Life’s Decisions

Each day our lives are filled with decisions. How can you know you are making the right decisions in life? It is said that Sir Isaac Newton was once asked how he made so many discoveries. His reply was that if he had seen farther than other people it was only because he had stood on the shoulders of giants who had gone before him. You and I can live the same conviction. There are lot of books on the market promising a better you and better decision making power. However, the best book of self-help, the greatest book for decision-making is in my opinion the greatest book of all time, the Holy Bible.

No matter what decision you may be facing today or tomorrow, look to the giants of the Bible and learn to stand on their shoulders. Abraham was told by God to leave his family and everything he was comfortable with to go to a place – well he did not know where he was going. God said (George’s paraphrase) “I’ll tell you when you get there.” (Genesis 12) Joseph was sold into slavery as a boy, by his own brothers, and later thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. Yet Joseph stayed true to the teaching of God and ended up second (only to the king) in command in this foreign land. (Genesis 35-50) Esther was an unlikely candidate for a queen, yet she was selected by the king and as queen was used by God to save an entire nation of people. (Esther 1-10)

A young servant maiden (name unknown) risking her life told her mistress that if her high ranking husband would go to a specific prophet of God in the maiden’s former country, he would be healed of a terrible disease. This type healing of this disease had never before occurred or even been mentioned in any scripture or other writing. What prompted this young maiden to make such a claim? I believe she was standing on the shoulders of those who had gone before her, trusting in her God – the one and only true God. The diseased man went and was healed just as the maiden predicted. (2 Kings 5)

Each one of the stories mentioned above are great, encouraging, inspirational accounts and well worth the read. Scripture is full, from Genesis to Revelation, of giants who have followed the life principles necessary to make not only good, but great, solid, right decisions in all walks and arenas of life. Life has not thrown anything at you as an individual, pastor, ministry leader, or corporate personnel that God’s word, The Holy Bible does not give an account for making the right, solid decision. Follow His prescription and you’ll not only make the right decision today, but you will be poised for the next decision coming your way tomorrow and next week.

Stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before you by learning and following the true principles of life. They’re all found in God’s Word.

For more information on this topic see earlier posts from July 28, 2014 and October 6, 2014.

IFPAC – Complete the Learning Cycle

Last week the opportunity arose in two different meetings in different states for me to share IFPAC, something I wrote fourteen years ago in Teaching That Bears Fruit. A friend of mine, Barry Dollar, actually came up with the acronym as we were discussing how to help teachers create a true learning experience, though I changed one letter from his original version.  IFPAC is still as valid today as it was when I first wrote about it and worthy for all leaders, teachers, and equippers to know and understand. IFPAC is actually an acronym to remind leaders and teachers of how people learn.

Interest

Feelings

Principles

Application

Challenge

Interest – Create interest through an opening activity. Try to generate interest on an emotional level. Remember, for information to be processed into our long-term memory it must be attached to an emotion. We must realize an emotional benefit for retaining the information. People want to be part of something that is interesting and relevant to them in particular. You may get persons to attend once or even a few times, but if you cannot stimulate interest in your listeners, you will lose them. They will drop out and fall by the wayside. This is one of the greatest downfalls in most churches across North America today. The number one reason most adults give as to why they do not attend Sunday school is, “I’ve already been there.” There is no interest to attend because there was no interest created when they did attend.

Feelings – Feelings in our society today is another word for emotions. Know your learners. Examine their feelings. Ask questions as, “How do you feel after reading and discussing this?” or “What did this exercise bring to mind?” Learn the emotion of a question. Once you have reached them emotionally, you have reached their feelings, you have their interest and you have set the table for learning. True behavioral life-change learning can take place.

Principles – Allow the listeners to discover the principles for themselves. As we have seen through Jesus’ teaching and examining learning patterns, self-discovery learning is God’s built-in natural learning ability for us. Ask open-ended questions and wait for answers. Give assignments and let them discuss in small groups before bringing their findings to the larger group. Do not answer for them. Rather, guide the discussion in the right direction through their responses. Learning will take place when we allow our listeners to participate in learning. Self-discovery of principles and truths brings about behavioral life-change.

Application – Keep in mind, all of the content and information in the world is of no use unless the learner is able to process and apply it in their life on a daily basis. Create interesting ways to have learners answer the question. What are you going to do about it? How can you apply this in your life this week?  Use illustrations, object lessons, questions, practice, and teachable moments to allow learners to discover application for their lives. The more familiar we are with something being presented, the easier it is for us to grasp and understand. Beginning with our attendees’ prior learning assists in the learning experience.

Challenge – Each and every lesson delivered should issue a challenge to the learners, be it implied or verbally communicated. What is the desired outcome of the truths and principles of the lesson? The challenge is for each member to implement and integrate God’s truths and principles in their daily lives. The challenge must be strong enough to cause the student to be willing to reorganize his or her actions and intentions. That is behavioral life-change. Learners should leave each session with a challenge to commit to something that will draw them nearer to God. “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” (James 4:8).

My first conversation last week was with a teacher following a Bible study session. There was good healthy discussion in the class and I thought this is good and when the teacher closes with a challenge (as listed in the curriculum) it will complete a good learning session. Then it happened. The teacher’s closing remarks went straight to the next set of scripture to be studied and the topic/truth the class would be discussing. There was no challenge, no mention of how to go and apply what we have been discussing. The topic was just dropped.

I was instantly deflated. A golden opportunity to complete a learning experience was missed. Therefore, it is doubtful that true life-change took place in any of the study participants. Issuing a challenge to complete the learning cycle and reinforce the discussion of principles and truths is a must for true, life-changing learning. To walk through a learning experience in a classroom, job setting, or other equipping opportunity without a challenge is similar to the following.

Imagine you decide to have a roast for Sunday dinner. You get up on Sunday morning, put the roast in the pan, clean and cut carrots and potatoes to add to the roasting pan. Following this you add water, salt, pepper, and other spices as desired. Ah, it smells good even now – before placing it in the oven. You adjust the racks in the oven to the right height, then cover the pan, place it in the oven and off to church you go. On the way home after church you can almost smell that roast in the car. You are so looking forward to roast,carrots, and potatoes you can’t think of anything else. Arriving home you walk in the door, walk over to open the oven door and realize the oven was never turned on. The roast is still sitting there uncooked.

Teaching or leading without issuing the proper challenge is just like the illustration above. You cannot expect the desired outcome without completing all of the five steps of IFPAC. All the other parts of the recipe can be spot on, but if you fail to issue a challenge for each person to live out the principle and truth of scripture, the lesson will sit as a roast in the oven that has no cooking ability.

Use all five elements of IFPAC in your leading and teaching. It will produce life-changing. This is Teaching that Bears Fruit.

For more information contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

Portions of this article are from Teaching That Bears Fruit, Guardian Press, 2001, 2007. Also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com

 

Wisdom in Teaching

Stretching out from one corner of the room was a gold canopy. The canopy was placed about four feet off the floor and extended three feet from the wall. Attached to the wall on one end, it was held up by a pole on each corner of the opposite end.

Under the canopy was a straw floor. As I opened the door and entered the room a man wearing a colorful robe patterned after those of many centuries ago was coming out from under the canopy. His hair and beard were gray and full and he appeared to be a man of wisdom. Several of the children pointed to the canopy with awe as I entered the room. “Do you know who that is?” one asked as she pointed to the man. “That’s Solomon,” several of the children informed me with one voice.

I left the room and moved down the hall to another room. As I approached this room I could hear the noise of children coming from inside. As I opened the door the teacher was the only person I saw at first glance. The teacher had brought sheets from home. She had the children place all the chairs in the room in circles of four, each chair facing out. Then each group of three or four children covered one circle of chairs with a sheet (to make a tent).   As I entered the room all of the children were lying on the floor in their tent listening to the teacher as she described the events of the day’s lesson.

I exited and moved on to another room. It was quiet as I opened the door. Inside were two students and a substitute teacher, and a table. The teacher was sitting on one side of the table and the students on the opposite side. The teacher had his Sunday school book and Bible open as he read the lesson. The two students sat unenergetically with their books open in front of them.

All three classes were studying the same scripture. It was a lesson on King Solomon preparing to build the temple for God replacing the tabernacle (tent).

In the first classroom a live picture was being painted in the minds of the students. The story came to life for the children as it was told to them by Solomon himself (in character). Dramatization helps lock into the mind details and principles that we automatically adjoin to our existing beliefs and understanding. There was no doubt that learning was taking place that day in the first classroom.

The children in the second classroom were invited to be involved in the story. Make your tent, then lie in your tent as the Israelites did while we explore the lesson. Learning was taking place because children were involved in the lesson. The lesson came alive for the children in the second classroom.

I am not certain what learning was taking place in the third classroom. While I was in the classroom, the children did not look enthused about being there.

What was the difference? Why were the children in the third classroom seemingly uninterested, while the children in the other classrooms were excited and eager to listen? One key factor was involvement.

The learning retention scale for all ages demonstrates that retaining information is directly related to the amount of learner involvement. In other words we retain more when we are actively involved in the learning process.

The learning retention scale shows that we may retain up to 10% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, and up to 50% of what we see and hear. As the scale moves forward it demonstrates that we retain up to 70% of what we say and 90% of what we “do” (take part in) in the learning experience. The more you, the teacher, involve me, the learner, in the learning experience, the more true learning I will experience.

The word experience is a word revealing action. To experience something you must have some type of involvement If I am only allowed and expected to sit still and listen to the teacher, where is the experience? Involve your learners in each session you teach.

It is true this was three children’s classes. Yet, it does not matter what age you teach or who you lead, learner involvement is crucial in the learning process. If you are not allowing class participation – learner involvement – I can guarantee you there is no life changing learning taking place. Involve your learners in the learning experience. Let them experience learning for life change. Wisdom in teaching and leading comes from allowing, encouraging, and incorporating participation among class members and followers. Teach for life change. This is Teaching That Bears Fruit!

Becoming Stalwart & Steadfast

In all areas of life and ministry, we confront adversarial situations. As I read and study the great heroes of faith, successful organizations, and entrepreneurs, I see a common thread. This common bond or thread as I see it is a two-fold character trait. While each of these two facets are great qualities and can stand alone, together they solidify a man’s temperament stance, and resolve. These two character traits are a stalwart belief and a steadfast faith.

Standing stalwart in your beliefs and steadfast in your faith will carry a man farther than skill, ability or fortune. Those finding themselves in an adversarial position may not be able to rely on fortune, skill, or ability. The two elements that can be relied upon are belief in a successful outcome and a faith to carry on through the difficulty.

One thought that may come to mind here is that the outcome may not be the “successful” outcome as we perceive or desire. However, God’s ways are much greater than our ways and His thoughts higher than ours. Therefore, it is worthy to always look at the outcome and see it from God’s kingdom perspective. I venture to say we all have journeyed through certain situations with a hope for certain results. Yet, looking back, the actual outcome turned out to be much more advantageous than our meager expectations. Be stalwart in your beliefs and steadfast in your faith.

I think of Hudson Taylor who spent more than forty years as a missionary in China: A man who faced many hardships including losing four of his children and his wife in death and his own physical ailments through the years. Yet he continued on and in a time when there was no mass transit or modern communication. Even to receive a letter from home would take five to six months. Hudson Taylor had a stalwart belief and a steadfast faith.

One of the great men of faith from the first century is the apostle Paul. Reading some of the words of the Apostle Paul from the New Testament gives us insight into a man who was both stalwart in belief and steadfast in his faith.

Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the depths of the sea.

On frequent journeys, [I faced] dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (HCSB)

The apostle Paul suffered all these things, yet he always had words to share of his love and devotion to the God he served. Paul was stalwart in his journey. Always pressing on, no matter what hardships he faced. He never stopped, suffering through all these things. Even after all this torture, pain, and hardship, Paul was found singing and praising God in prison; witnessing to the guards and writing letters of encouragement and training to the churches he had helped to start. He didn’t complain. Instead, in his own words Paul said, “I press on…” Paul was stalwart in his belief and steadfast in his faith; never wavering.

God has promised He will never leave nor forsake you. He is with you every day, all day. Jesus, in the last words of the Great Commission, said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” You have what it takes to build a stalwart belief and steadfast faith.  Stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before so that you will be strengthened for the victory and your shoulders will be broadened for those who come after you.

This is living the life of a faithful fruit-bearing servant. Holding on to a stalwart belief and a steadfast faith you can reach the summit of God’s call on your life and ministry.

 

This post comes from chapter thirteen of Reaching he Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church. For more on being Stalwart in belief and steadfast in faith pick up your copy of Reaching The Summit or contact George Yates.

A Flower Blooms Where it is Planted.

In conversations about leadership or success we often hear an analogy as ‘climbing the ladder.’ However, climbing the rungs of a ladder does not equate to leadership, position maybe, but not true effective leadership. Success in any life venture comes from being firmly rooted where you are planted with a desire for growth. In leadership this growth will be both personal growth as well as growth of those around you and forward movement toward the objectives. If one is always looking at the next level (or rung on the ladder) he will be missing the opportunities for personal growth on the current level as well as the opportunity to assist others in growth possibilities. A leader whose focus is on his/her next move will fail to lead her current team to the best of their ability.

I suppose aspirations of higher position is sometimes okay. But beware, lest we fall into the trap of climbing the ladder. Bill Williams, former president of Pyxis, shares of a lesson he learned from Moses, the Old Testament leader of the Israelite nation. I’ll get to that lesson in a moment.  Before leading the nation of Israel for forty years Moses found himself leading sheep for forty years and the Bible says he was on the back side of the desert. While I do not claim to know where “the backside of the desert” is, I do realize any part of the desert is desolate. Therefore, I believe the writer is telling us this was beyond desolation and isolation. Bill Williams says, “I suspect they (those years in the desert tending sheep) were filled with questions and frustration.” True, God honoring leadership comes out of a willing heart. A heart willing to face trials and experiences, spending time in the trenches (or in the backside of the desert). True leadership comes from bringing others with you along the journey.

Bill Williams lists eight observations about Moses that he believes God gave him for leading Pyxis and for all areas of life.

  1. It is common to desire to fulfill or claim a promise or destiny with fleshly abilities.
  2. God’s timing is never our timing. It’s always longer.
  3. God will always deal with the character of his servant before fulfilling the promise.
  4. We always think we are far more capable of accomplishing His work than we are.
  5. Spirituality is always learned and there are no shortcuts. The process is frustrating and often makes no sense at the time.
  6. We must be content with the ‘small’ things He has placed in our path while we wait. (Moses led sheep for forty years before leading the Israelite nation)
  7. Enduring is not fun. But the resulting character of endurance is a mighty tool in the hand of God.
  8. Times of endurance build our faith, trust, and reliance on God. They teach us the spiritual to make a promise become a reality.

A seed grows where it is planted and a flower can only bloom where it lives. Rather than looking too far down the road at personal dreams and hopes, spend your days blooming right where you are. Success for tomorrow is always borne from the efforts of today. God has placed you where you are today because He desires you to lead successfully at home, work, and at play. Realizing the eight observations from the life of Moses can help you grow in every area of your life. Lead for success.

Parts of this post (the 8 observations) are paraphrased from writings by Bill Williams.

 

Out of the Drift

Perhaps you, like me remember a time at the beach on an inflatable raft where, thanks to the warmth of the sun and gentle rocking of the waves, you found yourself in a pleasant state of relaxation. Through the early years of slow but steady decline churches will drift farther from their sense of vision and purpose. It is not an intentional drift. It is much like a vacationer on an inflatable raft floating at the ocean’s beach who allows the warmth of the sun and the gentle rocking of the waves to lull him to a state somewhere between awareness and sleep. It doesn’t take long until the ocean’s current has pulled the vacationer several hundred yards from his starting point. He awakens to unfamiliar surroundings. In some cases the vacationer has been pulled out to sea without knowing and must be rescued.

In the church it is not an intentional drift, but somewhere along the way we have let the warmth of ministry and the gentle rocking of weekly gatherings with friends lull us into that state of being somewhere between spiritual awareness and sleep. For some, perhaps we have been lulled to a deep sleep.

An observation in several churches has been that in following the achievement of the initial vision or after several years of prosperous ministry in an established, a church a couple of things happen. One of the greatest detriments is the leadership not recasting the vision. Leaders should keep the vision in front of the people of their ministry or organization. Find a variety of ways to keep the vision in front of everyone who is part of the organization, including those you may not see very frequently. Not only keeping the vision in front of everyone, but keeping it fresh, finding new ways to share the vision, ways that always compel people to get out of their seats and join in the vision achievement. Keep the vision in front of the people at all times and continue to recast the vision with excitement and in ways that create excitement in the constituents of your organization (church).

Another factor is celebrating the victories. We should celebrate all the victories, large and small. Let the people know what God has accomplished through their efforts and giving. Celebrate from the pulpit and in the smallest of group settings. Celebrate through verbal communication and in print. Celebrate on your website, and through social media. Celebrate every small victory in as many venues as you can.

Don’t get drifting, lulled into a state of satisfaction and relaxation brought on by the warmth of friendships in the church and the gentle rocking of the waves of ministry. Chapter ten of Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church has been said to be one of the best pieces written on vision & the church. Why not pick up a copy and read it. See what God will do in your church or your ministry organization.

“That (pastor’s personal vision retreat) was the best thing I have done in all my years of ministry.” Don Mulkey, Pastor, Colonial Woods Baptist Church, GA

To find out more about planning and casting effective vision for your church contact George Yates and visit SonC.A.R.E. Ministries.

Portions of this article are from Reaching the Summit:Avoiding & Reversing Decline in the Church, chapter One, Loss of Vision.

Pulling Out of Mediocrity

One idea that has been reiterated in my life is that good is the enemy of great. While I had heard this years before and understood it, it really became clear to me reading Jim Collins book, Good to Great. Good is the enemy of great. Every time we settle for being good or doing good, we eradicate the desire to strive for greatness. Good leads to mediocrity. Mediocrity is settling for good and giving up on being better. God did not create us to settle for good, but to strive for greatness. The only person we please when we settle for good is Satan, our adversary. Because he knows as long as we settle for good we will never strive for the greatness God created us for and that which He desires for each one.

I do not know of anyone who has ever set out to become mediocre and went beyond to reach success or greatness. Mediocrity sets in when life’s whirlwind of everyday pressures begin to weigh on us and we decide to take the easy route. Moving on, striving for the best, can bring unwanted stress, hardships, difficulty, and will cause us to get out of our comfort zone. This last one alone ‘our comfort zone’ is perhaps the most powerful force pulling against you and me in striving for the best – great instead of good. For some reason people today often choose to remain in the muck and mire of mediocrity rather than pull themselves out for something better.

When the question comes up, “How are you doing?” in conversations with others how often do we hear (or perhaps we say) “I’m okay.” “I’m doing good.” Or when asked how our church is doing,  the reply is, “We’re hanging in there.” “We’re doing about the same as last year – the last ten years.” These are all replies of surrender. We have surrendered to mediocrity. We are settling for good. We have abandoned our will to strive for the greatness for which we were created.

Satisfaction in life always comes from striving for something better. Be it at home, in my personal life, in ministry, or in the business world. Life is short. Will you commit right now to no longer settle for good. Instead always, each day in every circumstance, strive for the greatness for which you were created. And help others to do the same. The rewards are out of this world.

What can you do to begin this journey?

  1. Determine that you want to commit to choosing greatness or settling for good in every aspect of life.
  2. Memorize the statement, “Good is the enemy of Great.”
  3. Repeat that statement to yourself each time you have the opportunity to make a decision. Does this decision help me to strive for the greatest outcome or am I settling for good.

These three simple steps can lead you from a life of mediocrity to a life of greatness for which you were created. They are simple, but they may not always be easy. If so you would have settled on it long ago. This is why the commitment must come first. From this day forward do not settle. Strive!

For more on this topic contact George Yates and visit soncare.net

Living Out Your Values

Do you realize that every action you take, every word you speak, and every thought you process is based on something you deeply believe? It is true. I believe you can take this even to every morsel of food you put in your mouth to eat. If you do not eat sushi, it is generally because you do not believe it is healthy for you.  You may say you do not like the taste or texture, but deep down there is an underlying belief that it cannot be healthy for you. This belief causes you to consider that you will become sick after eating sushi. Therefore, you will not afford the health risk.

Not only with food, but how and where you spend your time, what you read, watch on TV, and how you use your computer, cell phone, how you interact with friends and other people. Every act and thought you entertain from the time you awaken each morning to the time you fall asleep at night is based on one of your deeply held beliefs.

While this is true and everyone has a distinct set,  most people never take the time to sit down and attempt to discover their deepest inner beliefs, otherwise known as core values.

In a study course I penned twenty years ago I wrote of Benjamin Franklin’s self-constitution (as he called it). Franklin was under the belief that he could improve his quality of life and better fulfill his life purpose if he understood and practiced improving the virtues of his inner beliefs. He listed 12 and took them to a trusted Quaker friend. His friend reviewed the list and suggested Franklin add one more, humility. His friend was not suggesting Franklin had humility, but to achieve his goal Franklin needed to work on this virtue as well. Franklin agreed and added humility to his list.

Franklin spent the rest of life taking one of the thirteen virtues of his belief system and working on developing just one each week. Thus he was further developing each one four times a year, every year. Someone ask Franklin when he was seventy-two years of age, “Has it worked? Have you improved in these areas.” To which Franklin replied, “Yes, I have. I believe I have improved in every area – except one,” he added. Which one had Franklin not developed? Humility. You see it was never part of his inner belief system. Something in his core belief system did not recognize humility as a valued trait. Therefore, he was never able to grasp or develop it.

Do you know your core values? What are you doing to improve the virtues of your beliefs? How are you manifesting through your words and actions the beliefs you hold deeply? In The Transparent Leader, Dick Capen writes, “Living out our faith can be enriched, in my opinion, by using three principles…The principles of helping others, using our abilities, setting an example, and living our values were important parts of our diplomatic service…”

Capen’s three principles were manifested through his actions, words, and deeds. He is speaking of living out his values and his core beliefs (values) were demonstrated (manifested) through his deeds, actions, and speech. Yours are too. The question is have you taken time to examine the beliefs you are demonstrating and what is being manifested through your words and actions? Doing a little self-study like this often times reveals some insights in flawed thinking of how we actually appear to others. As a leader it is especially important to examine our core values and what is being manifested through our interaction with others.

Why not undertake a core values examination of your beliefs and perhaps an exercise like the one Ben Franklin chose. Nothing good is ever lost when you work to improve your interaction with others and strengthen your beliefs.

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

Don’t Copy Models, Capture Principles

When we hear of something that is working at another church it seems our instinct is to try to copy the model and try to bring that event to our church. The thought is that it worked for them, it will work for us as well. However, we should always consider, a copy almost never is as good as the original whether it is a photocopy of a magazine article, an art print, a clay sculpture, or any other work. The same is true with events or ministries at churches. Churches copying models is often detrimental to the health and life of a church, draining energy and resources, sending declining churches further into their downward spiral.

Instead of copying models leaders should focus their attention on the principles behind the success of another ministry organization. Most often it is the discipline to stay focused on biblical principles that drives the success of any venture. A church in Hawaii whose pastor wears flip flops and floral print shirts in January may experience growth. However, for a pastor in New York city to try this in January would be closer to insanity. It is not the model but adherence to the principles that grows churches. Yet, each year many churches want to copy a model they’ve read about or heard of another church having success with.

At one church where I served on staff we implemented a ministry we called Discovery Dinner. The Discovery Dinners were designed to introduce newcomers to the church (people) and the ministry of the gospel  being carried out by the church (people). Our first Discovery Dinner had 14 unchurched guests in attendance along with about 20 church members and staff(we kept the invited number of participants small intentionally). From that one dinner our church recognized at least 28 new members. That is a phenomenal 200% response. What other evangelistic event have you seen or heard of with a 200% positive response rate?

I do not have room here to write the details of the event, There was a lot more to it than putting on a dinner and calling it a Discovery Dinner. Here is my reason for writing about the Discovery Dinner. Following about two years of successful Discovery Dinners (4 per year), I sensed it was time to shut them down, at least for a time. People, including other staff, thought I was crazy. But soon they realized the time was right.

I have served on staff at two other churches and continue to work with churches as transitional pastor and coach/consultant. While the Discovery Dinners were a very successful ministry at this one church, I never attempted to implement them in another church. I have, however, used the same principles in other ministry efforts – efforts that suited the membership of the church and the community we were reaching. Discovery Dinners were very successful at this one church because it matched the gifts and talents of the members while meeting a need in the community. The principles have continued to work in other churches using other ministry efforts.

Principles are timeless and cross over through culture, ethnic, and geographic environments. Think of gravity as a principle. No matter where you are on the earth, the principle of gravity is in force. You cannot sidestep it. Focusing on and adhering to biblical principles are the driving force behind success in the church. Focus your energy on determining the biblical principles of successful ministries. Then bring those (principles not models) into the context of your particular ministry setting.

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

Treat the Cause

In conferences I sometimes share a personal story of my wife’s journey with chronic back pain. The story reveals a true miracle of God. But the reason I share it is to relate it to a fallacy in leadership in the church, businesses, and other organizations.

My wife, Pam, suffered from chronic back pain for several years. At one point it became severe and was interrupting her life, health, and well-being. For two years we drove the sixty mile round trip to see her doctor at the pain clinic. It was during this time I realized why a Health Maintenance Organization actually exists. The doctors kept telling Pam they were trying to help her manage the pain. To this she replied, “I do not want to manage the pain. I want to get rid of it.” The doctors tried different types of therapy and pain management techniques in the first few months to no avail. Afterward they began giving Pam injections of different medications.

Every four to six weeks Pam received another injection, different from the last. Epidurals, blocks, everything was a mask, not a potential healer. The injections were attempts to mask the pain, to keep Pam from feeling the pain. One danger that I feared was that Pam could easily cause more damage to her back without knowing it, from the few injections that actually did “mask” the pain.

When I asked the doctor why they were only treating the symptoms and not trying to treat the cause or correct the damage, his reply to me was, “That’s not what we do here. We help you manage the pain.” Perhaps this is why they call it health maintenance organization instead of healing or curing.

We began researching with a friend who had similar back problems ten years earlier and corrective surgery in India. He and Pam located a back surgeon who had changed his technique a few years back. He was performing the same type surgery our friend had in India. Only this doctor was less than two hours from our house.

Pam had four bulging and herniated discs in her lower back. The surgery was to be completed in two parts. Two discs would be repaired on Tuesday and the remaining two on Thursday. On Wednesday (two discs completed, two to go) for the first time in two years I saw my wife with no pain on her face. The other two discs were completed the following day. Not only was it successful, the surgery was done as outpatient surgery both days. There was no incision, only four small puncture marks. All four discs were repaired. My wife has not had one minute of pain or other back issue since the surgery in April 2006. She was cured, completely healed. How? This surgeon treated the cause, not the symptoms.

I share this story because leadership and church life often become much like the first set of Doctors treating Pam’s health issues with her back. We look for symptoms and think we can “fix” the problem by addressing the symptoms. Oftentimes, like the doctors all we are doing is hiding the pain. Our attendance is down. We realize the church is in decline. So we try the latest gimmick and a new event because we heard of another church that tried it and it worked for them. Surely this is the injection we’re looking for. Our emphasis becomes more on events and gimmicks to try and get people in the door. The fact that our attendance is dropping is a symptom. We need to be asking why our attendance is down.

The cause of my wife’s back issues was in her back. It was not in the drugs or gimmicks they were injecting. These could never bring about the cure. In our churches the cause for our issues (be it decline or something else) is likely within the church itself. We need to look for the cause. I realize this can be painful, but without addressing the cause we will never reach a cure.

The surgeon who performed Pam’s surgeries was not within the purview of our insurance, so we paid for it out of pocket. Surgeries are not cheap, but this was the best money we ever spent. In scripture we are counseled to count the cost. In the church unfortunately we sometimes count the wrong things as cost. There is no way I would have let my wife, my bride, continue to suffer simply because I did not want to spend the money. I was going to pay the cost to get to the cure. Oh, that we would be so diligent with the health of the bride of Christ.

Portions of this post are from Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church, pages 46-47.

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