Defunding the Church

I am taking a chance borrowing an inflammatory statement summarizing a controversial movement in Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 6.16.36 PMthe U.S. as I write and apply it to the Church. No, I am not suggesting or praying that God will harm the church or cut off her resources in retaliation for perceived or actual shortcomings. I am using this phrase because I think this is what God is doing right now, and it is consistent with how I have seen Him work in my lifetime. I can also come up with a few biblical examples to show that God uses finances to direct His people into new ventures and then restores their "fortunes" when they are properly placed.

I am on record declaring with confidence that God is using this pandemic season to teach the church new things and strip and scrape away some of the cultural baggage and barnacles it has accumulated. I have used the phrase 'addicted to face-to-face ministry' to describe our penchant for public gatherings while ignoring the power of technology and social media—utilizing it reluctantly or as an afterthought, if at all.

Whenever I say this, some well-meaning soul will write me, sometimes in a frenzy, to say the church must meet, that anything else is not the church. They insinuate I am suggesting that technology can replace the church. At no point have I said that technological presentations can replace the church, but I have said it can be the next best thing to being there if we cannot meet. I have also said that we can and should use technology to reach more with the message of the gospel and to disciple others. We should have material relevant to counseling, evangelism, and doctrine online. Every church leader should have a vibrant, relevant presence online. With reduced attendance, I know the finances of many churches have taken a hit and God is using this not to punish the church, but to redirect its efforts. In that sense, God is defunding or getting the church's attention through financial leanness.


To give you an example of this phenomenon from the Bible, I am going to use a story that isn't about financial lack, but it is about change that came to the early church that led to new, fruitful ministry. The story is found in Acts 8 and involves the story of Philip the Evangelist:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city (Acts 8:4-8).

Let's flesh out this story a bit more. Jesus had told the disciples to go to Samaria and the ends of the earth, but no one seemed motivated to go. They were all staying in Jerusalem and its environs where everyone knew everyone else, having daily meetings in the Temple and from house to house. Then Stephen was martyred in Acts 7 and suddenly, the church could not meet as it had. The authorities persecuted believers, and we read how bad it got when we learn the ends to which Saul later to become Paul was willing to go to pursue and imprison followers of Christ. I liken this persecution to what the Church is encountering now in that its normal operations had been interrupted by forces beyond its control.

In response to this, Philip and others decided to venture out to Samaria, that land where the hated Samaritans lived. When Philip got there and preached, all heaven broke loose. Signs and wonders flowed and the residents "all paid close attention"—every preacher's dream! This is similar to what some are doing today. When the church cannot meet, they are venturing out to a technological Samaria and finding good results—no money, but good results. Other churches are not using technology but still finding new ways to deliver ministry, such as increased use of the telephone, mobile apps, drive through prayer lines, food distribution, and house-to-house visits (hopefully practicing social distancing).

Of course, eventually things settled down in Jerusalem for the believers or as much as it was going to as the days before the fall of Judea played out. Yet once Philip went to Samaria, others went there and beyond and eventually Paul and a host of others swarmed all over the Roman world to preach, teach, and establish churches. My sense is that once we start using social media as we should and could, we will have new success in ministry that will open many more doors we cannot even imagine or think about today.

Let's keep in mind that the Church belongs to Jesus. He bought it with His blood. If He wants us to change the way we "do" ministry, then it's our job to make the changes—not resist them in a theological frenzy of end-time paranoia. If you still aren't convinced, then all I ask is that you at least listen and learn from those who are embracing new methods of ministry that will produce different results than those to which you have become accustomed. If you are convinced that God is defunding only to redirect our efforts, then I encourage you to keep on keeping on. You are a pioneer for the Lord and one day you will share what you've learned with a grateful church that made the jump to new ministry modes that will enhance our public gatherings when the all clear signal is given.

The Acts of Jesus

I have begun G. Campbell Morgan's devotional from the Acts of the Apostles and already in the first Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 6.10.06 PMchapter, I have learned so much from Morgan who was known as the "Prince of Expositors" in England through World War II. He confirmed many things I have felt about Acts that i have never seen in print anywhere else. 

First is the name of the book: the Acts of the Apostles. There are so many other titles I can think of, like the Acts of the Spirit, the Acts of Purpose, or the Acts of Believers. The book of Acts barely mentions the twelve apostles and then focuses on the ministry of Peter (a little) and Paul (a lot). The book is more like a collection of stories told about people who found their purpose and achieved it through the power of the Spirit—people like Barnabas, Dorcas, Phillip, Cornelius, Lydia, and John Mark. John had to terminate his missions trip with Barnabas and Saul, probably because of tension between him and Saul. I am sure Saul was not an easy man with whom to work.

Luke began Acts with these words: "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . ." (Acts 1:1). Notice that he said his gospel focused on what Jesus had begun to do and teach, which means Acts is an account of what Jesus continued to do and teach through His followers in the power of the Spirit. Therefore, I supposed another good title would have been the Acts of Jesus through the Spirit. I have often considered Acts a fifth gospel, which when coupled with the other four, would produce the special number five that would parallel the five books of the Pentateuch. The Old begins with five books as does the New. Only the Spirit could arrange something like that.

The book of Acts takes us on a breathtaking overview of what the disciples accomplished after Pentecost, which should be viewed as Jesus's work. What energy and purpose He displayed! Whereas He was constrained during His earthly ministry, in Acts Jesus was released to do what He wanted to do all along: touch the lives of people everywhere with the love and power of God—introduced through His message, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."

When Acts ends in chapter 28, there is no conclusion, no words that say "and they all lived happily ever after." It just sort of fizzles out, just like Mark's gospel does. As Acts concludes, Paul is under house arrest but nevertheless ministers to all who come to see him. It's almost like Luke ended the book through the Spirit's inspiration to say, "This book has no ending. It is still being written, for Jesus is still doing magnificent and plenteous work and good deeds in the power of the Spirit through His people." When I have taught Acts 6 where the deacons were selected, I pointed out that this was not to institute the office of deacons. Rather, it represented a creative solution to a never-before-encountered problem, leaving us a model to follow for our own encounters with the challenges of our day and culture. We are to add our names to the book by finding and fulfilling our purpose in partnership with the Holy Spirit of Jesus. Is that what you are doing?

Needless to say, I am looking forward to this 58-chapter book, which will take me through the rest of the summer for my devotional reading and study. Stay tuned, for I am sure there will be other things i will share as I make my way through G. Campbell Morgan's latest posthumous gift to my understanding of God's word.

The Online Pastor

My revision and expansion of my 2009 book Changing the Way We Do Church is coming along. The expanded version will include an entire section on technology and social media, which was hardly Screen Shot 2020-06-12 at 7.14.28 PM
mentioned in the first edition. I won't go into all I will have to say there, but in light of my posts the last two weeks about creativity and innovation in the church, here is an excerpt from the new section I want to show you this week.


In the earlier part of this book, I recommended that each church appoint a purpose pastor, someone who can help people recognize and then engage their life purpose through appropriate actions like publishing, starting a business or non-profit organization, or entering into full-time church or missions work. To go along with the purpose pastor, I also recommend that every church identify and empower a pastor of social media and technology. I will not get too specific as to their job duties, but in general, they will be to

take who we are as a people—what we teach, how we worship, what we believe, how we apply what we believe—and make it accessible not only to those in our closest proximity but also to those who live in other regions or countries.

This position will not allow a church’s presence online to be an afterthought or something that is done when the church gets around to it but will make it a top priority. They will have the full cooperation of all the staff and in a sense will co-pastor the church with the lead pastor, mutually submitting to one another. Due to the resistance and priority that lead pastors tend to give to the face-to-face church presence, this online pastor and his or her team must have unprecedented power to make decisions in the best interests of the online work, sometimes at the expense of the live worship experience. The online pastor will have the authority to involve any and all church staff and members in this endeavor.

For example, let’s say that the senior pastor shares a message that is well received by the people. The online pastor can decide to turn that series into a book, an online series with a study guide, or put it in any other format necessary to fulfill his or her mandate and the senior pastor cannot refuse. The online pastor can assign any staff member online duties and they cannot refuse or claim it’s not their strength or gift, or resort to the “I am too busy” excuse. As an example, the online pastor can decide the church is going to live broadcast the youth or children’s ministry and that’s that. There can be no protests from either department that they don’t want to do this.

My assumption is that all the resources any church needs to fulfill its mission are already sitting right in its midst. The church only needs new eyes to see who is present and utilize those people in a more effective way. This is also where the purpose pastor can help the online pastor, for the purpose pastor should be close to who knows and does what in the church, and also whom God is speaking to about more involvement in the church’s ministry work.

The online pastor will be tasked with identifying a team that will provide an online presence during the live worship services. The members of that team will use their own social media presence, or the church’s, to publish and broadcast portions of the live service. That will include quotes from the sermon, perhaps a line from a song sung that impressed them, or their own insight as the service progresses: “Pastor Sam is preaching from 1 Samuel 1. I have never thought of Hannah as he is presenting her. Good stuff!”

Finally, the online pastor will then help each staff member with their own social media philosophy, helping them spell out exactly how and when they will personally engage social media, which media they will use, and what they will include in their online presence, which may be a weekly blog, a regular video update, a devotional, or a podcast. Where the technical savvy is lacking, the online pastor will provide training.

Then the online pastor will do the same for any in the church who are interested in doing the same. He or she will start by imparting a theology of social media, reinforced from the live pulpit, to help people overcome any latent bias. Then the online pastor will help people understand how to use technology in a way that is consistent with their personal ministry or purpose.

That's just a portion of my thinking where the online pastor is concerned. One more point I did not include is that this online pastor cannot report to who I am calling the Sunday meeting pastor, for the latter will always prioritize the face-to-face meetings, often at the expense of an online presence—just as they have done since social media came on the scene. It is time for the Church to be innovative and an online pastor is one position that is needed and relevant, as the recent pandemic has shown. It is no longer acceptable to use social media as a church bulletin in cyberspace but instead to make it an important part of ministry, equal in energy and commitment to the on site services.

Q26: Your Temper

What would Jesus ask you today?

"What are you arguing with them about?" he asked - Mark 9:16.

It's common to say that someone "lost" their temper, but in some ways they "found" it when they get into a heated argument or when someone does them wrong. If this is a regular occurrence, then someone is said to have an anger "problem." In today's verse, Jesus inquired as to the source of the argument among the disciples. An argument is a battle to prove that someone is right and someone else is wrong, when both may be wrong or partially right. Are you prone to argue? Would you or others say you have an anger issue? Why is being right so important? Why hurt someone you love or offend an acquaintance just to be "right" or to retaliate for being wronged? There are many verses that speak to controlling anger, but for today read Ephesians 4:26-27 and 1 Timothy 2:8 and then confront any areas of anger in your heart.


This has been a week of meetings.  I am not complaining for that is the nature of our work at my church (or any church, for that matter): meeting with one another and with members to help advance God's purpose in their lives and and the lives of the church.  So far this week, I have had:

  1. One Servant Team meeting (the department heads of the church, every Tuesday afternoon) -- 2 hours
  2. One Elders meeting (once a month on the first Tuesday) -- 3.5 hours
  3. One Ministry Team meeting (those involved in pastoral ministry, every Wednesday morning) -- 1.5 hours
  4. One Admin Pastor meeting (even Thursday with two other pastors) -- 2 hours

That is nine hours of business meetings.  Add to that additional planning sessions with my colleague Blaine that required about two hours.

Then i have my purpose counseling meetings.  This week I had five of them, which required about six hours of meetings.  Spread out over the fours days in the office this week (Tuesday through Friday), I spend about half my day in meetings or preparing for meetings.  I am not trying to eliminate any of these meetings.  As my friend Pat Lencioni wrote and said, it's not that we have too many meetings in our lives (I would highly recommend Pat's book, Death by Meeting, as a good read on this subject).  The problem is that we have too many bad and ineffective meetings.  I love to see people come together and get work done as a team and often that comes from having very good meetings.

My objective for any meeting is to:

  1. Keep them as short as possible.
  2. Prevent them from degenerating into squabbles.
  3. Have fun and laugh.
  4. Make sure everyone is clear on what we agreed to do and who will do it.
  5. Look everyone there in the eye to see how they are doing.
  6. Watch, look and listen with skill and discernment.
  7. Schedule any necessary follow up meetings.

For my one-on-one purpose meetings, I want to help people ask the Lord better questions so they can get better answers and to help them see what they are really saying and doing.  Someone once said that it's not that people and organizations can't fix their problems, it's that they cannot see their problems to fix them. Once they see them, they have a better chance of correcting them.

I continue to be a student of how to get things done through people and that means I must skillfully lead or participate in good meetings.  If you have any tips of how you lead a meeting or any observations as a participant in meetings that would be helpful, please pass them along to my readers.

Changing the Way We Do Church 7

This last installment in my series Changing the Way We Do Church 7 has been a long time coming.  That's not because I didn't know what to write.  It's just that I have been up to a lot of other things and one of them is more involvement with my local church, Allegheny Center Alliance Church, on the North Side of Pittsburgh.  As I wrote this series, I realized that I needed to be more closely aligned with a local body so that I was not just theorizing, griping or fantasizing, but actually contributing to the solution in an active way.

The seventh and last step in the Changing process would be to address and meet the needs of women, ethnic minorities, and children around the world.

A number of years ago, I watched a Sixty Minutes segment on the Taliban and they had done to women in Afghanistan and I cried.  I said to the Lord that I would go there if He wanted me to.  Lo and behold, I was invited there after the Taliban were ousted and I saw for myself the suffering that war imposes on women and children.  Over the years, I have seen the same dynamic in Africa and in some parts of Asia.  What's more, I still behold the problem in my own nation.

Jesus was the friend of women, which was a revolutionary concept in Judaism.  He and the disciples had a team of women traveling with them (see Luke 8:1-3).  Jesus allowed women to appropriately touch Him and they were healed; He did not rebuke them for doing so.  Children also had easy access to Jesus, even though the disciples, His ushers, tried to keep the children away.

If Jesus was a magnet for women and children, and Jesus is present in His body, the church, then doesn't it stand to reason that women and children, the neediest groups due to male mismanagement and irresponsibility, should also flock to the Church?  What's more, should not the Church proactively address the needs of these two important groups.

I also mention ethnic groups because the church should always be a place where people who don't look like one another gather.  That's why I don't care for churches that have all or only one group, whether they be all Chinese, Korean, Messianic believers, Africans or African-Americans.  Church should look like heaven is going to look and that is best described in Revelation 7:9:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

The Sophia Fund is my simple attempt to personally do something to address this seventh step.  I am raising money and awareness of hungry orphans and widows in Africa.  Too often I have not done anything because I could not do it in a big way.  I have not given $10 because it wasn't $100.  I would not help five orphans because it seemed so small and insignificant.  I am addressing that wrong thinking and I believe churches have that problem, too.  We will pay the electric company whatever they say we owe them, but won't sometimes spend $100 on the poor or widows.  That has to change.

There you have my seven steps to changing the way we do church. Feel free to write me your comments, even if you disagree.  Let me hear from you as to what changes you think need to take place for the Body to be a place of mission and purpose and not just a place of assembly once or twice a week. 

Changing the Way We Do Church 6

It's time to finish up my series on church reform with these last two entries.  You can read the past five entries here to catch up with what I have been saying and, of course, you comments, criticisms and additions are most welcome.

The sixth step in church reformation is

6.  Move from fads, copycat programs, and trite and phony rituals, traditions and doctrines to creative initiatives in the Spirit of (but exceeding the results of) the early church.

I am 58 years old and I have known the Lord for 35 years.  I have seen a lot of movements come and go and have studied many others who came and went before I came and studied.  I have lived through discipleship, seeker-sensitive, charismatic, cells church, signs and wonders, and house church movements. I have seen spiritual "stars" and "celebrities" come and go with their followers willing to follow them off a spiritual cliff.

Today we have missional, emerging, G12, reformed seeker-sensitive and a few more that I am not even aware of.  I have studied the Reformers, the Quakers, the Shakers, the Salvation Army, the Christian Missionary Alliance and the Methodists, They have been launched, matured and taught by sincere men and women whose heart was to create an expression of the body of Christ that was consistent with biblical principles and their interpretations of the same.

The problem I see is that as soon as one of these emphases or movements is started, people flock to read and study them so that they can copy, emulate or assimilate their "best" traits, which are the ones that "work" best.  Others flock to attack the new movements, and the blogosphere is full of people devoted to one philosophy or another. 

My only recommendation is that we keep on seeking, listening and innovating where church growth and evangelism are concerned.  Don't just do something because someone else is doing it and they are having success.  For example, I have seen so many churches with the attitude, "We pray or worship a lot in our church and God is blessing it.  If you prayed or worshiped like we prayed and worshiped, God would bless you and you would grow, too."  Suddenly spiritual prayer becomes a technique and it loses its spirituality.  Then books and conferences on prayer-growth or worship-growth appear and people buy or attend them to learn how prayer or worship can "work" for them, too. People then become part of the prayer-growth-worship movement to the exclusion of everyone or anyone else. 

Then the prayer-growth emphasis becomes a movement and maybe even a denomination, which then regulates how you pray for effective church growth (or even non-growth -- some churches don't want to grow).  Finally, I have heard many churches state that they want a New Testament church.  I understand what they are saying, but I don't want a New Testament church.  I want a church that exceeds those results.  I don't believe that the early church met in homes because we should only meet in homes.  I think they adapted to what they had and they were successful.  Now we must adapt to our culture and do what they did:  prove that we can present a relevant gospel to our generation.

Whatever church emphasis you adopt or follow, please make sure it's a spiritual exercise and not some shortcut that exempts you from seeking the Lord for yourself.  And when you adopt it, don't try to make it an iron-clad, no exceptions philosophy that condemns or criticizes those who don't do it like you do.  If it is Spirit-led, then follow the Spirit and keep your eyes on Him.  If it isn't, well I've seen enough of those in my lifetime and I'm not interested in feeding any more of them with my enthusiasms or loyalty.  And I've had my expectations shattered again and again by men (and women) who had the "word" for the day, only to crash and burn when their initial insights could not stand up to the test of time or human limitations. 

Changing the Way We Do Church 5

I got back from Kenya on Tuesday evening and it's been busy the last few days catching up. Before the week gets away entirely, let's look at the next installment in my series on how we need to change the way we do church.  When I read some of the thoughtful and profound blogs on the modern church, its ills and problems, I feel like my suggestions are simplistic. There are many others with much better ideas than mine, yet these are borne out of 35 years experience in church work, so I hope they are worth something. You can read my past entries on this topic here.

The fifth step to church reformation is:

5. Develop services, Sunday Schools, children’s church, youth meetings and even committee meetings that people want to attend because there is a spirit of excellence and the unexpected.

It's not that the church has too many meetings, but rather that we have too many bad meetings.  I watch as a malaise come over many people in our gatherings, even in business meetings. The facilitation is poor, the leader usually talks too much, people don't contribute for a variety of reasons and the result is boredom, lack of focus and confusion. What's worse, we force our children and youth to go to ineffective meetings because we hope they will "catch" something while they are there, but the only thing you can "catch" in a bad meeting is the flu. There is nothing else passing from person to person that can make a difference. I was in a board of directors meeting the other day and it was just flat out "bad." If I didn't have to be present, I would have run out of the room looking for comfort.

I put the responsibility for poor meetings at the feet of leadership, for they are the ones who call the shots. What we usually lack is any kind of accountability and feedback that can help our meetings improve.  If the youth are sitting in the meeting and they look bored, then they are bored.  And if leadership insists on doing the same thing for the next meeting, the youth will be bored then, too. The same holds true for adult services and meetings.

Everyone who leads a meeting should hold to the same standard that Jesus set, as found in Mark 12:37:  "The large crowd listened to him with delight."  People walked for days to listen for days only to return home for days and they kept on coming, because Jesus had something to say. His "meetings" were filled with controversy, the unexpected, excellent insight delivered in an exciting and dynamic fashion.  Jesus' stories were relevant and He allowed people to ask questions. And He did it all without video, ushers, PowerPoint and audio-visual paraphernalia

So what kind of meetings do you lead? What kind do you attend?  What price are you willing to pay to see the Mark 12:37 dynamic present in your work and meetings? I am not saying it is easy, but this level of excellence must be achieved if the Church is going to move from people who have to attend to people who want to attend. 

Changing the Way We Do Church 4

It's time for the fourth installment of my series on reforming the way we "do" or conduct the business of the modern Church.  If I am understanding it correctly, the business of the Church and its leadership is explained as follows:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13 The New Living Translation). 

Unfortunately, modern leaders are not being developed by the Church and there is also little ministry development taking place beyond the pastor.  Most Christian leaders are shaped outside the church and then come to the church to worship.  They don't learn leadership or aren't equipped to fulfill their purpose in church, and then go out to society with those values and that knowledge.  Instead, society prepares them and they come to church where they can usually do "anything" they want, as long as it is ushering, choir or nursery and fits in with church tradition or the desires of the pastor or board.

My fourth suggestion for church reformation is (you can read the first three here): 

4.  Help leaders and governing bodies move from attitudes of ownership to attitudes of servant-leadership and stewardship.

When leaders refer to "my" people, "my" staff or "my" church, their vocabulary reveals a dangerous and incorrect attitude that they "own" what is going on.  That attitude creates leaders who often do whatever they want to and with the church because it is "mine."  I knew of a church where the pastor employed a large number of family members who were not particularly gifted or anointed.  He felt he had the right to do so because it was "his" church.  The church, however, is not a social service agency, and the pastor cannot employ the divine right of kings that allows him to bestow gifts and offices on whomever he chooses.

I knew of another church where the pastor's son was an alcoholic and everyone knew it.  Yet the pastor, his father, thrust his son into leadership to the pain and consternation of many.  Why did the pastor do this?  He did it because he felt he owned the church, its money and its ministry positions.

I have found two verses that contain the leadership philosophy that every church leader should have and employ:

As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor (1 Peter 5:2-4 The New Living Translation).

Jesus is the Great Shepherd and Senior Pastor of every church.  He purchased it with His blood and He is the One who owns it and does what He wants.  It is a serious matter when leaders usurp the role that belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus.  In my opinion, that is exactly what has happened.  Consequently, the people or sheep are not the focus of care, but rather the pastor and his (or her) whims and wishes. 

The Lord wishes to reveal His will for each church through leadership, which means that leaders must see themselves as stewards and not owners.  That also means that leaders must work to advance God's work, not just defend and maintain it.  There are many "well-run" churches with money in the bank, who haven't launched a new ministry or outreach in years.  Are you telling me that Jesus would want them to have money in the bank as their top priority when two billion people in the world have never even heard the gospel, while thousands of unused or underused saints sit in air conditioned buildings every week and listen to messages that do not equip them to do anything productive but "feel good"?

I have an entire section of my website devoted to leadership concepts and development, including a lot about servant-leadership.  I have also written a book, So Many Leaders, So Little Leadership, that is on the market, so I won't go into much more of my thoughts on servant-leadership.  I will say, however, that without this attitude of servant-leadership, we will continue to see leaders starting new churches or taking over existing churches who will simply try to be kinder, gentler authoritarian leaders. In the end, we will have in the future what we have today.  What is needed is a massive and comprehensive overhaul of church leadership thought and philosophy, to which I hope I can make a contribution. 

    Feel free to write a comment to this entry on the site where it is posted.