world. Most of the messages are subtle—no ‘in your face’ demands that you line up with the values of the world, just the message that you will be missing something in your life if you don’t.

Because of these non-stop attempts to get into our wallets and our lives, and take our attention off what really matters, it is vital that we renew our minds with the eternal value system of God’s Word. Each day we must refocus on God and his part in the important issues of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. A helpful habit is using daily affirmations from God’s Word. The Bible is our “Renewal Handbook.”

Many kinds of affirmations are found in Scripture.  A quick survey of the Bible reveals affirmations about (1) God’s attributes and nature, (2) God’s works and work, (3) the identity of God’s people, (4) the value of relationship with God, (5) the rewards of character development, and (6) the beauty of relationship with others. You can easily find other categories of biblical affirmations.  I encourage you, as you read the word of God, to identify a daily (or weekly) affirmation, to memorize it, and to meditate on it as part of your daily walk with God.

December presents a unique opportunity to develop the “affirmation habit.”  The month begins on Sunday, and developing the affirmation habit will prepare us for the New Year and daily renewal through meditation on God’s Word.  I will provide affirmations for the month of December. The affirmations for the first week appear in a blog later today. In 2014, I encourage to develop your own affirmations and use them in your daily walk with God.

Analyzing our “Baggage”

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Any time one comes to a study or discussion of the Bible, one brings “baggage.” No one begins with a perfectly clean slate. We must be honest about our preconceptions, traditions, pre-understandings. This article suggests five possible pieces of baggage–reactionism, separatism, legalism, misunderstanding how the Bible communicates, and of more recent vintage, increasing indifference to what the Bible communicates.

Restorationism often finds initial roots in reaction against particular misunderstandings or abuses. When this occurs, the shape of a Restoration movement or church, and the faith of those involved, is influenced by the thing reacted against. While this may not be always the case, it at least raises the possibility that our “faith” may not be as pure or as primitive as we often assume.
Historically, many Restorationists have had a tendency toward separatism, if not an outright sectarianism. Thus, many Restorationist churches still operate on the assumption that every doctrinal question is ultimately about who remains in fellowship and who is excluded, including who is going to heaven and who is not. This results in a divisive attitude, even among brothers.
Many Restoration churches have a legalistic attitude about or understanding of the Bible. Such treat the Bible akin to the IRS code with God as the great Heavenly Auditor who sharpens his pencil and puts on his glasses to look carefully for some technicality on the basis of which he can deny us eternal life. While God’s revelation of himself contains instructions to help us fulfill his purpose in our lives and become like him, the gospel of Scripture reveals a God who has gone to great sacrificial lengths to save his rebellious human creation, even to the extent of giving his Son for us.
Our Restoration heritage includes those who have misunderstood and misused Scripture by prooftexting; thus our baggage includes a history of incomplete, insufficient, and even bad and baseless arguments. Some have made the Bible says things it does not. This is related to separatism and legalism, but is a distinct problem.
In reaction against these things, some have in the last twenty to twenty-five years developed a spirit of indifferentism. Mark Shipp calls this the Doctrine of Ecclesiological Indifference. This attitude steers one into the opposite ditch, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that it must not matter very much what the church does when it assembles. Wearied by our past, we ride the pendulum to the opposite extreme.

What is an appropriate understanding? A starting point would be the agree that the New Testament is our guide regarding the nature of Christian discipleship and the shared life of the church. This suggests that we seek to understand the aims of the apostles and the New Testament writers, and that we consider what kind of communities the apostles were trying to establish and nurture, and how the forms of the Christian life and the Christian church functions to further those aims.

Restoring What?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

“In every church, in every institution, there is something which sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence.” (C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 94).
If Lewis is right, we would do well to ask ourselves afresh why the church came into existence, how the current church should reflect that origin, and what kinds of things are working against the original purpose. Those of us who stand in a Restorationist tradition must understand the nature of restoration (recovery) efforts. Michael Weed has observed that such movements become predominantly shaped by what they are reacting against. That shape often continues long after the factors that motivated the original reaction are gone. Thus it is that Restorationist movements stagnate, considering themselves successful because the factors against which they originally stood have been eliminated. Along the way, Restoration can become irrelevant because its inherent nature is more reactionary than proactionary. In common terms, more known for what it is against than for what it is for.
The church committed to restoration and recovery must continually keep in mind the original. An oft-used illustration serves well here: those who work to identify counterfeit money do not study the multiple counterfeit possibilities–they study and come to know everything they can about authentic bills.
If the contemporary church’s culture or DNA has derailed, it may be because the church has lost sight of the original plan and purpose of God in establishing the church. A quick New Testament refresher course would go a long way toward correcting any tendencies to turn inward in exclusivity or to diminish the church’s commitment to proclaiming the message of Jesus far and wide through evangelism and missions.
The church is not here to react to the world or to human misunderstandings, but to respond faithfully to God’s love expressed in Christ. That faithful response, guided by God’s word concerning his intent and the purpose of the church, will go a long way toward helping us become what God is calling his people to be.

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