Thursday, May 29, 2008

7 Practices of Effective Ministry

For the better part of the last year, our church has been engaged in the process of selling our historic building and move from our church's primary location for its entire 130 year existence, and relocate to a community that is conducive to who and what we are as a ministry. What I discovered was that not only did our location needed to be changed, but our attitude towards the Lord and his work needed to change as well. So our motto for 2008 is "Becoming A People of Excellence", which led me to read more books on how to positively affect the atmosphere of our church that will enable us to possess an excellent attitude, before we get to our new destination.

I was led to recently read this wonderful book, authored by 3 original leaders at the North Point Community Church of Atlanta, GA, Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner and Lane Jones. They wrote this book with the thought that there have been dozens of books written for church leaders on how to increase their attendance, develop their programs or how to disciple the people of the church. This book is not about what to do, but rather it is a book about what to ask. This book will not tell us how to implement new programs, but it will give us a new lens in which we can evaluate what we are doing in our churches and remove those which may no longer be of use to the ministry.
Stanley says that every Monday morning at 8:00, he sits down with the staff leadership of North Point for what he calls a time of learning. He says that while those times are very frustrating at times, they are valuable nonetheless. These invaluable discussions have mostly led to the creation of new and exciting programs and the timely death of other programs. They talk openly and honestly in an unfiltered manner feelings are sometimes hurt, people leave angry, but the results lead to a continuance of learning and growing together. They said that over and over it is the 7 practices that are described in this book that have enabled them to plow through a fog of information and emotion to find the clarity they need to make the tough calls. These 7 principles have been provided for us to see the context and content of all those discussions and the subsequent decisions born out of those discussions.

1. Clarify the Win: There is no way for a church to effectively gauge the progress that they have made, if any, if that church is not clear about their destination. Which means that the leadership must look carefully at each and every thing on their calendar and honestly ask themselves this question, at the end of the day what do we want to be able to celebrate or more importantly where do we want to end up.

2. Think Steps, Not Programs: The programs within our churches should take our people towards a destination, not just filling up time. We must ask ourselves, where do we want our people to be? What do we want them to become? Are the programs that we have been doing for 50 years or more designed to take our people to that destination?

3. Narrow the Focus: The focus of the church's leadership, which is then filtered down to the congregation is a vital element towards attaining excellence and making an impact in our communities. Each ministry should be designed to only do one or two things well. Each ministry must strive to obtain tunnel vision and become specialists within the House of God.
4. Teach Less for More: The less you say to the people, the more you will be able to communicate to them. Our ministry will be more effective on every level if we only say what we need to say to the people who need to hear what we are saying and say nothing else. We face problems when we tell one ministry things that should only be heard by another ministry.
5. Listen to Outsiders: I have taken a real like to this one. The needs and interests of people who are on the inside tend to determine the agenda for our ministry. We tend to shape the ministry and programs around what "insiders" want. We need to put our attention on the people we are trying to reach and not the ones we are trying to keep.
6. Replace Yourself: This is probably the hardest principle for Pastors and leaders to perform. Nobody wants to think about finding somebody to move them out and have people forget who they are. But the truth of the matter is that someday, there will be a young giant of a preacher and leader who will do what we are doing. We need to embrace the inevitable, and when the time is right, begin to identify and prepare the one who will succeed us.
7. Work On It: In order to maintain our relevance, our sanity and our effectiveness as a ministry, WE MUST make time in our schedules to take a step back and evaluate the previous 6 steps and make every attempt to perfect what we do, and how we are doing it.
These 7 principles have been proven to be an answer to the North Point Church's prayers on how to gain and maintain their effectiveness in ministry that if they are followed, will allow the Holy Spirit to work through the local church and perform the words of Jesus in Matt. 28:19-20, Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that i have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (ESV)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Church of the Living Dead

Happy belated Memorial Day to all. I pray that everybody had a safe weekend and ate alot of bar-b-que (I mysteriously did not this year...what a shame). This past Lord's Day was an interesting one for our church as we had too many of our members decided to take a break from worship this week. I should have gave them the wonderful post entitled summer vacation for Christians by Pastor H.B. Charles before sunday and it would have convicted their hearts to do be in church.

I continued our series on Jesus' letters to the 7 churches of Asia Minor, by looking at the church of Sardis. Jesus refers to them as the living dead when he says that they appear to be alive but they are really dead. I truly believe that this disease has infected many of our modern churches, in that they appear to be a thriving, lively congregation of believers, but the reality of the matter is that they are really walking around looking alive, but they are dead. In these last and evil days, the Lord is looking for a people that will stand up and be the type of church that he is calling for. I am committed to leading First Mount Zion to be a productive and relevant church that will speak truth to power, help change the lives of many and to advance God's Kingdom here on earth. Here is the sermon outline:

Text: Rev. 3:1-6

Thesis: God is looking for a church that will focus its total attention on discovering that which is dead and desire to bring his church back to life

I. Jesus Provides A Description of This Church

-Jesus gives three characteristics of this church

a. Dead Church - verse have the reputation of being alive but you are dead
b. Dying Church - verse 2...wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die
c. Defiled Church - verse 2...I have not found your works complete in sight of my God

II. Jesus Provides A Diagnosis For This Church

-Jesus sees their outlook doesn't look good...he provides two steps that will provide a great revival for this church

a. Return to the Word of God - verse 3...remember then what you have heard and
received...keep it and repent
b. Recover Hope of the Lord's Return - verse 4...yet you still have a few names in Sardis,
people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Are Mega-churches Hurting the Kingdom?

I would like to pose this question to hopefully elicit a few responses to this interrogative; are mega-churches a help or a hindrance to the body of Christ. For if we were to look at the Word Network, TBN, The Church Channel and even BET on any given day, we would find nothing but mega-churches prmoting their services, conferences, tapes and books, but are they really helping the body or hurting the body? They deliver messages on socialism, current events, how-to subjects, prosperity, planes, cars, clothes, etc., but is that really helping the body or hurting the body.

My question to you is, how do we obey the Great Commission and go out into this world to make disciples out of all men, to compel them into a life of service to the Lord within a local congregation, yet still remain faithful in our message, motives and mannerisms?

By the way, how good does my Lakers look now H.B. (lol). All the way to the title!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Stuff

-Today was our church's Family and Friend's Day and I will say that we had the best crowd of people that we have had this entire year and that is a testament to the faithfulness of the people of God reaching out to others and inviting them to church. I was blessed to have about 30+ family and friends come to worship on today which made me so proud.

-Our guest celebrant for today was none other than the man whom I and many others across this country feel is the greatest expositor of scripture anywhere, Dr. Joel C. Gregory, of Fort Worth, TX. Dr. Gregory is a great preacher, teacher, personality and just a wonderful example of Christiandom. I was extremely honored to have him stand in the pulpit where the Lord has placed me, so much so that it will go down as one of the top 3 highlights of my Pastoral Ministry thus far. He delivered a wonderful exposition on Hebrews 11:8-12 which he entitled "Concrete Faith". I later took the opportunity to pick his brain on simply preaching, and once again, I left our time together feeling better than I came.

-This week has been very busy for me with all of the meetings regarding the sale of our present building and the purchase of our new facility and with the homegoing celebration of Dr. Willie Simmons, a local pastor from Newark. But my schedule for this week is just as hectic, as my wife and I will attend the homegoing celebration of her best friend Cyndee Morrison on tomorrow morning. Please keep my wife and Cyndee's two daughters in your prayers as they must deal with their lost.

-I have alot of reading to catch up on this week...stuff that I failed to accomplish this past week, as well as getting with my Christian Education Director to go over the curriculum for our Vacation Bible Summer Institute this July/August all depending on our move. I will be continuing my series on our Lord's letters to the 7 Churches of Asia Minor this coming Lord's Day, God willing, with our look at the church of Sardis. Please pray for this series as well as pray for our church.

-my blog posting for our local newspaper, The Star-Ledger is up and running. I reposted the thought on Sean Bell vs. Eight Belles that I did for this blog as my initial entry. I will attempt to make about 2 entries per week. Please check it out when you get a chance at

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day

I am about to say something that may sound a little crazy to many of you who are reading this entry...I can't stand Mother's Day Sunday's in church. Now give me a chance to explain before you tune me out, on days like Mother's Day, Christmas and Easter, you will have a lot of people show up at church only because Big Momma made them feel guilty enough to come with her, or they want to show off their new clothes or things like that. Now don't get me wrong, I want all of them in church, for the only way they will get a connection with Jesus Christ that will result in their salvation is to hear the Word of God preached, but those services have all kinds of distractions...people walking during preaching, cell phones going off, laughing with family members they haven't seen in a long time. All of this makes it kind of difficult to concentrate on the message. Then you have members who come regularly, they expect you to preach a canned, sweet adnd soupy message on mothers. When I am in a series, I do not break the series for a special service.

This caused me to have some level of trepidation while approaching the church for our 10 AM worship. But to my utter amazement, the Lord showed up in that place yesterday and allowed us to worship freely and to preach with power with no distractions or strange looks on faces. It made the day easier to deal with when you consider the meaning that the day has for me. We continued our look at the letters from Jesus to the 7 churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, with our look at the letter sent to the church in Thyatira.

This was a church that had tolerated all kinds of evil and wickedness to go on to the point where Jesus tells them that he will bring judgment on both the one who brought the evil into the house and also to the ones who allowed them to do it. He is looking for a church that is willing to stand up and not allow people with alterior motives to bring wickedness into his house. Here is the sermon outline:

Title: The Church Where Anything Goes

Text: Rev. 2:18-29

Thesis: God's church must decide to deny the tolerance of all manner of evil brought into the house of the Lord

I. The Lord Commends This Church - v. 18-19

a. Commends them for their faithfulness
1. requires faithfulness
2. rewards faithfulness

b. Commends them for their fruitfulness - v. 19
1. A Producing Church - "I know your works
a. people were unselfish
b. people were untiring
2. A Progressive Church - "your latter works exceed the first"

II. The Lord Criticizes This Church - v. 20-23

A. Infallible Wisdom - v. 20
1. Complacency of the Church
2. Caused problems for the church
a. teaching immorality
b. teaching idolatry
3. Compassion of the Christ - v. 21
B. Impartial Justice - v. 22

III. The Lord Challenges This Church - v. 24-29

A. Encouragement is Rendered - v. 24
B. Endurance is Required
1. no more dangers - v. 26
2. no more difficulties - v. 27
C. Endurance is Rewarded - v. 28

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Quick Hits

- Today is a very sad day in the city of Newark and the church community at large as Pastor Willie Simmons, of the First Corinthian Baptist Church, went home to be with the Lord on yesterday. Pastor Simmons was truly a living legend in our city, who worked tirelessly with other more famous leaders, in the struggle for civil rights both in Newark and in his hometown of Birmingham, AL. Pastor Simmons was present in Birmingham during the hey day of the movement, even working along side Dr. King. In his later years in Newark, Pastor Simmons created affordable housing for many residents of the city at a time when it was not yet fashionable for churches to become involved in such business and community ventures. I will miss the presence of Willie Simmons as well as being able to listen to the rich stories that he told of the history of our struggle as a people to gain equality. Rest on my friend and I will see you in eternity!

-Tomorrow is Mother's Day and it will be a difficult day for me as it has been since the Lord called my momma home 2 years ago. I find myself thinking about her while I am preaching and it makes tough because I believe that I am beginning to enter my best years of preaching and I really wish that I had her here to share it with me. My mother sacrificed so much for me to get to the place I am now and I am sad that now that I am able to do more for her, she is not here. But in spite of that I am grateful and blessed to have my wife with me on those tough days, so as long as I can see her face while I am preaching things will work out fine. Please keep me in your prayers.

- If the Lord says so, I will be continuing our series on the Lord's letters to the 7 churches of Asia Minor with our look at the Church of Thyratira, which is the smallest city in the region but the Lord spent more verses on that church than the other 6, so I believe that it means there is something about that church in which the Lord really wants us to examine.

- One more item, on next Sunday we will celebrate our Family & Friends Day at First Mount Zion during our 10 AM worship and we will be blessed to have in our midst, the premier expositor of scripture of our day, Dr. Joel C. Gregory as our guest celebrant. His presence at our church will complete an awesome two months of powerful preaching, for Dr. Gregory's arrival comes on the heels of Rev. H.B. Charles Jr.'s flat out destroying our church during our 130th Church Anniversary Revival last month. I have been like a kid in a candy store, which will only get better this summer when my good friend Rev. Romell Williams, Pastor of the Lilydale Progressive Missionary Baptist Church of Chicago will be with us in July.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mid-Week Musings

- Congrats to the best player in the NBA, Kobe Bryant of MY LA Lakers for finally winning the Most Valuable Player Award. Let me say right off the bat that I am probably the biggest Kobe and Laker fan this side of the Mississippi, and as a fan of both I have never been more proud of my favorite player from my favorite team since the glory days of Magic Johnson.

-Kobe has been through a lot the last 5-6 years, admittedly mostly self-inflicted, however as a child of God I find it terrible that people in this country have a difficult time with this thing called forgiveness. They all want it when the trouble is in their house, but are slow to give it when it's somebody else. Kudos Kobe! You have proven what a man can do when given another chance, for not only did you fix your professional career, but most importantly, you fixed your house. God Bless and bring a title back to Showtime.

- On yesterday, I received an awesome invitation to be a guest contributor for our state newspaper named The Star-Ledger for their web blog. They read my blog and asked my to be a contributor. I am humbled by the fact that the Lord keeps extending the hand of grace into my life and ministry that opens doors that I would have never anticipated being opened before. To God Be The Glory!

The Church That Compromised Its Calling

On the last Lord's Day, we continued our series on our Lord's letters to the 7 churches of Asia Minor entitled Strengthening the Foundations of the Church, with our look at the third church, Pergamum.

Pergamum was a very interesting place in within the pantheon of the Roman Empire and we see that expressed in the beginning of the letter written to them. For when you look at this city in its context you will discover that it was the capital of the Roman Empire in Asia, which had an impressive library with over 200,000 parchment scrolls, and it was the first city to have a statue erected for a living emperor in 29 BC for Caesar Augustus.

Jesus also commends them for what was right about this city. He commends them for holding fast his name and for refusing to renounce their faith in Christ Jesus all while they faced immense persecution.

Despite of all the commendations Jesus gives this church, he moves from what was right about the church to what was wrong about the church: They were found guilty of compromising the Word of God for the ways of Satan. They had allowed some in the church to practice Balaamism and of the Nicolaitans. All of this caused Jesus to tell them that they must strengthen the foundation of refusing to tolerate any and everything going in in God's church. We too must stand up and be willing to refuse to allow messy stuff to go on. Here is the sermon outline:

Text: Rev. 2:12-17

Thesis: we have been called to stand firm upon the truth of God's Word by refusing to tolerate the ways of the world

I. Commitment to Change

-verse 16...therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth
-an indication of regret for the pursued course resulting in a wiser view of the past and future
-there are consequences for our disobedience to the commands of the Lord...he will unleash the power of his Words on the church

II. Challenged to Conquer

-verse 17...he who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers
-to remain faithful, persevere, don's quit and finish the race even in the face of persecution
-Jesus cares not about how we start the race, but rather how we finish what we have started

III. Confidence in Christ

-verse the one who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it
-if we are victorious in this race, we are assured of a reward for our faithfulness

a. Source of Life - hidden manna
b. Special Liberties - white stone
c. Specific Lineage - new name

-verse 17

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sean Bell vs. Eight Belles

Let me pose this question right from the outset: When has this country turned the corner where the life of an animal is far more valuable than the life of a human being?

On Saturday May 3, 2008 during the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby, a 2-year old philly named Eight Belles finished in 2nd place, but had to be euthanized on the track after breaking both ankles. All day Sunday and Monday, numerous media outlets have inundated the atmosphere with the horrific pictures of the eventual death of Eight Belles. The animal rights group P.E.T.A., have even gone as far to ask for the immediate suspension of the jockey who rode Eight Belles to 2nd place finish. The owner/trainer of the horse, Larry Jones, can be seen in interviews having a difficult time getting his words out to the reporter without breaking down in tears. Yet I find it offensive and hard to stomach these actions, when the judges’ verdict of not-guilty was rendered on the three New York City policemen for the senseless execution of Sean Bell while he was on his way to marry the mother of his child.

I asked myself why hasn’t there been more talk of an injustice regarding the killing of an unarmed man, but all we have been hearing these last 2 ½ days is the tragedy of Eight Belles? What about Sean Bell? Why is euthanizing the horse Eight Belles more worthy of the attention from the public and the outcry from the media than the killing of Sean Bell?

I feel that this country has regressed when a Michael Vick must spend 2-3 years in a federal prison in Leavenworth for simply financing a dog fighting ring, and these men and others who have performed similar acts of injustice towards humanity, more specifically black men in America, have not held accountable for their misdeeds. Now while I am not a proponent of cruelty to animals, I just have a hard time placing more value on a four-legged animal than I do a human being who was made in the image and likeness of God.

In the summer of 1964, the great civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, while addressing the Credentials Committee for the Democratic National Convention, asked this powerful question that I will ask in 2008, "Is this America"? Is this the place where the founding fathers decided to break free from the tyrannical clutches of “Mother England” because they no longer desired to be oppressed by them? Is this the place where the 3rd President of our country in drafting the Declaration of Independence, opined that every form of slavery is wrong? Is this the place where that same document clearly states that “all men are created equal”? Is this America? Eight Belles was put down for being injured in a race, while Sean Bell was killed for being black in America.

I am deeply affected by these events even though they are not happening directly to me. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”. I am hoping for the day when this country will truly live up to its name, the United States of America, and place its true value where it belongs, the people that make up this great nation.