Jeff Iorg Blog
Things I Miss About Church - Part three
May 02 2016
One more rant – and then I will go back to writing about moving a seminary!
As I have written these past few weeks, I’m too young to remember the good old days wistfully, but I’m also old enough to remember how some church practices used to be done more effectively.
I miss strategically involving people and building a ministry. This happens when leaders call people to commitment and train them for sustained ministry leadership. Back in the dinosaur days, churches appointed a group – you can call it a task force if it feels less bureaucratic – called a Nominating Committee. Those church members were responsible to contact every member, find their most suitable ministry opportunity, place them in those roles, and help them get trained to do the job well.
As part of this, program leaders focused on building church organizations – the skeleton on which church growth is sustained. Today, many leaders believe ministry emerges organically and sustains itself magically. Recruiting people, creating and building systems, and aggressively organizing are anathema. Welcome to dreamland! In reality, healthy churches are built systematically, with someone attending to developing the organization.
These days, people are asked to teach a class “for a quarter” – and that’s equated with commitment. In a past time, we recruited teachers by asking them to consider it as a calling - like John and Sarah Ferris who taught fifth grade in our church for more than ten years. They believed it was their ministry – so they trained to do it, consulted with other teachers about ways to improve, and honed their skills through trial and error. We counted on them year after year, while we developed other believers to take on new jobs – thus enlarging our ministry.
I miss church leaders who saw their role as developing people and building ministry organizations. It’s slow, hard work – but worth the effort and the only way to make a long-term difference in a community.
Things I Miss About Church - Part two
Apr 25 2016
As I wrote last week, I’m too young to remember the good old days wistfully, but I’m also old enough to remember how some things used to be done effectively. Church practices have changed quite a bit in my 35 years as a ministry leader. Some of those have been good changes, necessary improvements to better connect people with the gospel. Others, perhaps not so much.
One of the biggest changes has been the loss of evangelistic focus in many SBC churches. The most visible evidence of this is the decline of baptisms over the past decade to record low numbers. Another change has contributed to this number – the neglect of personal witness training and the abandonment of the conviction every Christian must be equipped to fulfill their responsibility to share their faith.
In years past, the discussion among SBC pastors related to evangelism training was about which program or approach to use. There was little debate about the need, importance, or priority for this training. Southern Baptists had, at one time, four major evangelism training methods (I was a certified trainer in all four) that various churches used to equip their members for witnessing.
These days, it’s hard to find churches with any type of continuing, consistent training program for personal evangelism. Admonishing members to “live their faith” or “invite a friend to church” are about the extent of the challenge – without any accompanying training in actually leading another person to faith in Jesus.
In preparing for our personal move with the seminary, I found an old file with information from my first pastorate. It contained a certificate recognizing our church for baptizing 59 people in one year (a healthy number since our church attendance was only about 250). That was a great year in our church. My fondest memory of baptizing those 59 people was how many of them were led to faith in Jesus by their friends (our witness-trained members).
Why have we stopped training witnesses? Multiple reasons, really; but one may be hard to face. We no longer train witnesses because it is such hard work. It requires classroom training, on the job modeling, serious study, emotional vulnerability, and spiritual warfare. Not a job for the faint-hearted!
Consider establishing consistent, continuing, habitual witness training in your church. Make a multi-year commitment to the process and enjoy the results as more and more people are equipped and motivated to share the gospel.
Things I Miss About Church
Apr 18 2016
I’m too young to remember the good old days wistfully, but I’m also old enough to remember how some things used to be done effectively. Church practices have changed quite a bit in my 35 years as a ministry leader. Many of those have been good changes, necessary improvements to better connect people with the gospel.
Nevertheless, I miss some things about how church used to be done. The first one is this: I miss going to church and expecting something to happen. These days, many church services include sing-along type worship music followed by a seminar-style PowerPoint presentation. The music is often uplifting (sing along if you want to) and the message usually informational (but seldom a heraldic presentation of the gospel and its implications).
What’s missing today – or so it seems – is challenging people to respond to God and inviting them to do so in response to worshipping him. In the old days, this was called the invitation. It’s not uncommon to discover 20-something seminary students who have never seen worship services like I am describing. That may be hard for the over-50 crowd to believe, but it’s true.
I miss going to church with the anticipation people will repent of their sin, confess Jesus as Savior and Lord and be saved. I miss going to church with the expectation people will request and receive prayer, turn from sin and seek counsel to move in new directions, and take a public stand for Jesus by requesting baptism or church membership. I miss the anticipation of God working – in the moment – to change someone’s life in the context of public worship.
In our zeal to separate genuine change from emotional response, we have relegated spiritual decision-making to checking a box on a card or going to a class. Few churches have trained Christians ready to serve as worship service response counselors. During my pastoral years, those were important worship leaders. We trained them regularly and used them weekly for personal work with respondents.
If your church still expects God to intervene in your worship services – to go “off script” and change people – keep it up! If not, think about what you may have lost and why – then adjust as needed to recapture calling people to respond to God as an act of worship.
Golden Gate will soon complete one of the most significant relocations of any seminary in American history. We are moving our primary campus 400 miles to Ontario, California. We are also building a new Bay Area Campus in Fremont, California. We are doing all this while remaining fully operational. About 2000 students are in class this semester somewhere in the Golden Gate system.
The employees and students who have worked together to make all this happen are the heroes in the story. Our employees – faculty and staff – have worked tirelessly. They are doing two jobs – moving a seminary and running a seminary simultaneously. Our students are also showing amazing focus, continuing their studies while also making moving plans and preparing to relocate early this summer.
Our community has done all this with minimal disruption and even less division. Our unity is profound. We have demonstrated commitment to our mission of shaping leaders while, at the same time, laying the foundation for long-term future success.
Throughout this process, we have talked openly about the stress and grief we are feeling. We are now less than 60 days from the official move and these feelings are intensifying. We are unified around our mission, but the process is tough. It’s like we are having 100 weddings at the same time.
Weddings are stressful – although in a good way. There’s intense build up, a lot of tension along the way, frayed nerves putting people on edge, all culminating in a big celebration. Every family at Golden Gate is living through this right now. Just imagine 100 families in your church all having major weddings in the same week! That’s what it feels like.
Pray for us. Pray for families who are still looking for housing to find it soon. Pray for students who are relocating to find jobs, houses, and churches. Pray for new employees – about 50 of them – to learn their jobs and establish new working relationships quickly. Pray for our executive leaders to have patience and wisdom as we make hundreds of rapid fire decisions in these final weeks prior to the move.
Thanks for standing with us! The big move is coming and the entire Golden Gate family will soon celebrate a most remarkable achievement