I recently found normal in Howell, about an hour and 15-minute drive straight south from our house in Nolensville. The weather was nearly perfect for an early morning drive with my bride, Jeanne, and we wound our way along country roads through the beautiful rolling hills of Middle Tennessee.
Howell is a small community located between Lewisburg and Fayetteville. We pulled into the parking lot of First Baptist Church Howell and the thought came to my mind. First Baptist Church and the town of Howell are, well, normal.
According to the last census, if you draw a ring around Howell about eight miles from the center of town, the population of Howell is about 8,800. That’s not many folks, but it’s normal. And the church — First Baptist Howell — has between 75 to 100 people of all ages in worship, but that’s normal.
If you have ever played sports, you are probably familiar with the term “sweet spot.” The “Sweet Spot” is the point or area on a bat, club, or racket at which it makes most effective contact with the ball (I am told that my golf clubs have a “sweet spot” but I have never actually found it!). In non-sports terms, the “sweet spot” is an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities.
I bring this up because it seems that church revitalization is often measured solely in terms of numbers – attendance, budget, etc. While these measurements can be an indicator of church revitalization, other factors need to be considered when determining the overall health of a church in the revitalization process. Some of the “health factors” can be more difficult to measure, but it is important to pay attention to the “sweet spot” on the church revitalization journey.
As we look at the pictured diagram, the place where all three circles come together would be the “Sweet Spot.” Let’s break it down to some practical steps in nurturing revitalization in the church. Continue reading “Living in Your Sweet Spot”→
I recently decided it was time to get in shape physically. I will spare you the details, but basically, I knew that it was time to take the next step in my physical health. Oh, I could easily justify keeping things the way they were. After all, I wasn’t overweight and my regular choice of foods was fairly healthy (except for the Hot Glazed Krispy Kreme donuts!). And in comparison, I appeared to be in as good of shape as most of my peers. However, I knew deep down that my health could be better. I had reached the point where the conviction about what could be was overriding the justification of status quo.
I set an appointment with a trainer. The first thing he did was evaluate my current health and physical fitness status. Within days, he presented me with a plan that would lead toward better, long-term physical health. Of the 10 exercises in the plan, only two involved “pumping iron.” You know, the kind of weight lifting we like to do in the gym to show off!! Continue reading “Getting In Shape to Get In Shape”→
I’m amazed at what God is doing across Tennessee through His people and through the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
In Dandridge, 15 more boys were recently saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship at a detention facility. These precious younger brothers in Christ add to the harvest of more than 100 new believers who have come to Jesus over the past three years at the facility through the ministry of Swannsylvania Baptist Church.
Whenever we Baptists set out to revitalize our times of worship, we are tempted to begin by addressing musical style. Often, we do so with little consideration of worship’s content. The heart of Christianity is its message — not its style. The crux of our faith is hearing and responding to the story of the triune God of the universe. Style is, at best, a secondary issue. Style doesn’t transform hearts. The message of Jesus does. If we truly desire worship renewal, we first should solidify the subject matter of our times of worship. Continue reading “Keys to Worship Renewal, Pt. 2: Focus on the Word”→
I uttered the words in frustration. I was the pastor of a good church with good people and good resources, and yet it seemed that we had little impact on the lives of people in our city. In fact, it seemed like we had lost both our passion and purpose as the church. In the days that followed, I was drawn in by the words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-4); the prophetic words which Jesus Himself fulfilled:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”Continue reading “More to It Than This!”→
I have always been fascinated by the image of a potter’s wheel. Something about the way a master potter takes a lump of clay and molds it into a beautiful and useful vessel appeals to me. I think it may be that each piece of pottery is unique. Because it is not “mass-produced” on a machine, no two pieces are the same. Each piece is carefully shaped into what the potter desires it to be.
This came to life for me when I actually got the chance to observe a potter at work on the wheel. He carefully and precisely shaped the clay, paying close attention throughout the entire process. While several of his finished vessels were similar, no two were exactly the same. Continue reading “The Image of the Potter’s Wheel”→
One of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s five core objectives is to see at least 500 churches revitalized by the year 2024. Because I believe renewed worship fuels revitalized churches, my passion is to help the local church deepen its understanding and practice of worship. With this goal in mind, I’d like to share a brief series of articles I’ve entitled “Keys to Worship Renewal.” I pray these articles serve as a springboard to healthy worship discussions and encourage worship renewal across Tennessee.
We Baptists love to talk about worship. And, if we’re honest, our conversations usually focus on stylistic issues — especially musical style.
Traditional or contemporary? Choir or worship team? Pipe organ or electric guitar? Sometimes we even use these discussions to cast blame on musical style for plateaued, declining, or dying churches.
One of the mixed blessings of being a pastor is presiding or participating in funerals, especially those of Christian friends. On the one hand there is sadness for the loss of family members and friends; on the other there is the celebration knowing those individuals “see in full” as the Apostle Paul writes. They have arrived safely into the arms of Jesus. They’re home.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the joy and high honor of participating in the funerals of two gentlemen leaders and choice servants of God — pastors Don Cobb and Doug Sager. Both these men exemplified what it means to love God and love people. They set the bar high for pastoral ministry while demonstrating the highest level of humility. Both had a passion to see people come to saving faith in Jesus. Both demonstrated what we can be when we walk with God and submit to His leadership every day, every week, every month, every year, year-after-year until Jesus calls us home. Both men left legacies whose ripple effects will reap a Kingdom harvest for years to come. They’ve shown us how to finish well. Continue reading “Showing the Way to Finishing Well”→
Too often in the church revitalization process, church leaders attempt what I call the “Lone Ranger” approach. They attempt to lead their church through a difficult process, one that they probably have never been through before, without the benefit of a group of peers. This is where Learning Communities can be helpful.