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« Leadership in the Church: A Manager’s View | Main | Breakthrough »

A Culture of Growth

(The following article was written for the pastors and ministers of the Ohio District UPCI.  I want to share it with you so you can be apprised of what is happening in Ohio, and also so you may be inspired and challenged to reach out to the lost.) 

On June 17 and 18, I took a tour of six of the Ohio District seven sections to meet with each presbyter.  (I had met with the seventh presbyter earlier).  The 625 mile journey allowed me to assess the needs of each area, discuss the situations unique to each, gave me the opportunity to personally pledge my support for growth initiatives throughout the district.  Accompanied by our Ohio NAM Director, Ken Dillingham, we gathered information, insights and opinions, and were able to share some ideas that we believe will result in a state-wide revival. 

The idea for this trip came from our General Superintendent, Brother David Bernard.  At our General Board meeting in March of this year, he impressed upon all the district superintendents the desperate need for growth, especially in major population areas.  He emphasized the need for a restructured vision—a paradigm shift if you will—that will address the current challenges of urban communities where boundaries between municipalities no longer serve as an adequate model for church planting.  In a word, the distance between churches is rapidly becoming immaterial because of the burgeoning population.  Even in towns and cities with smaller populations, we are hardly well represented among thirty, twenty or even ten thousand people.  The greater need is for ministerial ethics, not geographical proximity.  With Ohio’s population of over eleven million people, his words struck home. 

Here is a sampling of statements we gathered in our trip that defined the status quo among the sections of our state:  There is a dire need for support for existing churches, and, in some cases, revitalization of churches and pastors who are just trying to survive.  There is a need for training, showing ministers and leaders how to start a preaching point, a daughter work or a Bible study group.  There is a need to allay any fears that pastors may have about weakening the local church, and wondering about the motive of another minister who wants to start a work in the same town or community.  There is also the specter of past failures or of nightmarish situations that come back to haunt pastors today.  While each presbyter truly wants growth for his section, he also spoke candidly about very real obstacles that stand in the way.  

I have three general responses to the state of the State as we find it in 2013.  First, we have a mandate to reach the lost.  Second, let us reestablish a long-standing Ohio culture of growth and revival.  Third, we must hold ourselves to the purest of motives and highest of ministerial ethics.  Let me expand on each of these. 

First, we have a mandate to reach the lost.  Frankly speaking, no pastor needs another church.  He has his hands full in pastoring the flock that God gave him.  Also, no saint needs another church.  He or she already attends a church and is satisfied—for the most part—in simply working for God in the local assembly.  So, the question is simply this:  who does need a church?  The answer is equally simple:  the lost!  The unsaved and unchurched need a church!  How many Apostolic people are there in Ohio?  I would be stretching it to say 100,000.  If we have 11,000,000 residents, then the harvest has hardly been touched!  By comparison, it is estimated that 7% of Americans eat at McDonalds every day.  That translates into 770,000 Ohioans eat at the Golden Arches every day, or almost 5.4 million each week.  I’m not saying that fast food and Gospel truth are to be measured side-by-side, but it is very interesting that one single restaurant chain serves fifty-four times as many people in a week as the number attending Apostolic churches every Sunday.  (That’s not counting Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Steak-n-Shake, and on and on.) 

I know we’ve been beaten over the head with the guilt stick for years and years.  That’s not my intention.  I’m really saying that it would make a decided difference if each pastor were to sit down and seriously think about it.  It is said that necessity is the mother of invention.  If one, five or ten pastors began to consider outreach as a necessity, I’m positive that the wheels of invention would begin to spin.  The fact is that if we truly believe our own message that Acts 2:38 is essential, then the greater burden lies on us than on any and every other denomination or movement on the planet!  

Second, let us reestablish a long-standing Ohio culture of growth and revival.  I thrill to hear the stories of Stanley Hanby, Richard Lucas and other UPCI pioneers who started churches in many of our Ohio towns and villages.  The older generation that is now passing off the scene remembers the excitement of those days when the congregations we now consider “old” churches were new and filled with freshly converted sinners.  Yes, it was a different day, but that only means that we have to use different methods to reach the lost.  The driving force that spearheaded growth in those days is not much different than today.  

Ohio, let’s talk about growth!  Pastor, preach about reaching the lost.  Teach about soulwinning.  Lead your church into prayer and fasting about seeing lost souls saved.  Ask a known soulwinner to come and speak to your congregation.  Challenge just one or two people in your church to start a Bible study.  Inspire just one or two young people to knock on a few doors on Saturday.  Remember, people in your congregation who know truth are far more knowledgeable than the lost person who doesn’t have a clue.  Tell about revivals that are happening in other churches.  Don’t feel so bad that it’s not happening in your church that you won’t even mention it.  It will happen if you give yourself an attitude adjustment!  Travel to a nearby community that has no church.  Drive up and down the streets and pray.  If you see a vacant building where a preaching point or a daughter work could begin, pray about it and make a phone call for further information about it.  Even if it doesn’t work out, you are still doing something!  Dream!  Plan!  Envision!  I believe that God blesses action, initiative, faith and movement toward His goal. 

Do you need training?  Launch confidently into a training program.  People want to be trained.  One of the hottest trends today is training in concealed carry.  Thousands of people are in these programs and they are paying dearly for them.  Train your people to win souls.  There are lots of resources you can use produced by the North American Missions Division in Hazelwood.  Introduce your people to the concepts of preaching points and daughter works.  If you will do it, they will catch on.  We have success stories all over Ohio about daughter works.  Some of them are now self-supporting autonomous churches.  It can be done.  It is being done. 

Once you’ve done these simple things, don’t let it die.  Keep it up.  Follow up on people you’ve inspired to reach out.  Brag on them from the pulpit.  Make them heroes.  The silver dish you polish the most will shine the brightest.  Likewise, whoever you pay the most attention to will work the hardest.  

Last, we must hold ourselves to the purest of motives and highest of ministerial ethics.  Any pastor who goes into an outreach program, especially one that may result in the startup of a daughter work or an autonomous church, must pledge to work within very strict ministerial ethics as guidelines.  Every intention needs to be aboveboard and transparent to all.  Proselytizing or sheep-stealing is absolutely wrong.  I am asking for any incidents that even hint of some pastor currying favor with the saints of another church be reported to me as soon as possible.  We must have a culture of trust as well as church growth.  Nothing will kill a growth initiative faster than a lack of trust among the ministry.  

In the past, the rules about starting a church in Ohio has been subject to maintaining a certain distance between churches.  Over the years, however, there were exceptions granted in extenuating circumstances.  I am not suggesting that that rule be totally ignored today.  In most situations, it is still best to maintain that distance.  On the other hand, we need to be open to some other possibilities.  Some new church plants are geared to an ethnic population that would not interfere with another UPCI congregation if they were only a block away from each other.  Others are reaching a segment of society that makes them much different from other churches in the area.  Whatever the case, we can pledge to each other that nothing will be done surreptitiously, deceptively, or with the intent to exploit or harm an existing congregation.  

I have asked each presbyter to prepare a strategy that is customized for his section.  I don’t believe in a “one size fits all” approach.  Each section has its own peculiar needs and conditions.  You will soon hear from him and will be asked to support the desire for growth.  I am asking for full cooperation.  If we will work together, we will see much more accomplished than if we work independently of each other.  I am confident that God has His hand on our great district.  Great things are about to happen in the heartland!

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