Catching Pigs

There was a chemistry professor in a large college that had some exchange students in the class. One day while the class was in the lab, the Professor noticed one young man, an exchange student, who kept rubbing his back and stretching as if his back hurt.

The professor asked the young man what was the matter.

The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back. He had been shot while fighting communists in his native country who were trying to overthrow his country’s government and install a new communist regime.

In the midst of his story, he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked: “Do you know how to catch wild pigs?” The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line. The young man said that it was no joke.

“You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come every day to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming.

When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the corn again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in the last side.

The pigs, which are used to the free corn, start to come through the gate to eat that free corn again. You then slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd. Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught.

Soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how to forage in the woods for themselves, so they accept their captivity.”

While this story could certainly be shared concerning our nation today, I share it with our churches in mind. As believers and churches we have become so comfortable with what we do inside the comforts of our “safe” buildings that we have forgotten our original quest and mandate. We have so bought into society’s philosophies that we have forgotten that we are to be different. It was entrusted to us by God to reach a lost world with the good (Great) news of God’s plan of redemption.

What will you do to get back outside the confines of the parameters we have placed on ourselves and allowed society to place around us. We are not captives of this world, but slaves of the great, Almighty creator of the universe! Let us return to forage in the forest of lostness as commanded by God Himself.

Effective Vision Preparation

“Our pastor returned from his vision retreat a changed man. What happened to Him on that retreat began to spill over onto us (Reaching the Summit team) and pretty soon to the entire congregation.” What could possibly impact a man and his church setting so greatly today? Simple, it was a retreat, a vision retreat.

Most pastors do not take vision retreats. There are several reasons given for not taking such retreats. Many pastors believe they are too busy to go away for 2-3 days. Some are under the self-imposed impression that the ministry cannot stand on its own while he is away. Still others have family commitments preventing them from such a retreat.

While there may be some truth to each of these reasons, the validity is not strong enough to keep any pastor from having a couple of days alone with God. In fact, these could be the most productive 2-3 days of a pastor’s ministry, and for the church as well.

I believe the number one factor for pastors not having a vision retreat is fear. Think about this: a pastor knows if he comes to the church with a vision, he is expected to stand before them with this big grandiose picture of what God wants the church to be in 1, 3, or 5 years.

This is wrong thinking, bad theology, and poor leadership. While God could certainly present a vision like this, in most cases He will not. In these instances, this is a dream or a wish, not a vision. We should see a vision as “The Compelling Image of an Achievable Future.”

Before a pastor goes on his vision retreat there is one important element needed. Prayer! The pastor must spend some time (weeks) in prayer preparing himself for God’s speaking and his comprehension to take place during the retreat. The church should also be advised weekly on how to pray leading up to the pastor’s retreat. Church leadership should demonstrate, in the worship service and distribute devotions and prayer thoughts for the congregation to follow leading up to and while the pastor is away on his vision retreat.

The pastor’s vision retreat should be to a place where the pastor can have his privacy. This should be 2-3 days of the pastor alone – by himself – with only his Bible and a few sheets of paper for notes. God – the Bible – and the Pastor. Be sure to remove all distractions – no e-mail, text, or cell phone communication (except maybe one call per day to family). The first couple of hours is to be spent in prayer asking God to clear the clutter of the mind. Some pastors have testified that this has taken up to four hours, but the results were well worth it.

Next I instruct the pastor to study 5-7 men and women in the Bible who received vision from God. Read and re-read the biblical passages. Then answer four questions about each person studied. Download these questions @ Biblical Personality Vision Assessment . Read through each scripture passage again, review your answers to the questions on each sheet. Then, write in the comments section what God is showing you about your ministry through this biblical passage. Repeat this for each passage studied.

Before leaving the retreat, one more step is necessary. Pray through the comments section of each sheet asking God to reveal to you the common thread as it pertains to your church setting and ministry.

More pastors walk away from this retreat with a renewed spiritual walk and commitment, stating this was one of the best spiritual experiences of their life. Some have said this was their first retreat, but certainly not their last. Others have said they have tried something like this before, but never with such impact on their lives and the lives of their church.

The key is to set yourself up for a true personal experience with God. Remove everything that could hinder this experience. Then Expect something from God. Do not expect to come away with some great and grandiose picture of what the church should look like. Instead, look for the simplicity of God speaking through His Word.

When the pastor returns from his retreat there should be another one-day retreat already on the calendar. This retreat is for the pastor to share (in 45-60 minutes) with 7-12 church leaders what God revealed on his vision retreat. The remainder of this one-day retreat (5-6 hours) is for the leaders working together to articulate how that vision is to be carried out through the ministries of the church.

For more information about creating and implementing vision contact George L. Yates and read chapter 10 of Reaching the Summit. “The best chapter on vision I’ve ever read.”

Vision: Part 1

For years we have heard of vision and having a vision for the church. People often ask, “What is your church’s vision?” How do you reply when someone asks you a similar question? Can you state your church’s vision? Does your church have a clear vision? I have found that many pastors have difficulty articulating a vision for their church. Some of these same pastors defend not having a vision with a statement like, “Jesus gave us the vision for the church in the Great Commission.” So, if this is true, is a vision for the church really necessary?

First let us look at what Jesus said in the Great Commission. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

What Jesus gave us is a commission; it is what we are to go and do – what we are to be doing as we go about our daily lives. A commission is an authorized assignment, a task to fulfill. A vision, on the other hand, is foresight of an idea or image of how we might best carry out an assignment in our particular setting and culture. Therefore, I believe it is important for every church and every organization to have a clear and concise vision for carrying out the Great Commission. Not only in the church, but also in businesses and other organizations those with a clear vision are the success stories of their area of commerce and influence.

I want to define vision as the compelling image of an achievable future. Vision is more than a dream or a wish. A vision for the Christian goes beyond a desire for the future. It is a yearning for something that captures the heart. This type of vision is so compelling that action is inevitable for individuals or the group (class, church). Action is not optional, it is anticipated. In fact, a vision is not a vision unless it leads to action. Without action it is only a dream or a wish. A vision leads to intentional, planned, and focused action.

Preparing a vision is a critical step in having vision for your church, organization, or in your personal life. In the next post I will lay out the three step approach I recommend and pastors find not only beneficial but in some cases life changing. Not only for churches, you can have a personal life vision.

When our hearts are right, God will give us a vision that will clarify our purpose in life. Then we will become not great men and women of God but men and women of a Great God.

For more information on the subject of vision contact George L. Yates and pick your copy of Reaching the Summit at SonC.A.R.E. Ministires (soncare.net)

This post is adapted from portions of chapter 10 of Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church.

Debrief – Using Questions to improve Your Next Event

For your next event or endeavor to be the most effective and successful one of the keys is to debrief the last event. Debriefing is taking a close, objective observation of an event or endeavor as soon as possible following the event. This cannot normally be accomplished in a one person setting.

The best way to debrief an event is to have a group meeting with as many people as possible who were involved in the event within one week of the event closing. The quicker the debrief session can happen the more people can remember with fresh minds and recollection.

A debrief session should not only consist of “atta boy” moments – congratulating each other on a good job. Though expressions of gratitude should be part of the meeting. The main purpose of conducting debrief sessions is to learn from and gain a perspective on how to improve your next event or similar activity.

The leader should prepare for this debrief session with an open mind and a willingness to lead everyone to learn and improve the ministry efforts for the entire organization. The best way for the leader to do this is to prepare a series of good thought-provoking questions pertaining to the execution and operations during the event. In other words, how well was the actual deployment of the plans for the event? You would not want to use that particular wording, rather you will need to devise questions which bring you to a right conclusion – not necessarily the desired “we did good” answers.

Let’s say your church or organization planned for the first time to have a booth in the county harvest festival. Your 10’x10’ tent covered booth will be one in a line of 65 booths with all sorts of organizations and vendors. Begin the Debrief meeting with words of gratefulness and thanks. Then moving to your discussion time you might begin with a couple of standard questions.

For the most part you will want to stay from closed ended questions. Closed ended questions require little thought and have a simple one word or one statement answer. Once one person answers the question, everyone’s thinking shuts down. A sample closed ended question is “What day of the week is today?” As soon as someone answers, the thought process of everyone shuts down. Avoid using questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer.

Closed ended questions never introduce a discussion forum. Without discussion you will not determine what all these other sets of eyes saw in your event. Without this discussion you will never develop an accurate plan to improve future events.

Now, moving back to the harvest festival debrief. The following are samples of the questions you could propose:

  • How effective was our presentation at the festival letting people know who we are and why we exist?
  • How did we affect people’s lives? (Ask for examples)
  • What did we do to set ourselves apart from all the other booths at the festival?
  • What happened at our booth that people remember us today and will remember us one month, six months from now?
  • What did we do well to convey our mission?
  • What could we improve upon?

One pastor came up with a great question for his debrief session of his church’s role in a similar community festival. The question he posed to himself first, then to his debrief team, “What did we do that an atheist have set up next to us could not have done?” This was a great and almost perfect question for his church. He was in essence asking, “Did we share the gospel? Did we do anything to show who we are in Christ Jesus?” Of course he knew the answer. The answer was they had done nothing that any other group or organization could not have done. This was an eye-opening revelation to the pastor and church that while they were doing something they considered good, it was not advancing their mission or their cause.

Begin planning your next event(s) by debriefing your last event. A solid and objective discussion about the deployment of your resources will give you an answer that will improve your future and help you make decisions toward wiser, more effective outreach for your ministry or cause.

For more information on this subject please contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

Who is Qualified to Lead You?

In a conference I made a statement that if a church or other organization wanted to turn itself around from a declining position, the greater possibility lies with bringing someone in from the outside – an experienced coach.

One pastor, sitting in the middle of the room raised his hand and asked, “Why can’t I do that with the men in my church?” His inquiry was genuine. He was polite, and courteous, and sincere in wanting to know why. He trusted the men of his church. No outsider could possibility know his church better than the men who had been in the church for years, overseeing the day to day and week to week ministry. Certainly, these were the men he needed to make the right decisions.

My response might not have been so courteous had I not delivered it with a smile. My reply to his inquiry was, “How’s that working for you so far?” Now, I admit, I might not have said it that bluntly, but I did get around to asking that very question. Think about it. If this pastor’s church was in decline, who had been making the decisions? It was the pastor and his leadership team. They needed outside assistance.

Everyone in your church has a bias, even the pastor. We all look at our ministry from a normally narrow viewpoint. The nursery workers look at the ministry of the church from their nursery experience perspective. The senior adults from their own history in the church. Each and every person in the church will view the ministry of the church from his/her ministry experience with the church. The pastor must look at the bigger picture, which should take in all the ministries of the church evenly. However, pastors are human. Therefore, even pastors look upon the ministry of the church with a bias. A bias will never allow you to see your church or ministry with total objectivity.

It is imperative that church and ministry leaders make an objective evaluation of the true reality of all aspects and facts of the ministry. I suggest that the best way to conduct a truly objective evaluation of all the facts is to bring in a neutral observer from outside the ministry or church. This should be someone such as a seasoned coach or strategist, trained and experienced in asking probing questions that the church leaders and members might not think of or want to bring to the table on their own.

There is a growing ministry today of Christian coaching, and this can be very valuable to churches and individuals in sustaining health and growth. A coach is one who is trained in bringing out of the players (church leaders and members) what is otherwise hidden and covered up. A coach is not a mentor, though mentoring might become part of the coaching process. A coach is not a consultant, though some consulting may be part of the process. A coach is a person who has the ability to see the big picture of your ministry from a vantage point you do not have. Upon seeing from this vantage point, a coach is equipped to formulate questions that allow you to explore the unknown or unused wisdom, experience, and discernment of your ministry and the members of your church or organization.

You should be very careful when choosing a coach. Seek out a Christian coach who has experience in a similar church setting. You want to find one who has experience in growing and maintaining healthy ministry and one who knows how to properly formulate the needed questions while facilitating a healthy forward-moving process. You are not looking for someone who only wants to give suggestions but an experienced coach who is willing to walk with you through the process and who knows and relates to your doctrinal positions.

There are many people available today who want to coach you and give you suggestions. Unfortunately, there are few who are true practitioners of what you need. Many have read the books and even taken courses in “church revitalization.” Yet, they have never actually led, by serving on staff at any church that has actually made the turn around. Be certain to find a true practitioner, one who has done it, helped lead at least one church in a turn-around process. There are coaches and strategists available who are practitioners. Contact your denominational offices or George Yates at SonC.A.R.E. Ministries for assistance finding the right coach for you and your church.

Is There Life After Delivery?

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The other replies, “why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense,” says the other. “There is no life after delivery. What would that life be?”

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”

The other says “This is absurd! Walking is impossible. And eat with our mouths? Ridiculous. The umbilical cord supplies nutrition. Life after delivery is to be excluded. The umbilical cord is too short.”

“I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”

The other replies, “No one has ever come back from there. Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” says the other, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”

“Mother??” You believe in mother? Where is she now?

“She is all around us. It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”

“I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”

To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.” I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality….” (unknown author)

Just as we know there is life after delivery, there is also life after death. Just as “mother” is all around us while we exist in the womb, God is all around us in this life, protecting, providing, and feeding us to maturity.

Human life begins at conception and is manifested as we exit the birth canal. When this physical life is over we can know that our souls will live on through all eternity. For the soul does not know a limited 75 year life.

Perhaps we are here to prepare ourselves for where we will be later. There are only two options for the soul after this earthly existence. One is filled with eternal ecstasy. The other with everlasting pain and suffering. Which do you choose?

For more information contact George Yates.

 

The Farmer Sharing Quality Seed Corn

There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

So it is with our lives… Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.

In his story the farmer did not give up his good crop or his lively hood. Neither did he support his neighbors. It is important to understand that he gave his neighbors seed corn. Seed corn is what was required to grow and good quality corn. The farmer did not plant or raise the crop for his neighbors. He did not harvest the corn. The farmer did not carry the final product over to his neighbors.

What the farmer gave his neighbors was the resource needed to work themselves to produce a successful crop. It is sad in our society today that some have taken this vital principle of life and twisted it in an attempt to produce a culture of dependency and entitlement.

A successful life comes when we encourage and resource others to be independent and resourceful. But it does not happen when part of the community (culture) lives in dependency waiting on others to supply them without lending to the process of productivity.

When we live in harmony with this principle that the farmer practiced, we assist others in growing in personal development and independence. We also are aided and benefited in our own lives as our productivity matures.

You have something to share with others. It is something that will benefit and resource them throughout their lives and the cross pollination effect will benefit your life as well.

When you give of yourself to pull others up, you too, will be lifted. Don’t forget this week to share the best of your seed corn with others.

For more on this topic contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

Top of Form

 

The Boll Weevil

The boll weevil is an insect. During the 1910s and 20s, the boll weevil devastated cotton production in the Southern states of the U.S.A. Nonetheless, in 1919, the town of Enterprise, Alabama built a monument to honor the boll weevil and what it had done to benefit the South.

Why? Because the boll weevil forced people to change, adapt and grow:

In Coffee County, almost 60 percent of the cotton production was destroyed. Farmers faced bankruptcy and the area economy was at stake. Farmers turned to peanuts and other crops to overcome the damage brought by the boll weevil.

By 1917, Coffee County produced and harvested more peanuts than anyboll weevil other county in the nation. Seventy-six years later, in 1993, Coffee County still ranked 4th in the state of Alabama with 128,000 acres planted in peanuts. In gratitude for the lessons taught, residents erected the world’s only monument to an agricultural pest, the boll Weevil Monument. The monument, dedicated on December 11, 1919, stands in the center of the downtown district at the intersection of Main Street and College Street. The Boll Weevil Monument is a symbol of man’s willingness and ability to adjust to adversity. Citizens continue to remind visitors and newcomers to the city the lesson of the boll weevil.

The base of the monument is inscribed: “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”

What a marvelous attitude! No wonder the town is called “Enterprise.”

Has your church or organization reached such a devastated state yet? If and when it does, what will be your attitude? Will you fold up and move on? Or will you be like the people of Enterprise? Someone has said attitude isn’t a big thing, it is everything. For some reason in many devastating settings, people like to pass the blame, wallow in the mire, without any attempt to find a viable working alternative.

Perhaps it is the “working” that keeps many from seeking the alternative. Or could it be any alternative would require change, and everyone knows the only one who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.

When those times of devastation come and threaten to destroy life as we are used to, we need to welcome the opportunity to grow into something we have not yet considered. The economy from peanuts produced in Coffee County far outweighed what the cotton ever brought in. Yet, the people of Coffee County would never have known the profitability and economy had it not been for that pesky boll weevil.

When you face adversity as a family, individual, church, or organization, look to the one who created everything. He alone knows what is around the corner for your future. Trust Him. He can do more with what little is left over after adversity, than you could do with riches of bygone years. It is okay to change, adapt, and grow in a different mindset. Just ask the people of Enterprise, AL.

For more information on this or other areas of interest, contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

Dust & Clutter

Have you ever walked into the aisle of a small hardware store and noticed everything covered in dust? I am talking about dust on dust on dust. I’ve seen dust so thick that you could not read the writing on the package. My first thought is, “How do they expect to sell anything in this condition?”

Have you ever been in a bowling alley or other independently owned business and noticed cracks in the floor, broken floor tiles, or torn places in carpet, and perhaps even broken window panes.  Other businesses are so cluttered and disorganized that it is difficult to shop. Perhaps like me and many others you wonder how these places can stay in business.

If we were to look at our churches and our class rooms with the same eyes we might see many of the same situations. I know you do not want to believe that about your class room, but it is true of many of our churches.

We tend to overlook what we get use to seeing. What may start out as a small stack of left over quarterlies turns into a stockpile of previous years lessons. And the posters –if we take them off the walls– start another pile in another corner of the room. That small stand at the front of the room was placed there for the teacher to place her two markers and eraser. Now on it lies three different Bibles left behind, several magazines, greeting cards, and a stack of unused napkins. Looking at the floor we might see carpet ravels, the scuffed up floors, and walls? “Oh, that light? That one hasn’t worked for three years!”

A few years ago, I walked around a church building on a Saturday snapping pictures of broken floor tiles, burned out light bulbs, cluttered rooms, and even holes in the wall. That morning I snapped forty-seven photos. A couple of weeks later when I projected those pictures on the screen – on a Sunday evening – all present were embarrassed. Some were shocked and did not know many of these areas of need were in their own church.

I have been in many of our churches and seen these and other circumstances including broken windows covered with cardboard and plastic, yet none of the members could remember how long the window had been in this state of disrepair.

It is easy to overlook these things because we are use to seeing them this way. We may see the disrepair at first, but after walking past it for a time it becomes natural to us and we tend to overlook the obvious need to repair. However, to a guest this is like walking into a hardware store with dust so thick they want to ask, “How can you as a church stay in business?” or “If this is the way you do not take care of your building, how do you treat one another and me, your guest?” What message are we sending to our guests and new members?

It is time to take a walk-thru (with the eyes of a guest) and see what can be discarded and what can be cleaned up to make your room more appropriate for a teaching/learning environment.

For information on avoiding this type situation or recognizing these areas in your church, contact George Yates & visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

 

 

The Shock of Easter

I felt a shockwave of distress and stunned surprise come over me as I rounded the corner to the kitchen that Wednesday afternoon. Water covered 90% of the kitchen floor. My first thoughts were it must be a busted pipe under the kitchen sink. I opened the cabinet doors to find everything dry. That is when I looked over the counter to see water standing on the dining area, living room, and hallway floors – a half inch of water. At the same moment I heard the washing machine running. Well, I heard water running to fill the washing machine (which had been running for about an hour). That is when the second shockwave ran over me.

While this experience was a shock and surprise, it cannot compare to the shock and surprise of the women who headed out early one morning to anoint the body of their dearly beloved friend who had died two days earlier. When the women rounded the corner, they did not see a floor full of water. They found an empty tomb. Shock and distress had to be two of the many emotions experienced by these women on this Spring morning.

However, their shock and surprises for the day were only beginning. To their greater surprise, the empty tomb that morning was the first indicator of a resurrection from the dead. Their friend, their loved one whom they had watched die, was now, three days later, alive and living in his resurrected body.

This week people and cultures around the globe celebrate this same resurrection. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah. In the United States Easter has become more about bunnies and chocolate. There is no shock or surprise in chocolate and bunnies – except perhaps when you look in the mirror two weeks later.

Mohammed died and he is still dead. No surprise there. Buddha died and he is still dead. No surprise.  John Smith died and he is still dead. Confucius died and he is still dead. People die and they remain dead. There are no surprises in this. I do not trust my life and my eternity in one who is dead. Jesus died but He did not stay in the tomb. He died and now He lives. I trust in the living Savior. The only one who has risen from the dead. And He arose from the dead after a horrible beating and crucifixion.

My excitement comes from the shock and surprise of the empty tomb found on that long ago Easter – resurrection morning. When was the last time you experienced shock and surprise? Was there a pleasant surprise awaiting you around the corner? There can be. Even in the hard times. No matter what shock life seems to throw at you, there is an empty tomb around the corner. It is not yours, but the empty tomb of the Savior of the God of all creation. And He wants to walk with you around all the unknown corners in your life.

 This week how will you celebrate Easter? Will it be more about chocolate and bunnies or celebrating with the women who found the empty tomb on Resurrection Day? Hosanna! Glory to God in the Highest! For He has risen from the dead.

May God have a prominent place in your life this Holy week and beyond. God bless you!