Thursday, August 27, 2009

Relationships are Essential

"I think it was John Maxwell that said the average pastor leaves a church because of 8 people." We left a church because of TWO... Haha! Then again, we're not pastors... and we're not average.

"Of course, 8 can feel like 100. That's why healthy relationships are so important. In fact, they are essential to revival. Why? Because revival involves change, and change is a funny thing... Healthy change can only occur in the context of healthy relationships."

Pastors need true and healthy relationships from us. Michael Catt just pours out his heart in this matter. Pastors can't please everyone, and they are human. They need prayer support. They need fellowship. Their wives and children need godly, true fellowship as well. They need a safety nest where they can be human and not pastors and still be loved and lifted up in prayer. They need people that won't talk behind heir backs, won't criticize them, won't sit in service with a plumb line of their own. I'm thankful Paul and I have that relationship with Pastor Steve, although Paul hasn't been in Anchorage long enough to really cultivate it. I'm thankful that I can truly say we are friends with our Pastor and we support him. I haven't always been able to say that.

Truthfully, for a large majority of our church life, I felt I couldn't trust our pastor. And it was probably for the same reason that many pastors don't have trust in their flock; I was convinced (and unfortunately have been proved right) that being open with our pastor would come back to bite us in the end. As a teenager I remember walking out of a pastor's office saying, "I can't confide in anyone - there's not a single believing adult in sight that can actually help me!" Later in life, I walked out of the same office - different pastor - saying, "Our pastor is not going to defend us, and he's not going to take care of us... we're left at the hands of wolves in sheep clothing... we are expendable." Fortunately between one and the other, I've had healthy relationships with pastors (and so has Paul) that have helped us to heal. I'll never forget the kind of fellowship Paul and I received from the Bostic family at Sooner Rd Church of God in OK. They saw us at our best and our worst and loved us all the same. The same is true of Pastor Bill Baggitt in Redland, FL. If we had been completely unsuccessful in building true, healthy relationships with a Pastor at any point in our Christian walk, we may have stopped attending church altogether. And yet by the grace of God and His healing work, we give our best to every pastor, every time!

I'm saying this to put the other end of the coin out there. Some of us are hurt and we don't have healthy relationships with our Pastors - no matter how involved we are or how much we attend church. We can build a wall that says, "you can come here and no further" to the man of God that He has appointed to lead our flock - and in essence what we are saying by this is that "you can't lead ME. You may be the pastor, but I won't allow you to be MY pastor." This isn't God's will for us, our hearts, or our church. To love like Jesus did, we must be willing to take risks - risk that we may get hurt, because no one on earth that we are to love will ever be perfect - and yet we still need to be fully open, fully loving, fully forgiving ... even more so if we are blessed with a Pastor who is giving his best to us the congregation as well!

"If I could ask God to give every pastor one thing, it wouldn't be a larger salary or more perks; it would be three praying men who would stand in the trenches with them."

The relationships need more work as it involves leadership/staff. The pastor needs to know that the rest of the church leadership and staff are his wingman; they'll share in his God-given vision for the church and help carry it out. That they'll tackle anything asked by the Pastor without objection and with excellence - no matter how difficult it may seem. That we won't leave him stranded. It takes putting away our own agenda completely at times, and not being so focused on "OUR ministry" but rather seeing it as an extension of what God wants to accomplish through our pastor.

"If you want to see God rain down revival, surround yourself with great men - men you can love, trust, bare your heart to and be real with." This is Pastor Catt's advice to other pastors as an ingredient to revival. Let us be that ingredient ourselves and not wait for someone else to come along and support out pastor.

The rest of the chapter is about building multi-cultural relationships as well... and being willing to build relationships with other churches without a competitive agenda... maybe even befriending churches of other denominations for the sake of reaching the lost in the community. It's a message from Michael Catt to other pastors. I've never been a part of a white, Southern Baptist church who resisted and fought against having black guest speakers. I really can't relate. I'm very fortunate to be part of a generation and a national background (Venezuelan) that is completely color-blind. Praise the Lord, Paul and I never attended a church where racism would raise it's ugly head. But I have seen "denominationalism" tear apart an opportunity for evangelism... Paul and I have been told that certain meetings were not acceptable for us to attend as leaders because they weren't held or coordinated by "our church family". It hurts the kingdom of God to have an "our church" mentality because in it, lost souls aren't being saved. That's how churches quickly become social clubs. We need to be in prayer about that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Attitude Is Everything

I just Facebooked a friend who has helped start a new church. He's not a pastor, but he has been a part of an amazing team that are finally having their first Sunday service this weekend. I asked him what their secret was, and he responds, "Prayer, Faith, and Patience... did I mention prayer?"

Prayer is an action we discussed previously. Faith would fit in to my previous blog, about having vision. Patience? Patience is a virtue.. it's an attitude we need to clothes ourselves with.

"Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. Not all large churches are healthy. A healthy church is one that brings glory to God through its godly attitudes. Paul identified 3 attitudes by which the Thessalonian church was glorifying God: 'Your work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope...' (1 Thess. 1:3)... You can't measure them, but they are shown in measurable ways."

A sermon right there! By faith we are saved, firmly grounded in the Gospel. And our attitude about church has to be grounded in faith; we cannot pledge alliegance to anything other than God when it comes to our church... because anything we hold more important that God turns out to be idolatry! But Catt says, "When God begins to move in your midst, it becomes easier to turn from the idols of style, traditions, rules, and regulations. Who needs all that when you have Jesus?"

Laboring in love is the key to growth. We need to love all the members of God's family, and we don't get to pick and choose. We also need to love those outside the church in such a tangible way that they believe our declaration of faith based on a lifestyle of love.

Steadfastness in hope is even harder; it means that while we love everyone, we don't compromise our stance on Scripture or on Jesus to convince them to come in. We stay unmovable in what we believe even if the very people we've loved into the church walk right out.

"Not everyone wants to be a part of a church where the Bible is considered inerrant, the miracles are believed as facts and Jesus is still the only way... Too many ministries seem to be shaky about what they believe. What we really need is to be shaken by what we believe. We still need leaders like Joshua... Elijah... Paul... It's the leader's job to raise the sails and catch the wind of the Spirit, even it makes the fleshly a little seasick. It may be vogue to be vague, but it's not Biblical... Many churches are dying because they wander in the wilderness and refuse to step out and believe God."

I am convinced that if everyone in the congregation truly prayed and sought out God for His vision for our church... and then if we were all willing to unite to that vision and build towards it by faith, labor in it through love, and remain steadfast in hope... Wow. What God can do! And it's the churches that break out of the mold, that let go of their self-imposed doctrine of how to run a church, and that follow this pattern - these are the ones that are growing! Thriving! Leading many souls to Christ! And reaching the world from their hometown.

God, I cannot begin to emphasize how much I'm praying for this life-breathing attitude to permeate our church... It would answer every problem, every obstacle we may seem to have. It would swing the doors open wide for unbelievers to come and repent, and commit to the Lord.

A Visionary Team

"In order to think big, you need to have vision, and it's impossible to separate vision from leadership. Beyond that, it's impossible to separate leadership from teamwork. there are no 'lone rangers' in effective ministry."

The first step is having vision. Whatever it is that God laid in your heart to do is big - I know my "dream" for what God has for me (and my church) is BIG. It doesn't seem something I could accomplish by myself. It doesn't seem like anything that would happen any time soon, either.

The beauty is that I'm NOT supposed to accomplish it by myself. I trust God has given the same vision to other people that will unite with me and work together. It's supposed to be vision + teamwork. I need the team that I'm working with to have vision.

Vision means seeing what God wants done as the end result, and not seeing what is there now. Vision is walking by faith and not by sight. And vision is believing bigger than the budget, the size of the congregation, or the talents/resources already available.

So as a team member, I need to have vision + faith. When everyone in the team accomplishes this, we can start moving forward towards great things. My prayer is that my church may grab a hold of God's vision and walk towards it by faith... no nay-saying, no criticizing, no bringing up the size of the obstacles in the way. Just praying and doing whatever we can to fulfill that vision.

Lord, help us not to give up as a team, even though it feels difficult right now. Help us to believe in You.

"We all have strengths and weaknesses. We need to play to our strengths, and we need others around us who can cover for our weaknesses. If all of the disciples had been like Simon Peter, no one could've been the leader. It takes the quiet disciples as well as the outspoken ones to make a team that impacts the world... If any one man could do it all, it was Jesus, but He chose to use a team."

We can't do anything on our own or by ourselves because God designed His church to function within the body; 1 Corinthians 12 shows us that we are not all eyes, hands, or feet - but working together we have all that's needed. Pastor Catt wrote a lot in this chapter about staff members that wanted recognition, titles, attention, or honor... they didn't fit in with the ministry team in the long-haul. All of our individual motivation needed to be based and focused on God getting the glory. Was He praised? Great! Was He exalted? Hoorah! That's all that has to matter to us. It's difficult, because we can feel under-appreciated... we sometimes WANT others to know what we did. But Scripture tells us also to die to self and live for Christ.

And finally, something crucial that Sherwood has in practice that we need to implement, is that they all cheered for each other... People stepped in and took over the spots that the crew working on "Facing the Giants" were responsible for, to free them up for that ministry. They cheered for each other. One victory for a certain ministry team means victory for the entire church. We need to be like that!

If the youth ministry is on fire, we need to praise God and cheer them on! If God meets a need in the children's nursery, we need to praise God and cheer them on! It doesn't matter if it's not what we are personally involved in. The greater picture, the true vision from God's perspective is that if any part of the church has won, the whole church has something to rejoice about. I think this crosses denominational barriers more than anything. A victory for the Baptist church is a victory towards the Kingdom of God, "yupee!" Even if we are pentecostal. Any success in the Kingdom of God, where ever it may happen, is a victory for us as individuals as well... only if we are Kingdom-minded.

Let's expand our vision - let's expand our faith in what God wants to accomplish in our Jerusalem and see how it fits into the big Kingdom picture!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Prayer

I have to admit, I feel I need to learn to pray all over again. Specially after reading ch. 4!

Here it's all about the prayer that began everything... Sherwood began to really pray... and I mean, intercede and pray. They began having prayer meetings for hours at a time as a church. They built a prayer chapel and developed an intercessory prayer team. The prayer team, when they ran out of prayer requests from the church, began calling everyone down the phone book and ask the people if they needed prayer - and then mailed prayer cards to everyone that gave them their requests. They found out there were tons of people facing surgery, death of a loved one, divorce, and joblessness with no church home whatsoever (did you know it takes about 3 years if you make calls down the phone book every day?).

Every decision made was first met with a prayer meeting - an exclusive prayer meeting with no discussion.

And they prayed big prayers. They took a stand by faith and asked God - and they wouldn't have it any other way. They stood on His Word instead of the circumstance and asked God to move mountains. They prayed Scripture. They engaged in big fights against dark forces.

Wow. My prayer life is nothing like that.

I remember in high school I was that way. I remember us having Tuesday night youth prayer meetings where we could be on our knees for about 3 hours. I remember spending a lot of time on my knees either at church altars or at home - having prayer walks around lower-income neighborhoods...

It's not necessarily that I lost the faith, but more so that I lost the practice. I haven't gotten passionate enough to pray about anything like that anymore. I think I just got busy. I also developed this "God knows" attitude.

Now on the other hand, I have a lot of prayer burdens. The growth of my kids being one. I realized at church that I don't want to just entertain them so they sit still during service, but I want them to learn to praise and worship God. And right now our church and the worship ministry needs a lot of prayer. And musicians... but mainly prayer. The congregation is not the stand, clap and sing type - for various reasons and many of them valid and medical. It doesn't mean they are NOT worshiping... but it isn't easy for me to see from the mic's point of view.

I guess I'm praying for the rest of the sanctuary (and there's quite a bit of room) to be filled with people who will stand, clap, and sing during worship. And musicians (that would REALLY help) with instruments. Why am I praying for a change in worship? I don't know... maybe because it's really different from what I've been taught. And maybe because I know that in singing, dancing, and clapping here is victory over the Foe... God's Spirit does things over people that invest their hearts, their minds, and their body into worship. I want this congregation to experience that.

And I want to be a little bit more in my comfort zone too, since I'm volunteering with the worship ministry.

I have pictures of Anakin waving a banner that says "Holy is the Lord" twice his size during praise and worship at the altar... he wasn't quite 2 yet. I have memories of dancing in the Spirit, and having a glorious time of celebrating all that God is...

And I miss that, terribly. Myself. But I don't want to go church hopping until I find it. I believe if there's any place where God can do this, it's here at my church now.

video

This is an awkward prayer burden to share... some people would say "Just go to another church". Others would say, "Leave things as they are, if they are happy." But I can't shake the feeling that God wants to do something more and so I am praying for it, along with other members of this church. Maybe we should unite and pray together. Maybe we should fast.

I also want to reach lost souls for His kingdom. I have plenty of unsaved loved ones to pray for. And witness to. And here in Anchorage, I don't really KNOW a lot of people outside of my church family to be a witness to (which is why I blog and facebook).

And somehow, I believe in my heart that all of it is tied to the worship ministry. I feel that once the Praise and Worship ministry truly kicks in, and this small congregation responds to worship... that God will bring in families and souls who aren't saved, who will receive Jesus, who will enter into discipleship, and then give their talents over to our church in service. I feel that, when I am up on the microphone singing every Sunday morning, there is a warfare - a bondage that we're wrestling to break free from.

I haven't even ARTICULATED any of this in prayer because I couldn't find the words to say until I started blogging about it. And this post is not even about worship - it's about prayer! It's about the prayer that we need to give the church. I don't want all our churches to keep recycling believers from one congregation to another because of preference. My biggest prayer burden is for churches to grow with UNCHURCHED people who need to be fought for and won over for His kingdom.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Facing Your Personal Giants

God will not stay in the box of out theology or methodology. He will move to make us seek Him. At least that's what He did with me. God was destroying my "little box," working to rip things out of my life that didn't look like Jesus. I thought God was a Southern Baptist from he deep South. I learned a lot about who He really is and how He works...

Without the intercessory prayers offered up for me and for others in our congregation, I don't think we could have had the courage to step out and face some of our giants. But God was awakening us to prayer.


This chapter was about Michael Catt's personal trials, and some of the personal trials of the congregation. I don't have to share what he went through - we are all familiar to trials. What's important is what he learned about trials, because it's a biblical truth we all need to hold on to. Trials force us to stop relying on ourselves and start turning to Him. Trials show us that God alone is All-powerful and we don't have Him figured out. Trials teach us to pray. And trials strip us of our fleshly ego, allowing God to mold us into His image. It's not pretty, but it's necessary.

I had read a book during a very dark time in my life called, "When God remains silent". I think. I can't even remember the author now. But the author pointed out how sometimes it feels like Jesus has just turned His face away from us. And on our end, we feel like He's abandoned us, or He doesn't care, because He's not coming to meet our need like we expect Him to. But in reality it's the love of a Father, who knows He needs to put us through the fire - and knows how much it hurts us - and He can't bear to see our pain... But in love He needs to hold us to it.

Like when God the Father turned His face away from Jesus when He was on the cross. We hear it sung all the time, and what scripture says is that Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" Jesus (God in the flesh) felt it just like we do. And it broke God's heart! But He had to turn His face to allow Jesus' crucifixion and death to continue - He could not let His compassion and love for His One and Only Son to move Him to intervene in the plan of salvation.

In my most recent trials I was un-trusting and unbelieving in God... even though I said I was... my actions and the condition of my heart was proving otherwise. I didn't feel that God cared specially for me, and I had to feel this way long enough until it hurt too much to live that way and I began to seek God for a change. I began to really seek His heart, and I found Him, and He met with me. And I learned that I need to open my heart to Him every day.

I can't spell out all my trials right here... Maybe one day I'll write a book... but I know of a few people who have criticized me for being open with my wounds and I prefer not to hinder the point of this blog and this awesome story. But I can look back and see that Paul and I are closer to being people He could use for His glory than we were before as a result of what these trials have done in our hearts - we are more compassionate, less legalistic, more sensitive and loving towards others. Not that we weren't before, but specially now! We are more prepared to answer His call and see the importance of it from God's heart and not on the surface. Because we've learned that above all else we can do for Him, the only thing He cares about are the hearts of the people that we "minister" to or work with. He could care less how "good" something looks if I've offended someone else to accomplish it. He won't honor my "great talents" if they are my excuse to treat others as if they are less than me. Paul and I have been on the burnt end of these sticks and we are not willing to put anyone else there!

So how do we face our personal giants? In 2 ways. As a group, we unite and pray for each other... really pray for the needs of those around us that are going through the giants of their own, and we are humble enough to ask for and receive prayer for ourselves. It may be tough, but we are not supposed to be in it all alone. As Christians, we really need to develop a heart that hurts with others enough for us to invest time in interceding for them. As individuals, we follow scripture... or to summarize, I'll quote Pastor Catt:

"We can't take the visible as the last word. We must prepare to simply receive what God has for us. he wants us to understand how great His plans are for us, how mighty His hand is on our behalf and how awesome His power is. He is just waiting for us to step out in faith and prove Him right."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back Door Revival

During my first 2 years as pastor at Sherwood, we were growing at a rapid pace. It seemed we could do nothing wrong. Hundreds joined, and we were baptizing new believers almost every week. There was energy and excitement everywhere. It would have been easy for me to say, "Don't make any changes; just ride the wave."

But in my heart I wasn't comfortable. There was a pocket of legalism in the church, and I knew I had to confront it. I've come to believe it's easier for an alcoholic to be converted than it is to soften the heart of a hard-core legalist...

Too many churches, however, don't want God to upset their system... God forbid a wind would blow in and disturb the status quo... I unexpectedly rattled i during one service in January of 1990. ... After one particular choir special, I started clapping, not for the performer, but in praise to the Lord... A man came to my office first thing Monday morning to confront me about it.

"Don't you know that clapping is a sin?" he asked.

When I quoted the Scripture that says, "oh clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph!" (Ps. 37:1), he said that was Old Testament and didn't apply to the church now. I then pointed out that the Old Testament is full of Christ, that Christ honored it, and almost every book in the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament... "I didn't come here to argue the Bible with you, preacher, I know what I believe"...

One thing that came to light, for example, was that a handful of leaders in the church were not respected in their community because of their business practices. their images were different than their substance. I wrestled with what to do - or if I should do anything at all. By outward appearances, we were successful... Why mess up a good thing?


The life of a Pastor is hard - if he chooses to follow God whole-hearted in ministry. I have a handful of Pastors that I know, which I admire and respect, who have been chewed up and spit back out because of their resolve. I've become very close to the pastor's family here in Anchorage. And though I haven't heard the story from him, what his wife and his daughter have shared from their hearts about the trials he's faced in that ministry have led me to admire him and respect him. Pastor Steve has already proven himself to have a strong resolve and not compromise holiness for popularity when it comes to his church.

The funny thing is how people's definition of "holiness" changes based on their personal preferences. I kind of laughed at what Pastor Catt went through as a result of clapping during service... I know that what Pastor Steve and his congregation faced seemed to be the opposite; that they weren't holy enough because they weren't clapping and shouting enough. I've known of people who criticize the worship at Christ Fellowship for not being "spirit-filled" because people weren't falling on the floor slain in the spirit or speaking in tongues.

When did we as humans ever take up God's role and decide WHAT was an acceptable offering unto Him?

In fact, if I remember my college Bible history class correctly, the biggest thing that infuriated the heart of God about the vendors in the temple was more than the robbery and extortion: People would travel for days with their sacrifice to the Lord, that they had loved and prepared for that whole year - only to show up at the temple and have a Pharisee say that it "wasn't good enough". Then they would have to sell their sacrifice for really cheap (which the Pharisees usually kept) and had to purchase a brand new offering at a higher price. And this mattered to the Lord so much that when Jesus was on earth He drove these people out with whips. It wasn't the business, it was the hindrance; hindrance to prayer, hindrance to have all people come unto Him.

Lord, help us to not be Pharisees when it comes to worship! Help us to not hinder or belittle ANYONE's offering of worship, within the Kingdom of God, no matter how different from our personal preference it looks.

Legalism wasn't accomplishing anything if the unsaved souls looking in weren't impressed. I can imagine Catt's heart about those business leaders... And it happens in every church... And I'm thankful I'm not a pastor! It's a really tough spot for a Pastor to be, they have so many issues to address more than we are responsible or accountable for, and we need to pray for them.

We need to pray that they won't be afraid to rock the boat, no matter how good things seem. That was Michael Catt's introductory question in this chapter - what he struggled with. We need to realize that there's more to the health of a church than what their Sunday Service looks like (everything looks good Sunday morning anyways!). The HEART of the church is what God looks at to see where He can bring His harvest into, where He can pour out His Spirit. And I believe that Pastors have discernment to see where the heart of the church is... And they need to follow God.

If you know the rest of Michael Catt's story, you see the reward in it. But at this particular chapter, there isn't.

"If you want to see how quickly God can crush your fleshly ego, tell Him you're willing to lose half of your congregation to see revival. He might test you on it."

Pastor Catt began, slowly but surely, addressing all these issues from the pulpit... and taking stands unlike any Southern Baptist pastor ever had. And at this point, he faced horrible consequences for it. He calls this chapter "Back Door Revival" because the revival they were praying for usually came after hundreds at a time walked out the back door of the church. They've lost about 800 members to that congregation over the next 10 years. Most of the churches that are dear in my heart don't have 800 people to lose to begin with!

It wasn't just the people walking out (which breaks a Pastor's heart every time), as much as the attacks, criticism, gossip that come with it. Former pastors criticized Catt and said he ruined their church. During Sunday, people sitting around his wife would grumble and complain and long for their former Pastor, so they can get back to the "good ol' days before Catt stirred up the church". There was a lot of mistrust. Oh Pastors, and families of Pastors, be strong and take heart! The Word doesn't say that to warriors of God over and over for no reason. These trials unfortunately come to ANYONE who stirrs ANYTHING over God's calling. Paul and I went through it over a youth ministry. We didn't even have the authority or ability to change ANYTHING about the church! I can only imagine how much worse it gets for men higher and higher in leadership (women tend to be too manipulative, controlling, and cut-throat to struggle with these things when they are high in leadership to be affected by this. Not all, but a lot).

Some one said to me after one back-door purging, "Pastor, you shouldn't be upset. Every malcontent and high-maintenance trouble maker has left the church. You ought to be praising God!"

For those of us who aren't the head pastors (mostly everyone), we need to be encouraging and supportive in prayer. Deeply. It gives our pastors the strength to lead the flock according to God's direction.

The direction that God had for Sherwood was to prepare them to be the church that could produce amazing movies and have amazing ministries. They had to embrace freedom of worship and blended worship. Pastor Catt said he got a lot of heat for bringing in a black gospel singer to do a concert at his church - but for all it was worth, their congregation is now one of the most multi-cultural and diverse of his denomination. It bridged a gap between his church and the community they needed to reach for His kingdom. The congregation that stuck with him through all this learned the truth about worship and prayer. It took many individual hearts deeper in a relationship with Him and deeper in a love for others - deeper into the heart of God.

The greatest reward for us and our Pastors if we unite, submit, and develop this lifestyle of prayer and worship - true worship - is this: Our church will grow. But it won't grow from stealing members of other churches, we won't be recycling believers. It will grow as a result of unbelievers joining the Kingdom of God - God's desire for the church and the deepest concern of His heart.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Beginning

If you have seen the movie "Facing the Giants", you know you can be just... amazed at how a church could produce something so .. WELL DONE! And it ministers to me every time. Perhaps it's because it reminds me of living on the church property at First Assembly, while Paul was coaching the boys' sports... and we were both so involved in those guys' life...

And this is a church that moved on to produce "Fireproof" - oh my gosh! Do you know how many marriages have hit turning points that saved their relationship after watching this movie? I've witnessed that with my own eyes!

So when Sis. Jo Gorder, a member of our church board here in Anchorage, said she was reading this book and was blessed by it, I had to go get it myself. I was curious to see how a church gets to that point. I was even more curious to see what kind of church produces such amazing ministry materials.

It would help to add here that our current church is rebuilding from scratch. In fact, up until we came here, there was really no worship team - just a pianist and a faithful singer every Sunday. Not because nothing else was wanted, but because no one else was really there to step in. Then Paul and I came, then another couple moved back to Anchorage... and between 4 of us women, we decided to try and start from scratch. It's been choppy... sometimes awkward, but always a blessing. My biggest blessing is getting to know these other 3 women better and seeing them bend and stretch to do whatever it takes.

My excitement comes in that this church is open and ready for whatever God wants to do. And the hearts of the members in the congregation have been prepared to love and embrace the harvest that the Lord will one day bring... to nurture them into discipleship. After all, they did that for Paul and me - not knowing what our ministry gifts or experience was, not knowing our income level... They didn't even know if we were saved or not! But they've cared enough to get to know us through out these past 2 months.

We have a plowed field. We can prepare for rain!

In the first chapter, the Pastor starts off at another church... where his authority is always challenged. Everything is an uphill climb for him, and he said he felt the Board was constantly trying to manipulate him and constantly undermining his leadership. And yet he wasn't willing to move because it was his comfort zone. Until the point where he found himself responding to the altar call of a guest preacher... with just his wife... Nobody else in the congregation even seemed moved. It was then that God showed him he was ready to move on.

Well, I've been in a church where the Pastor was a puppet on a string... and I haven't seen those churches grow. In fact, from what I remember that church looks exactly the same and does the same things they did for the past 8 years. Some things lessened, others improved... few individuals grew... but the church is still without much vision - and it seems that the vision the Pastor has for the church is not important enough for the rest of the congregation to really carry out.

Likewise, I went to a church that had an amazing organizational system. A lot of things were cut to make room for things that really mattered. Everyone submitted to the Pastor and his executives for the direction of that church... And it grew from a "Big Baptist Church" to 5 campuses across Miami-Dade County, having church meetings in movie theaters or school auditoriums... The greatest testimony to how God can bless full submission to leadership - even if it feels risky, or different. I get so blown away by this church that I kind of would like to insert a link right here to their website! In fact, maybe I will:

Christ Fellowship

There I did. I wasn't going to mention any names, and I won't (specially not for the disgrace of others), but this church deserves props. Some of the godliest young people I admire attend this church. And I'm not saying they are the only ones - there is a move of the Holy Spirit in A LOT of churches across South Florida and I can tell all by their FaceBook posts =) . But I just had to mention this one!

Then he goes to Sherwood Baptist church. A Church who has done the same thing pretty much for the past 75 years. And a church that had gone without a Pastor for some time too. And the transition is difficult, and he comes in needing to make a lot of changes. But the blessing here is that the church staff supports him - even if they don't like it or are not used to it. They were able to see that the Pastor has a heart for the betterment of the church and all of them were willing to submit to ANYTHING that would create revival. Anything that would bring an outpour of the Holy Spirit and allow God to move and do the impossible. They were willing to prepare for rain, no matter what the cost.

This is so the key. I think we'll see God move in more and more churches across denominations as the churches are willing to glorify Him instead of their traditions, preferences, and personal theologies. Michael Catts put it this way, "We had to be a 21st century church functioning like an Acts 1st century church." He made adjustments to the worship team to incorporate the music that would minister to the neighborhood that needed to be reached (they were a basically all-white church in a predominantly African-American neighborhood). He had to change the function of the Deacons and the Board so that more meetings were accomplishing ministry instead of fighting over budgets. He cut down on almost 60 committees that weren't functioning within the vision of the church to evangelize and grow... but he also made room for temporary ministry teams that can use their gifts to accomplish a certain goal and then be dissolved... freed up for the next thing that came up. His changes to the church made the church more flexible, and easier and quicker to respond to whatever task God put in their hearts to do.

I admire Michael Catts for having the courage to bring change to a church instead of simply being a hireling. I specially admire the courage of the church to desire God's glory so bad they were willing to submit and trust. And even though it came with a price, God honored their efforts and set them up for what was coming next.

And I get excited because I feel that this is exactly where our church is at now! It's a good beginning. I know that being plowed (as a congregation) doesn't feel good - and it can look very discouraging... just as it doesn't feel good for us as individuals to be pruned by the Master Gardener. But it makes room for a fresh start - for whatever God would want it to be.