Helpful Questions to Facilitate Church Change

August 30, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps

Man ChangingTimeRecently, the church where I serve as associate pastor went through a process of evaluation.  As I participated in the process, it reminded me of several times I did this sort of thing in my solo pastorate in years gone by.  So after some reflection, I have come up with a list of evaluative questions which I hope will be helpful for churches and ministries desiring positive change.

  • What are some of our strengths which we can affirm and celebrate?
  • What are the major weaknesses which we should admit and deal with?
  • How can we legitimately minimize the possible negative effects of those areas of ministry which we cannot provide as effectively as other local churches (such as music, youth work, children programs, etc)?
  • Are there sins we must confess as a congregation?
  • If so, how should they be identified and discussed?
  • What will true repentance look like in our congregation?
  • Does the inner circle of our people desire to address core issues affecting change or are they content to do business as usual?
  • Is it acceptable to those desiring change if the key leadership decides that status quo is desirable?
  • What are the key “church health issues” we must address?
  • Do the people have the moral will to see desired changes implemented?
  • What will be the financial and personal costs as well as the impact on morale for necessary changes to be made?
  • What tangible benefits can the congregation anticipate if changes are made?
  • What are some reasonable goals we must begin to achieve within the next three months?  Six months?  Within the next year?
  • How should these goals be prioritized?
  • What is the overall timetable for the achievement of these goals?
  • Who will see these goals through to completion?
  • How will we know when we have achieved our goals satisfactorily?

I hope this is helpful.  Michael Bogart

The Disturbing Jesus

August 30, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps, Thoughts

Jesus4For many, the person and ministry of Jesus has become a very comfortable part of life– so comfortable in fact that we can almost function on automatic when it comes to thinking and talking about him.  One of my tried and true remedies against taking Jesus for granted has been to read the gospels more closely.  When I have done this, I have found a depiction of Christ, which at times, has both startled and troubled me.  Here are some examples of what I mean.

Jesus, the Friend of Outcasts. The religious establishment of the day regularly criticized Jesus for associating with the wrong people.  He spoke with, ate with and spent time with a variety of those labeled as “undesirable” by the religious establishment, including swindling tax collectors, prostitutes, the severely diseased, Roman officials, and Jews lapsed from religious practice.  Understood properly, this might disturb our view of Jesus for a couple of reasons:

First, it challenges the typical comfort zone of middle class people (like me) because we rarely come in contact with these types of people.  Many of us have been raised in a circle which largely excludes people whose lifestyles are considered unsavory or improper in some way.  We have come to consider ourselves as somehow a cut above those people and immune from their situations.  The fact that Jesus would deliberately invite Levi the tax collector (otherwise known as Matthew) to be one of his inner- circle disciples, is so outside of the way we choose associates that it almost seems incomprehensible.

Then there is the very mindset from which Jesus befriended these social misfits.  He cared about them, but he also expected that they would not remain in a lifestyle of selfishness, immorality, victimization or self-destruction.  It is noteworthy that though Jesus did not condemn the woman taken in adultery, he gave her permission to become something new by commanding her to “…go and sin no more.” (John chapter 8).  Change was both possible and required as proof of her repentance and faith.

It would seem in my own experience as one raised in the steady, consistent, hard-working and respectable middle class, that we are often willing to have compassion on outcasts as long as it costs us little.  When we are involved with those in what would seem to be destructive lifestyles, we expect very little from them in terms of the ability to be other than what they are.  A dishonest person is basically stuck in their dishonesty.  The same goes for an immoral or physically disabled person.  To many of us, a person who has a mindset of dependency will always be that way simply because they aren’t up to making the cut into our class—the respectable, stable, competent people.   Jesus’ treatment of people turns these notions upside down.

The Jesus Who Loves His Church. During his ministry, Jesus gathered a group of followers and forged them into a community which was to be sacrificially devoted to one another.  Upon his departure from the earth, this community became the Church.  The book of Acts records the fact that as new people heard the good news about Jesus and believed, they became members of the community.  Jesus taught them that his good news would only be demonstrated powerfully as the truth when his people are devoted to one another: “People will be convinced that you are my disciples through your love for one another.”   This was no social club, no casual fraternity.  This was a profound change of allegiance.

Many people in the Twenty-first Century are highly individualistic.  Such a sacrificial community doesn’t suit either our personal sensibilities or our cultural patterns.  Even when we do belong to a congregation of Christians, many of us are almost as likely to change our affiliations as we are to seek different employment.  We complain about how the church doesn’t meet our needs.  We seldom volunteer to help in any meaningful way.  We are unconcerned when fellow Christians suffer.  It is little wonder that outsiders aren’t terribly excited about the Christian faith.  Why would they be intrigued about Christ’s Church when they see us behaving with such apathy towards something Jesus loves?

The Non-Materialistic Jesus. It has been correctly said that Jesus had more to say about money and possessions than about heaven and hell combined.  He once advised a wealthy and very religious young man to sell everything he had and give the proceeds to the poor before being eligible for entrance into the Kingdom of God.  He warned that it is impossible to serve both God and material wealth because one will always win out over the other.  There isn’t enough room in a person’s heart for devotion to both.

Jesus was known personally as one who frequently had nowhere to lay his head at night.  He was supported during much of his ministry through the generosity of wealthy patrons.  At the end of his life he literally was left with the clothes on his back, and even these were confiscated by his executioners.

How do we square all this with our obsession over money, possessions, comfort and even luxury?   Obviously some people are going to end up wealthy because of hard work, smart investments or fortunate birth, but never does the New Testament condemn wealth or possessions themselves.  It is, however, decidedly against the kind of devotion to these things which makes them the central focus of one’s life and the keeping of them at all costs.  Need I explain how uncomfortable this makes most of us?

The Non-Political Jesus. Everyone likes to find in Jesus an ally for their particular political and social views.  Marxist guerillas in Latin America claim Jesus as a fellow revolutionary and liberator of the poor.  Capitalists claim Jesus as a friend of free enterprise.  Homosexual activists point out that Jesus never married and theorize a gay Christ in an effort to support their social agenda.  Yet it is dangerous to read such foreign concepts into the Jesus of the New Testament.

If Jesus is examined impartially in the gospels, his teachings are strictly non-political.  When asked if Jews should pay taxes imposed by their Roman conquerors, Jesus’ enigmatic reply was , “..give Caesar what is due him, but be sure you give God what is rightfully his.”  Jesus was careful to pay his own tax to the Romans, yet he refused to acknowledge Rome’s ultimate authority over his life when facing Pontius Pilate.

This is not to say that his teachings have no political implications: they most certainly do.  However, Jesus’ goal was never to transform governments or the social order, but to transform people from the inside out.  Jesus acknowledged that he was indeed a king (in fact, rightful heir to the throne of David) yet he stated clearly that his kingdom was not of this world.  It was something that people brought into their lives by choosing allegiance to him.  It would spread from life to life until all nations would be represented and then it would come fully on earth.   No armies would bring it by conquest; no governing bodies would enact it by law; no violent revolution would establish it by force.  Although at times, Christians have attempted all of these methods to establish or enhance Christ’s Kingdom, in every case the result has been less than satisfactory.

It is an inner kingdom.  It is a kingdom taking form through a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a family of faith.  It is a kingdom growing despite (or even because of) persecution and hardship.  Christ’s  kingdom is coming with such certainty that no army, no law, no natural disaster can postpone it by a single minute.  This is a radically foreign idea to most modern people.

Jesus as a First Century Jew. Twenty-first Century people can easily forget that, like the rest of us, Jesus was born and raised in a particular ethnic context.  Like all Jewish boys throughout history, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day according to the commandment in Moses’ Law.  At age thirteen, he became a son of the covenant (bar mitzvah).  He attended synagogue, kept the sabbath, ate kosher and observed the numerous laws of Torah.  The gospels show Jesus as very careful to make the journey to Jerusalem to attend mandatory feasts and participate in temple rites.  Even his humor is Jewish (“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven.”)

For those outside Judaism, there is much in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life which can seem puzzling or culturally unintelligible.  It is not unheard of, on the other hand, for Jews to investigate the gospels and find immediate common ground with Jesus, even after twenty centuries of Jewish adaptation and cultural change!  So it should be no surprise that Jesus’ way of interacting with people, his concerns and his teachings are all very Jewish in character.  A bit of reading up on Jewish custom and religious practice can make a huge improvement in one’s comprehension and insight into the story of Jesus as told in the gospel accounts.

But as a Jew, Jesus’ most severe criticism was aimed, not at Gentiles or even at Jews who weren’t taking seriously their obligations to the Law of Moses.  He reserved his condemnation for the religious elites of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Why?  Because Jesus saw them as missing the point of the very scriptures they claimed to live by.  He saw them obsessing over the minutia of the religious code, using it to elevate themselves in relation to others and manipulating people through guilt and intimidation.  That is why his message to those oppressed by the power of the religious elite and despairing of any share in God’s Kingdom, was such truly good news.

The More-Than-Human Jesus. Certainly Jesus was born in a particular time and place (during the reign of Caesar Augustus in Bethlehem).   He was entirely human as is shown in his human traits (hunger, thirst, anger, sorrow, death).  But then there is that other side of Jesus, which may make us uncomfortable, such as his claim to be the Messiah of Israel.  The New Testament spends a great deal of space showing how this claim is validated by the many prophecies concerning Messiah in the Old Testament (Micah 5:2, Isaiah 7:14, etc.)  Yet the scriptural experts of his day couldn’t believe that a carpenter’s son, the circumstances of whose birth was dubious to say the least, from a backwater town like Nazareth, who had never attended any of the respectable rabbinic academies, could possibly be God’s answer to centuries of prophetic utterance.

More than this, Jesus claimed to be God in human form.  In John chapter 8, we encounter Jesus saying to these very religious leaders that Abraham, some two thousand years before, had personally acknowledged him and had forseen his day coming.  Jesus claimed that to see him, was in fact to see God.  He claimed that he and God the Father were one: that is, somehow unified in nature and being.  So incensed were the religious elites by all these claims that they plotted to kill him.  Even today these claims, if taken seriously, must surely shake the conventional viewpoints of many.

The Living Jesus. The gospels assert that Jesus is literally, physically alive.  Contrast this with the notion that Jesus was simply a tragic figure whose life was cut short before his calling was fulfilled.  His disciples then were so lost without his magnetic personality that they began to talk about him as though he were still living.  So after several generations, the belief that the deceased teacher from Nazareth was still alive somehow became solidified as Christian doctrine.

Of course, this line of thinking is pure nonsense.  From what the gospels record about the circumstances of the resurrection it just doesn’t add up.  Neither can this “wishful thinking view”  possibly be right when the incredible spread of the early Christian message is considered realistically.  The early Christians proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection from a very confident factual position.  The location of Jesus’ tomb was common knowledge.  No one could deny that it was empty.  The likelihood of Jesus being mistakenly buried before he was actually dead makes no sense since the Romans were experts at the process of crucifixion.   Even if that could be believed, the idea that a severely wounded Jesus could revive, roll away the huge stone and then escape the detection of those who were determined to eliminate him, is far fetched (to say the least).

More likely would be a conspiracy by his friends to steal the body and fake a resurrection.  Yet even this doesn’t add up.  The disciples were as sure as anyone that Jesus was dead.  They were demoralized and afraid.   Even if they had planned such a daring theft of Jesus’ body, they had proved their incompetence in such a mission when some of them unsuccessfully attacked a group of soldiers only days before at Jesus’ arrest.  So the body-snatching theory falls apart as well.  No, the best explanation, given the facts, is that Jesus rose bodily from the grave.

Conclusion: My advice is that if you think you know all there is to know about Jesus, maybe a serious and informed look at the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) might upset your comfortable views.  Jesus isn’t someone you can easily categorize and put on a shelf.  He still has the ability after all these centuries and across cultures, to make people squirm a bit.  He also has the ability to call forth our deepest admiration and even devotion, just as he did twenty centuries ago.  If you are content with some kind of dumbed-down Jesus, then you needn’t read the gospels with any kind of searching eye.  But if you are brave enough to do so, brace yourself for some discomfort and perhaps a whole new life!

Michael Bogart

Work and Prayer

August 6, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps, Thoughts

prayerThe Interaction of Prayer and Effort

Many years ago a friend of mine quoted a little saying about prayer which I still remember: “Prayer is work. Prayer does work. Prayer brings work.” I have no idea where he got this catchy little phrase, but since then, I have found it to be profoundly true. Here’s why.

Prayer is work. It isn’t always easy to pray. As you begin, your mind may have a hard time focusing on God. It is difficult to visualize a being who is all-powerful and wise, and yet invisible. Perhaps your body refuses to cooperate due to weariness, hunger, restlessness, or cramped muscles. You may battle with doubt or guilt, perplexity, anger or even apathy.

Prayer is work because you must insist on making time for it in your schedule. Your creativity may be stretched to find a quiet and private place to pray. You may have to do some study of scripture in order to learn how to address God, what types of things you may legitimately pray about and what your motives should be.

Prayer is also work in view of the long-term routines required in prayer. It is one thing to pray now and then; it is quite another to pray consistently over a period of years. Over the long haul, it requires effort to overcome the fatigue and discouragement, which may go with praying year after year. Though prayer may be a joyful and even liberating experience, it clearly involves real work at times.

Prayer does work. I am aware of the skeptical argument which says that prayer is just wishful thinking. Skeptics believe that any perceived results of prayer are merely coincidental or are due to the power of a positive mental attitude. Yet I have personally known many people who would point to definite instances of prayers being answered in ways hard to write off as psychological.

Of course, this should come as no surprise to followers of Christ. Jesus promised in John 15:7 that if we abide in him, we may ask whatever we will and it will be done. I take this to mean that if our lives are closely bound with his, we may ask freely because our will and purpose will also coincide with his. There are numerous other biblical passages which say that God hears the prayers of people who humbly pray according to his will.

Serious Christian experience also demonstrates prayer’s effectiveness. Things happen. People change and circumstances work out which could not have done so on their own. True, God responds in his own way and timing. There may be times in which nothing much seems to be happening. But God does respond. It is not at all uncommon for God to answer in a way which clearly grants even the specifics we have requested.

Prayer brings work. That is, prayer often spurs the person praying into action. It does this in several ways:

First, prayer sets in motion a chain of divinely orchestrated events, which require the petitioner to do something. Let’s say you are praying for a job. In due time a position becomes open, but part of God’s answer is up to you. You must fill out an application and attend the interview. God will not just hand you a job on a silver platter. What God can do is bring about circumstances which are beyond your control. But when those circumstances occur, it is you who must act.

Secondly, there are times in prayer when it is almost as if God interrupts and says, “OK, stop right there. Don’t ask me to do something which you know in your heart that you must do.” Maybe you are praying for a neighbor who has lost her job. She is facing real financial difficulties. It may be a good thing to pray for her, but if you can help her personally, prayer must wait. Before you ask God to intervene, buy her a few bags of groceries; fill her tank with gasoline; give her children Christmas presents. God may be saying, “Yes, I’ll provide for your neighbor—starting with you.”

So work and prayer are indeed inseparable. Communicating with God requires some serious effort. God does respond to prayer and things happen. Sometimes prayer puts us in a position which calls us to take further action ourselves. How true it is: Prayer is work; prayer does work; prayer brings work!

Michael Bogart

Recipe for Recruitment

August 4, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps, New

Phoning(Written by Ken Johnson) I once received the compliment, “You are the best recruiter we have ever had.”  I honestly was pretty surprised about that statement.  I didn’t believe I did anything particularly revolutionary…or do I?  As I thought about it, perhaps I do things a little differently.  To begin, remember the three R’s of recruiting: Relationships, Right fit, and Rhythm.

Relationship. I always seek to recruit out of relationship.  Truly, all of ministry is relationship, but recruiting especially so.  I know that in order to have an effective ministry I need to be in relationship with every person who works directly under me.  This will vary for each person and each ministry dependent upon size and structure.  Large programs (over 200 volunteers) will require leaders to be in relationship with key leaders.  Small programs (under 100 volunteers) will allow the leader to be in contact with every person.

In my current setting, my program is just the right size to be able to have an adequate relationship with each person who serves in my ministry.  I know each person’s name, family background, and ministry area.  For some I even know hobbies, joys, and past experiences.  This is invaluable as I seek to either affirm what they are doing or recruit them to move into a new area of ministry.  Without that relationship, I am either a voice on the phone or a face up front making an announcement.  With that relationship, I am a person who cares about them and their real felt needs.

As my program expands, the direct relationships will be strained.  My focus will have to shift from my direct volunteers (i.e. Sunday School teachers) to my immediate volunteers (i.e. service coordinators).  These people will then pass on the relationship to those who serve under them.  They will be required to know every person in the same capacity I currently do.  The relationships that they develop will empower them in recruiting their current volunteers.

This works great for those who already work underneath you, but what do you do when you are seeking to recruit a new volunteer?  The key again is relationship.  The more you know about the person you are seeking to recruit, the more effective you’ll be.  Getting to know that person’s dreams, excitements, joys, family, etc. will help you because then they feel like they are being recruited by a friend, rather than a position or an office.  The closer the relationship, the easier it can be to recruit.

Right Fit. The second factor in recruiting is the “Right Fit.”  As you recruit the person, always recruit to their strengths.  Out of the relationship you have developed with this person, remember what their joys and excitements are.  Find a spot that excites them.  The more excited they are about what they are doing, the more they will fit into the right spot and the more they will stay for a long time.

One of the biggest fallacies of recruitment is recruiting to the wrong position.  Wonderful Christ-like servants will volunteer because of a need but not because they are passionate about what they are doing.  They become band-aids for a hole instead of a committed volunteer.

Whenever you recruit have clear expectations and job descriptions so that the volunteer will know what they are getting into prior to getting into it.  This will also help to insure the right fit because they’ll know that they are getting into something designed for them that they’ll enjoy.

Rhythm. The final aspect of recruiting is to give the volunteers a good pace to work with as they move into this new ministry.  Don’t throw the volunteers to the lions!  Whenever I am trying to recruit a new volunteer, I will give them some time to try things out prior to putting them in leadership.  This might consist of learning under someone for some time, it might consist of just visiting the program, or it might consist of spending time praying about becoming a volunteer prior to jumping in.

This slow process will help a volunteer to know that they have time to move into the role that they are assuming rather than just being thrown in the first week they say they are interested.  This is a very respectful way of recruiting which will help the volunteers to know that they are loved and cared for.  The easier the transition, the more likely they are to stick around in the long run and make a real commitment to long-term ministry.

Once you have recruited some key volunteers, do not forget to find ways to sustain their hearts and spirits.  Encourage them constantly!  Write notes, make phone calls, and remember birthdates.  Anything you can do to continue to build the relationship you have with the volunteer will help them to want to stay.  They’ll know that they are loved and cared for.  The better the volunteer feels about what he or she is doing, the more that person will want to stick around (and even do recruiting for you).

I was once told I was a good recruiter, perhaps that is so.  Truly, I am good at building relationships, finding the right spot for the volunteer, slowly working them into the program, and continue to encourage that person in what they are doing.  It results in good recruiting because people will want to work in a place where they know that their leader knows them and wants to be with them.

Ken Johnson is currently Director of Children’s Ministries at Campus Bible Church of Fresno, California.

The Man Behind the Pulpit

July 19, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps

PulpitIt’s a job description that even Superman might think twice about: executive, counselor, soldier, manager, coach, teacher, legal expert, friend, master of ceremonies and, at times, construction worker and janitor. Who could possibly be expected to do these things as part of a normal routine? The local pastor!  Maybe he didn’t bargain for all this. No doubt he feels inadequate. Sometimes he fails. But all of these areas of expertise are indeed part of a pastor’s job.

I once saw a cartoon picturing a small boy looking up at his pastor after church and saying, “What do you do with yourself the other days of the week?” Nearly every pastor would give much the same response: “If only you knew!” A pastor’s weekly routine includes these duties:

Executive. Important decisions must be reached as to church policy on a variety of issues. Sometimes policy is made in conjunction with boards and committees.  At other times, decisions must be made on the spot with little time for consultation.

Counselor. Without a doubt, the most sought-after givers of advice and guidance are still the clergy. Pastors, priests and rabbis help millions every year, and usually do so for free. Did I hear something about clergy being mercenary?

Soldier. The Bible speaks of spiritual warfare involving people’s souls and the unseen forces of evil. Foremost in this conflict are often pastors who are regularly expected to be fearless, skillful in combat, slow to retreat. Our weapons are God’s word, persistence and prayer. Our ally, the Holy Spirit.

Manager. Every church, large or small, has a program. Programs can be as simple as the order of the Sunday worship service, or as complex as a full-blown Christian educational system. The pastor is usually a key figure in enabling these church programs to run smoothly.

Coach. Everyone needs someone to motivate and develop the important skills it takes to compete in the game of life. A minister is often one who stands on the sidelines providing pointers and encouragement to improve the individual and advance the team.

Teacher. The Bible is an amazing textbook on the realities of the world around us. It speaks of God and people; choices; attitudes and world-views. It brings a message of reconciliation between God and people through Christ. This supremely beneficial course is offered at your local church without tuition costs. The pastor is to teach this course material in a way that is interesting, relevant and in-depth.

Lawyer. The local clergy can also be counted on to come to the defense of their people in times of trouble. They visit the jails, write letters on parishioners’ behalf and argue the case for the gospel before the jury of the world.

Friend. Your pastor or minister is the one you expect to be concerned for you even when you haven’t been around for awhile. He is the one who will look you in the eye and tell it like it is–in love. He is the one who urges you to become more than you have been and to follow Christ wholeheartedly. It is this role in which the pastor often shines brightest.

Master of Ceremonies. He is the host, the comedian, the one who officiates at important events for you and your family. He must have the charm of the talk show host and the decorum of a head of state.

Oh yes—don’t forget the variety of other jobs which, in some churches, simply go with the position. It is not unusual for the pastor to clean a restroom or two, fold bulletins, work with youth, participate in a construction project and secure the building after services. While there are some exceptions, the Christian ministry is still an honorable profession. It is served, for the most part, by honorable men and women. Now more than ever, with the image of clergy tarnished by a few highly publicized bad apples, it is nice to know that you really can trust that amazing man behind the pulpit!

Michael Bogart

The Hardest Job in the World

June 24, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps

stained glass womanWhat is the hardest job in the world?  This question is debated in workrooms, taverns and coffee shops around the world.  One position which is usually overlooked but which should be considered as a serious contender for the honor  is that of pastor’s wife.  Living quietly in this world are a small company of women who are married to men in ministry of one type or another.  They receive far too little credit for what they do.  By the way, there are some men married to women in ministry who deserve some long-overdue recognition as well.

The pastor’s wife: you can often see her after worship, standing with her husband greeting people or sometimes visiting with scattered groups of folks.  At other times these women are not seen because they are working in the nursery, recruiting volunteers or counseling privately with someone.

Wives of ministers come in all shapes and sizes: young and not-so-young; vivacious and reserved; creative and methodical, punctual or late; musical and tone-deaf.  Some even play the piano. The proven truth is that a minister’s wife can make or break him.  Men who survive in ministry almost always do so because their wives are supportive and regarded as an asset by the congregation.

So why do I insist that the job of a pastor’s wife is so hard?  There is no labor union exposing the plight of these women; no news expose on the difficult life of a pastor’s wife.  These women rarely complain.  Most have achieved a level of excellence in which they go about their work with seeming effortlessness.  So, most people never give their situation a second thought.  That’s where I come in.  I am married to a pastor’s wife, so I have special insight into what these dear women often must accomplish (pardon my excursions into exaggeration for effect).

First the pastor’s wife must maintain a level of spirituality at least equal with that of the most spiritual person in the congregation.  She must be able to quote scripture with little hesitation on almost any subject.  She must never have serious doubts about any article of faith cherished by her husband’s congregation.  She must actually pray for the dozens of prayer requests she receives monthly.  The ability to walk on water is helpful, but not required.

The pastor’s wife should be in reasonably good shape physically and should maintain a modestly attractive appearance.  Her home must be neat and well-organized.  Her cooking should be on a gourmet level with at least several dishes which are the favorites at church dinners.  She must be cheerful about unexpected guests for dinner.  She is to be an excellent manager of family finances, a smart shopper and able to hang pictures tastefully.  At the same time she is never to draw attention to herself or her abilities.  It is a good idea for Proverbs 31:10-31 to be prominently displayed somewhere in her house.

It goes without saying that she needs to raise near-perfect children.  From her they should be learning respect, good manners, cleanliness, theology and perhaps even Hebrew and Greek.  She should seriously consider homeschooling in order to ensure that her children are trained properly and not exposed to unduly harmful influences.  The children should be able to sing or recite poetry to any group on short notice.  They must earn excellent grades, never get in trouble, never bicker among themselves and never show disrespect to neighbors or members of the congregation.

The wife of a pastor often listens patiently to concerns and hurts of several people each week, while sharing her own inner life sparingly (if at all).  She should be prepared to forego close friendships in the church for long periods.  She should smile a lot.  It is indespensible that she should know whose jokes to laugh at and whose humor to blush at.  She must be willing to put in many hours of volunteer work in ministry only to have others get much of the credit.  She has to be able to take constructive criticism with good humor, humility and a large grain of salt.  She should never show anger; always be humble; never gossip.  She should have the constitution of an ox, the hide of a rhinoceros and the disposition of a dove.  She is to be the servant of all, yet find time to put her own life in perfect harmony—and maintain all of this over a lifetime.

Most importantly, this woman has to live with a very difficult man—the pastor.  He is much in demand and often not home in the evenings or on weekends.  She must be able to figure him out when he is unsure of himself and quietly support him when he is criticized or attacked.  She must also tolerate him when his head is twice its normal size after a particularly good sermon.  When he is tired or away, she is to keep the family together without a trace of bitterness.

Though not as extreme as this exaggerated description, the wife of a man in ministry is, without doubt, one tough job!   My own marriage to one of these amazing women has given me some inside information on this unsung group of people.  I thank God for my wife, Melinda.  When she married me, she also married ministry.  She is raising four amazing children, while serving alongside me.  She is creative, attractive, intelligent, hard-working and the life of the party wherever she goes.  Her singing is the envy of angels.  I could not have done what I have been privileged to do without her.  She makes me look very good.  Thank you my dear.

I am confident that I speak for thousands of other men in ministry when I express my thanks to all these dear women who serve with us.  As far as I am concerned, they deserve the award for the hardest job in the world!

Michael Bogart

How to type in Greek with an English keyboard

June 20, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps

Greek text (John)Using an English keyboard in symbol font, you can make a fairly accurate reproduction of a Koine (or Classical) Greek text.  The following list of Greek letters can be typed using the symbol font. The line of phonetically spelled letters (below) are followed by the keys on an English keyboard which correspond to each symbol keystroke. Upper and lower case work in the same way as on an English keyboard.

alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron, pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega

A, B, G, D, E, Z, H, Q, I, K, L, M, N, X, O, P, R, S, T, U, F, C, J, W

Notice that a final sigma must be keyed differently than a regular one. If you have taken Greek, you will remember that when a sigma occurs as the final letter in a word, it is written differently–it actually looks a bit more like an English “s”.  A final sigma can be typed by keying a capital vee (V) while in the symbol font.

Aspiration marks can be made with single apostrophes (pointing the right direction) in whichever font suits the look you want.  Happy writing!

Michael Bogart

How to Share Your Personal Faith-Story

heart-and-cross1An important part of sharing the Good News of Jesus with people is your own account of how Jesus has changed your life. This is often referred to as your personal testimony. As we touch people’s lives with the gospel, they often want to know more than the basic Bible verses and gospel information. They are curious about what made you decide to follow Jesus and the difference it has made since then.

Composing Your Testimony

  • Think through the circumstances that brought you to faith in Jesus. Were you raised in a Christian home, or did you find Christ from another type of environment? How has following Jesus made you different from what you might have been otherwise?
  • Write out your story, aiming for no more than a page or two. If you have a brief passage of scripture to share, which will highlight some aspect of your testimony, that can be included. It is helpful to organize your story according to the following segments:

What life was like before I found Jesus. Relate your thinking, attitudes and lifestyle before Jesus had any meaningful place in your life. Were you sad, selfish, bored or just plain oblivious to the issues of life? If you came from a Christian home, was that helpful in finding Jesus?

How I found Jesus. What were the long-term, and short-term circumstances which brought you to personal faith in Jesus? Was it a friend’s attractive life? A Christian meeting of some sort? Your parents’ prayers? Etc.

My life since faith in Christ. Honestly describe the difference knowing Jesus has made. Have your thinking, attitudes or actions changed in any meaningful way? Has there been any power to change habits or resist sin? Have people noticed these changes?

  • Refine your testimony.  Make sure that the words you use to describe your experience communicate clearly to people who don’t understand Christian terminology.  Make sure you are absolutely truthful in telling your story. Pray for clarity of mind and words as well as openness in people’s hearts.
  • Watch out for these mistakes: A preachy or superior attitude; Negative remarks about specific types of churches or individuals; Christian slang words; Apologizing for what you believe are your poor speaking skills; Taking too much time and becoming a bore.

Remember, you are pointing people to Jesus, not to yourself. People need to see how great and merciful he is, not how amazing your story is.

Presenting Your Testimony
You will probably have many opportunities to share your faith-story over the course of your life. You may be asked to share in a service or meeting of some kind, or maybe the subject will be appropriate as you are talking with friends. It is best to have at least the basic outline of your testimony memorized so that you can make the most of these opportunities.

When asked to speak before a sizeable group you will want to carefully plan and rehearse what you have to say. Review your written work, perhaps even reading it out loud several times and then saying it without the aid of your manuscript. Aim for several minutes. Be respectful of whatever time limits your hosts may give you. Speak clearly and don’t rush through your presentation. Smile and show enthusiasm (if Jesus has changed your life for the better, it ought to show in a positive way). Pray that God will use you to bring blessing into the life of each person present.

Remember that this is your own unique story. There is no need for you to be like anyone else. Never be ashamed of how the Lord has led you through your life so far. His ways are always best. You can be an encouragement to others who relate to your story so that they may also find God’s plan and presence in their lives!

Michael Bogart

Core Teachings of Historic Christianity

May 21, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith, Ministry Helps

cross-of-nails2There are many differences between the three main branches of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the various types of Protestants). However, as streams within the overall Christian tradition, they are akin in certain basic beliefs. These primary tenets of faith include:

The Bible is inspired and authoritative.

God exists as the eternal Trinity.

Creation: The Cosmos was created in a state of completion, but is now fallen into a state of futility due to sin.

Human Nature: People are specially made in God’s image, but are fallen through sin into separation from God and the degeneration caused by sin.

Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. He is the Second Person of the eternal Trinity. Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

The Atonement: Jesus’ death paid the penalty for human sin and opened the way to restore people to God. His resurrection validates the Father’s acceptance of his atonement.

Human Response: Faith toward God (specifically in Jesus) is what God requires for people to receive forgiveness and new life. Faith is a deep level of trusting, which results in actions which show its reality.

The Church: All who have faith in Christ are part of the Body of Christ, which is manifested in local bodies of believers, known as churches.

Holy Living: Faith shows itself in new desires which, honor God accompanied by a new power for living. The old sinful desires and tendencies can still operate, but no longer have complete control.

Death and Eternity: Death is the natural result of being separated from the Living God. Eternity follows physical death and seals a person in a state of faith or unbelief. Eternal life or eternal condemnation await everyone.

The Future: The present age will end with a catastrophic clash between the Kingdom of God and the world-system. Jesus will return to rule. The Cosmos will be remade to exclude evil.

Michael Bogart

A Sample Graduation Invocation for a Secular Situation

May 18, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Ministry Helps

How to give a ceremonial prayer in a pluralistic setting

silhouette-of-woman-praying

First of all,  understand the context.  If the event is purely secular (non-religious) or is an interfaith gathering, it may be best to use a more generic prayer format rather than a prayer-style and vocabulary which not everyone can relate to.  As much as some believers are concerned about compromising their position, remember that a ceremony as a whole belongs to all those who participate.  Imagine what it would be like to attend an event which was very important to you and someone from another faith group was asked to pray.  If that person gave a prayer which seemed exclusive or was spoken in a manner which was difficult to follow, you might very well feel as though your experience was diminished.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to be who you are.  If you have been invited to pray, then do your best to represent your tradition or faith community well.  Make sure that you speak to God on behalf of the entire group in the very best way you can.

Ask God for what is appropriate, given the occasion, and then simply stop.  A rambling or repetitious prayer soon becomes offensive.  Be very careful to abide by whatever time restraints have been put upon you.

In your prayer, avoid the temptation to assume control of the event simply because you believe that you have an insight into religious truth which others do not.  Most people can spot this kind of attitude within seconds.

Make sure you pray in a voice that is slow and loud enough to be heard by everyone present.  On the other hand most people dislike a preachy or ranting tone in prayer.

Praying in Jesus’ name can be done even in an interfaith gathering.  I have found that as long as I say, “I pray in Jesus’ name” without presuming to speak for everyone, (We pray in Jesus’ name) most folks are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.  On the other hand there is nothing necessarily compromising in ending a prayer with a simple “Amen” (It is actually biblical).

Finally, be genuine.  Far better than simply mouthing eloquent words, aim at true communication with God.  There is nothing wrong with writing out your prayer beforehand.  This will prevent saying something silly or unclear.  If you read your prayer, put your heart and mind into the words you are saying.  Remember, you are asking God’s blessing on the gathering in some way.  That alone is enough to take the assignment very seriously.

Here is a sample of an invocation I gave at a secular graduation for one of the institutions where is serve as an adjunct instructor:

“God in heaven—It is our privilege to invite you here as the guest of honor on this __________________ (occasion). It is our request that you would bless this graduating class, but more than that– and of first importance– we desire that you would be here with us this evening (morning, afternoon).

Among other things, O God, you are the Creator of the human mind, which you modeled in some fashion after your own great mind. Though we acknowledge that your thoughts are infinitely higher and more profound than ours, we glory in the notion that we may, on our own level, think some of your thoughts after you in this place. Thank you for the precious gifts of knowledge and discovery.

I ask on behalf of those gathered here that you would indeed bless each of these graduates. Give them the grace to make a difference for the good wherever they may find themselves in the years ahead.

  • For those who will pursue further education, grant not only the knowledge they will need in their chosen fields, but also wisdom to apply that knowledge to life as it really is.
  • For those who will be going directly into the workforce, give a sense of what is right and good and appropriate in the often-confusing issues they will face.
  • For those in military service, may they draw courage and strength from you. May they serve our country and all of humanity with integrity and honor.
  • For all of these graduates and the families of which they are a part, we ask that they may make a significant contribution to the general welfare of society. May they especially be a blessing to those whose lives they personally touch.

And now, may you be pleased with what is done here this evening (morning, afternoon). Thank you for your presence.

It is in the name above all others that I pray, Amen.”

I hope this has been helpful.  Michael Bogart

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