Engage Leadership Network Interview

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I was thrilled recently to be a guest of Brandon Roysdon and the Engage Leadership Network for two interviews. In the first one we discussed church growth and revitalization. In the second interview, we discussed challenges and issues specifically related to the Free Will Baptist denomination.

These discussions are vitally important for us to have, and I salute Brandon and Engage Leadership Network for leading the way and facilitating the conversation.

You can access not only these interviews but a host of other great ones, at the website below:

ELN 008: Jim McComas

“What time do you have?’

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“And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do……..”

I Chronicles 12:32a

With the busy travel schedule I keep, I find myself often alternating  between many different time zones. This can be quite confusing – on a trip out west last year, we flew from Nashville (Central Time Zone) to Atlanta (Eastern), then on to Arizona (Mountain). To make this even more interesting, when you travel to Arizona you have to keep in mind that they do not observe daylight savings time – unless you are staying in the Navajo nation community in the northern part of the state, which does. Whew!

Early on in my travels, I adopted a principle that I still observe to this day: Wherever I may travel to,  I never change the settings on my watch. For one thing, it’s very easy to forget whether I changed it or not, and then it’s even harder to remember to change it back when I arrive home.

No, I always keep my watch set to Central time, which is Nashville time.

Why?

First of all, that’s where  HEADQUARTERS is – my office and base of operations. Secondly, that’s where HOME is – where my wife will be waiting for me with the lights on and the door open when I get back from my travels.

You see, no matter how far the distance I journey or how long I stay gone, all those other destinations are only temporary.

Eventually, I will always head home.

You may be wondering at this point what this all has to do with Church growth and revitalization. My point is this: We are laboring in these last days to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dieing world and build HIS Church until He comes back.

In order to do this successfully, we strive to find ways to make the Gospel message relevant in the midst of an increasingly Godless and even pagan culture around us. To increase the attendance in our churches, the temptation is great to resort to gimmicks, gadgets, and fads, trying to keep up with the “happening church” with all the “bells and whistles” down the road.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I believe that we need to constantly strive to find fresh, new, innovative and creative ways to share Jesus with our community. But while we are doing this, let us never compromise or water down the message that we are delivering.

Here’s the reality: The Gospel of Jesus Christ, delivered humbly and graciously from a Pastor and church with a servants heart, will ALWAYS be relevant. The message will never go out of style. But while methods may change and many of us will “do church” differently, the message should never change. 

In 2016, let’s resolve to reach more people with the good news of Jesus than ever before. Let’s strive to do that with excellence, organization, and  innovation. But let’s not get so caught up in the world we live in that we forget that this is not our final destination. Heaven is our headquarters, and praise God, heaven will soon be home.

While we labor with love through this journey, let’s keep the clock of our spiritual convictions  set on “home time”.

4 Really good ways to show Pastor Appreciation – Year Round!

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PAY GENEROUSLY   – We’ve all heard the joke about the church that wanted a poor and humble pastor – they claimed it was God’s job to keep him humble and theirs to keep him poor! Sadly this is too often the reality in many churches.

If the truth be told, another reality in many churches is that some  on finance committees and church boards consider a reasonable salary package for their pastor anything less than what they make.

Finances and compensation are an uncomfortable subject for most pastors and their families. Imagine how you would feel if your families salary and benefits package was passed out for all to see and discuss. Ministry is made even more stressful when having to worry about simply surviving month to month.

Mark this truth down: A church will never, EVER go wrong by generously taking care of their shepherd, and cannot reasonably expect God’s blessings on them until they do so. (I Timothy 5:17-18)

PRAISE SPECIFICALLY – “Keep up the good work”, “You’re doing a great job”, or “Good sermon” are all nice compliments to receive. However, being specific is far better because it shows your pastor in a tangible way that what he is doing is really making a difference in lives.

The best compliments I received as Pastor were ones like “Thank you for going to visit my grandmother in the nursing home, she has talked about it all week and it really lifted her spirits” or “I was so inspired by your sermon last week on showing appreciation that I went home and called a Sunday School teacher from my childhood to thank them for investing in my life”.

Know this: There is nothing more rewarding to a pastor than to know their their ministry is affecting peoples lives in very specific and practical ways. Let them know that it is.

PROTECT VIGILANTLY – Protect your pastor from false gossip and petty criticism.

Protect their privacy and give them plenty of time to themselves for rest and recreation with their family.

Protect his family by not setting ridiculously high demands on them that they can never nor should ever have to meet.

Protect their sanity by not being “that church member” that is constantly stirring up drama and strife in the church.

Be a friend – not a foe – to your pastor. Protect their ministry.

PRAY DAILY – There are many preachers – but God called pastors are hard to find.

Hundreds of pastors leave the ministry every month. A majority of pastors constantly fight depression and discouragement. Your pastor is trying to minister to your family while keeping theirs together. They want to help you with your problems while trying to face their own.

They are engaged in spiritual warfare each and every day and are laboring in one of the most stressful occupations in the world.

Pray. Pray regularly. Pray passionately. Pray for your pastor.

In Defense of the Church

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As the Director of Church Revitalization for Free Will Baptist North American Ministries, it is my job to lend a helping hand to our struggling churches – to provide practical ideas to bring health and hope back to congregations who desperately need it.

Because of the task that I have been given, I do a lot of studying, analyzing, and dissecting of the methods and ministry of the local church. We spend a lot of time talking about the deficiencies of many of our congregations, trying to bring the needed change that will help them turn things around.

That is not the purpose of this article, however. Today,  I have no bullet points, no suggestions, no criticisms.

Today, I just want to rise and simply say, “I LOVE THE CHURCH!”

This past week, I was reminded of how much wonderful work the church in America does. I was reminded by watching my own home church here in Tennessee (New Hope Free Will Baptist in Joelton) reach out to a grieving family in a multitude of ways in their moment of greatest need. I was reminded as dozens of our churches provided “back to school” supplies for the needy students of their communities. I was reminded when I saw facebook posts the other evening from pastors of two of our churches in different states who were both challenging their congregations to provide home furnishings for families who were homeless and needed a fresh start.

The fact of the matter is, with all of their faults, Bible believing Churches in America are still one of the greatest forces of good  today. In their community, across the country, and around the world.

Does the church have problems, issues, and scandals from time to time? Yes, and they are well documented and advertised. But I guarantee you that for every one bad congregation or pastor, there is at least 100 who are quietly,  faithfully serving God without praise or plaudits.

I love the church. Christ died for the church.

The fondest memories I have, the best and most blessed times I’ve had in my life, have all happened in the church.

I met my wife in church, I raised my family in church, I receive life giving faith and fellowship in the church.

So to our pastors, their wives and families, and their loving congregations, I salute you for all the wonderful ministry you are doing. You are doing the most important work in the world. The Good news of the Gospel you preach, backed up by your Godly deeds, is literally the hope of of our country – not some politician from Washington.

And yes, I still believe this statement:

“The church at its worst is far better than the world at its best.”

The five “P’s” to holding a successful “big event” at your church

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Everybody knows that holding  big days are an important part of building a growing church. Whether it is a special Sunday service or a weekend concert or seminar, the rewards of a successful event can include growth in attendance, increased community awareness of your church, and a revitalized congregation. With those things in mind, I present to you five keys to holding a successful event at your church:

PLAN – Put a great deal of prayer, thought, and effort into planning exactly what kind of a special service you are going to have. You will want to maximize the potential for success by scheduling something that folks are going to actually want to attend, so don’t be afraid to get some feedback and counsel from others before you commit. Be ready and willing to invest some resources (money, materials, and manpower) to make this more than just another date filled on your annual church calendar. Success or failure starts by planning something GOOD!

PROMOTE – Planning a great event is NOT enough. You can have a dynamic speaker, an incredible singing group, an inspiring program, but all of that will mean NOTHING if folks in your community don’t know that it’s happening! PROMOTION is a huge part of the plan, and it includes multiple areas:

From the PULPIT – The Senior Pastor MUST get behind this event and promote it passionately and persistently from the pulpit. It will be impossible to get outside folks to attend if your congregation isn’t excited – they are your best advertisement! Present this event in such a way that no one will want to miss it!

With SOCIAL MEDIA – Make sure this event is clearly and consistently promoted on your church website, facebook page, twitter, etc. Begin months before the event and continue to ramp up the promotion as it gets closer. Be creative with this promotion using pictures, videos, testimonials, and anything else you can come up with to get folks attention. Social media is the most inexpensive yet most effective form of advertisement for your event.

With PRINT AND RADIO ADS – There is much debate over which is more effective – the easy answer is use both! If your budget is limited, many radio stations have free community service ads for non-profits, and your local paper may do the same.

PREPARE – The old saying “If you are praying for rain, bring your umbrella” applies here. If you are planning and promoting for a BIG event, then you and your congregation need to PREPARE for a big event! Make sure you have a full staff of volunteers prepared to deal with parking, greeting, and seating issues on the day of your big event. After all that work, you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the moment, you want to be ready and waiting to welcome all those visitors you prayed for.

PRESENT – All the planning promoting, and preparing has been done, and the big day has arrived. Now, all that’s left to do is to PRESENT a great event to your community. PRESENT your church as a friendly, welcoming place to all your visitors. PRESENT an inspiring program done with excellence that will reach the hearts of all in attendance. PRESENT Christ as the answer to every need and the center of all that you do. Make the most of the moment by making much of Jesus!

PURSUE – When your wildly successful big event is over,  it’s time to capitalize by PURSUING all of those visitors who attended and don’t have a home church.  They have been inspired and challenged about spiritual matters, and they are thinking positive thoughts about your church. What better time to follow up with them and invited them back to your regular services.

The Ten Commandments of Church Signs

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  1. Thou shalt HAVE a church sign – It is vitally important that every church have a sign identifying itself to the community around it. Your church sign will often be the first bridge to connect you to those you are trying to reach.
  2. Thou shalt have a PERMANENT sign – A temporary sign is a much cheaper alternative – unfortunately, many times the emphasis is on the word CHEAP. The look of a temporary sign is not the professional image you are trying to project to your community on a long term basis, not to mention it will also be subject to vandals and wind storms. (See photo above) The only thing worse than half your letters being gone is someone coming by and moving them around to create a less than spiritual message for your folks to view as they drive in on Sunday morning. Invest the money in permanent signage.
  3. Thou shalt do thy research before purchasing your sign – Study up on all  that is available and see what fits best for your surroundings, community, city ordinances, etc. before making this very important purchase. How big the letters will need to be on your sign will be determined by what the average speed is of cars as they pass your church. Don’t make a decision rapidly, do your homework.
  4. Thou shalt have a quality, professional sign – Don’t settle for anything less. If you need to save up, have a few fundraisers, or place a special line item in the budget, make it a priority to get a top notch sign. You only get to make a first impression once, and your sign should help you make a good one.
  5. Thou shalt put the sign in a good location – You may have the nicest church sign in the county, but it won’t do any good if no one can see it because it is out of the line of sight from those driving by, or if it is camouflaged under heavy foilage.
  6. Thou shalt maintain the sign – If it’s a wooden sign, make sure the paint is fresh and not peeling or weather beaten. If it’s a lighted sign, make sure the light bulbs work. If it’s an electronic sign, make sure it’s working properly. If it has changeable letters make sure they aren’t cracked, peeling, or unreadable.

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7. Thou shalt spell checketh thy message – then spell checketh again. 

8. Thou shalt think twice before putting a message on your sign – Just as a Pastor should never get in the pulpit without prayerful preparation, you should prayerfully seek God’s will as to what He would have you put on your sign each week.

“Stop, Drop, and Roll won’t work in hell” may be true, for example, but do we want such a serious subject as hell to be reduced to a three line message on our church sign? Much prayer and consideration should be given before placing a message that will represent the heart and vision of your church for potentially thousands to view.

9. Thou shalt change the sign regularly – Nothing says “incompetence” louder than a church sign in July that is still advertising the Easter Egg hunt, or a snow covered sign telling folks about the annual Summer church picnic.

10. Thou shalt always remember the potential of your sign – You will preach to more folks from your church sign than you will on Sunday in the pulpit – let’s take this important ministry seriously and maximize the potential for outreach!

How to give the folks in your worship service a really BAD musical experience

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1. DON’T PLAN – Zero, zilch, nada, none. Don’t plan what the congregation is singing, don’t plan who is playing the instruments, don’t plan who is going to do the special music, don’t try to get really smart and figure out a way to connect the music with the pastors sermon, give NO THOUGHT to the musical portion of the worship service until you step onto the platform. 

2. DON’T PRACTICE – Who needs practice? If the goal is  BAD music, nobody needs practice, that’s who! Not the choir, not the band, certainly not those unsuspecting folks who will be called upon to deliver the special music! If everybody just “wings” it, I guarantee you that you are well on your way to a truly bad musical experience for everyone in attendance!

3. DON’T TUNE – Piano tuning is time consuming and costly. (It will just have to be done again in a few years anyway!) Don’t tune the guitars and other stringed instruments and if you absolutely think that you have to, wait and do it while the worship service is actually going on. Nothing says “bad music” better than out of tune instruments. 

4. TURN IT UP AND RIP THE KNOB OFF – Crank the song leader and praise team’s microphones up sky high. Get that music turned up to almost unbearable levels. Make it all about those on stage, and forget those folks in the audience. Everyone over 50 isn’t going to like it, but they’d probably find something else to complain about anyway. (Besides, all they do is pay a large portion of the bills – who needs ’em ?)

5. NAME THAT TUNE – Introducing a new song now and then is not good enough if the goal is a truly miserable music service. Find the most obscure, unknown, unsung hymns and praise choruses of the last 500 years, and then sing them in rapid fire succession. Audience sing-a-long participation will be down to near zero in no time, and it will give greater opportunity to hear the out of tune instruments. 

6. HIDE THE LYRICS – If you are singing new stuff, folks are going to need the words. Don’t let them have them. If you are using hymnals, distribute them throughout the congregation at a ratio of 1 for every 30 or 40 people. If you are projecting the words on the wall, make sure they don’t keep up with the song – that is extremely annoying and will have folks saying “this is a really BAD musical experience” in no time! (If that doesn’t work, try putting the words to a completely different song up.)

7. ENDURANCE TRAINING – Get those folks in the audience up on their feet, and then leave them there. 30 or 40 minutes, an hour if possible.  After a while they will forget whether they are in a church service or in training for an “Iron Man” competition, and the pain in their feet will only be matched by the pain in their ears. 

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You see folks, the quality of music in a Church service really has not as much to do with musical styles as it does about doing things with organization and a commitment to excellence. It’s when we put ourselves, our preferences, and our agendas ahead of worshiping God that we get ourselves in trouble. (That goes for the folks on the platform as well as those in the pew!) 

I believe that reasonable, fair, mature Christians can get through the “worship wars” safe and sound with a little compassion, compromise and common sense. 

Otherwise, we are just going to sentence ourselves to many more BAD musical experiences. 

The lost deserve better. 

The LORD deserves better. 

Six simple things you and your church can do THIS WEEK for better outreach

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  • Set the tone for change – Let it be known that “business as usual” will no longer be acceptable. The message must be communicated through words, actions, and attitudes that an “inward focus” will not be tolerated, but a new, fresh “outward focus” is the goal. The reason? Inwardly focused churches die – Outward focuses survive and thrive.
  • Internet presence – A recent study found that of people who’d been attending a church for less than a year, 27% had found that church online. Your church MUST HAVE an Internet presence, with (at a minimum) the churches name, address, and service times readily available. You would be AMAZED how many churches I visit that are impossible to find online. This can be fixed quickly, easily, and at little to no cost!
  • Greeters – Have volunteers scheduled to be at your churches entrances early this Sunday with a friendly smile and a warm handshake for all who attend. Further responsibilities and training is great and should happen, but you can have a basic ministry up and running this Sunday – and it’s vitally important!
  • Organize your worship service – Know who is going to be playing the instruments and leading the singing – and those folks should know what they are going to be playing and singing sooner than five minutes before the service starts. (“Now, Bobby, YOU KNOW I CAN’T PLAY THAT SONG!” should not be heard being whispered from the platform pre-service.)  Know in advance of Sunday morning who is going to be offering the special music, and notify them sometime before the middle of the service. (“If no one has a song on their heart, sister Ethel, how about coming up here and singing that one you sang at the ice cream social last year?” should not be heard from the pulpit.)  Know in advance of Sunday morning who is going to be preaching, and allow that person plenty of time to prayerfully prepare a Bible based message. In other words, Let’s act like we know what we are doing!”. Why would anyone want to commit to becoming a member of our church family if we don’t seem to take it very seriously ourselves?
  • Make visitors a priority – From the way we organize our worship services, to the way we plan our Sunday School classes,  the way we communicate announcements, and in the way we share things in the bulletin – Let’s view everything we do through the eyes of a visitor and make them welcome from the moment they come through our door. Then, let’s be sure to follow up with them in some way after they leave in such a way that leaves no doubt to them that they are important to our church!
  • Commit to continuing education – Whether it be a book. a blog, or a website on church growth, a church revitalization conference, or a meeting with leadership to discuss progress, commit to regular, ongoing education designed to keep growth and revitalization at the forefront of your churches heart and mind.

Seven Ingredients Every Sermon Needs

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Trymon Messer was one of the most unique men of God I ever met.   Known as the modern day “Preaching Deacon”, this man with a 5th grade education became one of the most effective communicators of our day and was widely used of God across our denomination.

Among his many gems of wisdom,  Brother Trymon said that  every sermon  needed 7 ingredients:

1. HEAD (Acts 20:27) – Every sermon needs Biblical content. Without it, it’s just a speech or religious discourse.

2. HEAT (Acts 2:37) – Every sermon’s CONTENT should be such that it delivers CONVICTION both to the saint and sinner alike. I have often said that I wouldn’t give ten cents for preaching that did not step on my toes from time to time!

3. HEART (Psalm 126:5) – An effective sermon will deliver CONVICTION from a heart of COMPASSION. Truth must be delivered, but with sincere love. Folks won’t care what you know until they know that you care!

 4. HUMOR (Proverbs 17:22) – Serious Biblical truths can be seasoned with a good dose of laughter along the way. Humor can often help drive home the point and keep folks “tuned in” to the message being given.

5. A HAND (Nehemiah 8:8) – A sermon without any practical application, even if it’s Biblically accurate and faithful to the text, is of little use to the hearer. A preachers prayer should always be, “Lord, keep my sermons RELEVANT!”

6. A HOOK (Matthew 4:19) – Every good sermon will end with a very direct challenge for folks to be able to respond to what they have just heard.

 7. HOPE (Hebrews 6:19) – Every sermon, however difficult the message or convicting the content, should always leave the hearer with a knowledge that there is hope in the circumstances of their life. The lifeline of grace, mercy, and forgiveness must be thrown so that every struggling pilgrim knows that the Gospel story truly is “Good News”!

Seven Traits of Highly Effective Pastors

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As we examine the ingredients to Church revitalization, I believe that it all starts in the PULPIT. Truly, everything rises and falls on leadership!

With that in mind (and with apologies to Stephen Covey), I give you what I call the “Seven traits of highly effective pastors”. 

A highly effective pastor:

#1 – Is CALLED (2 Peter 2:10)  – Not called to a career for financial gain, not called by their mother or called by men, but every effective pastor will be able to hearken back to a clear call to the ministry from God Himself.

#2 – Is COMMITTED (Galatians 6:9) – An effective pastor will not run at the first sign of trouble. If they are sure that God has called them to their pastorate, they will weather the storms, battle through discouragement, and keep pressing on. (TEST – Think of five successful pastors right now – How many of them have been in the same Church for 10, 15, even 20 year or more?)

#3 – Is CONTROLLED (Ephesians 5:18) – Not by their circumstances, not by praise, plaudits or paycheck, not by a church bully or board, but first and foremost by the precious Holy Spirit! 

#4 – Is CREATIVE (Isaiah 43:19) – “We’ve always done it this way” will not be the motto of the effective pastor. They will not be afraid to get a vision for the church, communicate that vision to their board and congregation, then use new and innovative means to accomplish what God wants to do in HIS church!

#5 – Is CONFIDENT (Acts 5:29) – If the pastor truly is called by God and truly being led by the Holy Spirit, they will not be deterred or dismayed by the occasional critic – They will stay the course, knowing God’s approval is what matters in the long run.

#6 – Is a COMMUNICATOR (2 Timothy 1:11) – A highly effective pastor will be a passionate and effective communicator of the Word of God to their congregation.

#7 – Is COMPASSIONATE (Jude 1:22) – While firmly, boldly, and unashamedly proclaiming the truth of God’s Word, the effective pastor will also do so lovingly, compassionately, with a tear in their eye and a lump in their throat. A good congregation will be able to handle getting their toes stepped on by their shepherd if the shepherd has clearly shown them that he sincerely and truly loves and cares for them.