Category Archives: Shepherding

What Bible Verses Should I Memorize?


A friend asked me the other day what would be the first ten verses he should memorize. I cheated and gave him more than ten, but I think this is an important starter list.

1. Start with John 3:16. It is an oldie, but a goodie. It is one of the most beautiful and succinct summaries of the gospel found anywhere in Scripture.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

2. This may seem odd, but next I recommend learning 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 on Sexual Purity. I don’t know any man (or woman) who doesn’t struggle with lust and impurity, whether in body or mind. It would be wise to commit these verses to memory as soon as possible as we fight the good fight for a clean conscience.

1 Thessalonians 4:3–4 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.

3. John 14:6 on the Exclusivity of Christ. I can’t think of a more important verse to explain that Jesus is the only way to salvation, and what makes him different from every other religion and worldview. In a day of so-called “tolerance” and postmodern confusion, we desperately need to fix our eyes on Christ alone.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

4. Ephesians 4:29 on Speech. If we could learn to live out this one verse, it will radically change our homes and our churches.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

5. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 on the Authority of Scripture. The Bible alone is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Many people seek existential experiences and supernatural revelation, yet overlook the fact God has already spoken, and he has spoken clearly.

2 Timothy 3:16–17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

6. The Romans Road. With the above verses under your belt, you are now ready to learn the Romans Road. I still remember memorizing this set of verses in junior high at my Christian school, and it changed my life to have a basic plan of salvation to meditate on and to share with others.

Romans 3:10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 10:9–10 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Romans 10:13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

After mastering these verses, I recommend buying John Barnett’s book Word-Filled Families. It has several chapters on marriage and parenting with scripture, plus an entire appendix listing “Verses Every Believer Should Know.”

Question: What verses would you add to a short list of essential verses to be memorized?

Photo: Cassidy Kelley

Deuteronomy Teaching Notes

Did you know Deuteronomy is quoted more often by Jesus than any other Old Testament book? It’s full of practical doctrine and joyful worship.

We have chosen to study this book for our 2017-2018 Friday Night Home Bible Study, and I will attach my teaching notes below as we go through the series.

If you live in the Yucca Valley area, we’d love to have you join us. Potluck dinner is served at 6pm. We have a mix of singles and marrieds, and kids are welcome too. Here are the lessons we’ve covered so far…

Deuteronomy Bible Study – Intro
Preamble (Deut. 1:1-5)
Looking Back (Deut. 1:6-3:29)

More to come, so check back regularly!

To see a full list of my sermons and teaching resources, please click here.

Photo credit: Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces.com

Caring for Seniors in the Church

4235879821_f269701662_bA pastor friend recently asked how we should minister to and engage seniors in the church. In particular, some of his older members are feeling disgruntled because he is spending more time on discipleship and preaching, and not quite so much on visiting seniors in the church. Here was my reply…

We too had a predominately older congregation when I arrived ten years ago (at age 28). I like to say jokingly that our youth group was anyone under age 50.

I spent a lot of time in those early years caring for my aging congregation with hospital visits, nursing home visits, homebound communion, etc. Many of them were the age of my grandparents. Rarely did they come to me for help in issues like counseling or advice. Rather, they viewed me as “The Preacher” who was hired to speak on Sundays and do visitation.

I felt honored to shepherd the flock, but realized I was investing an inordinate amount of time in people who could offer very little support to the church either physically or financially. This took me away from reaching the next generation and was not a sustainable model of ministry.

In my first five years , many of these precious senior saints went to be with the Lord, or were moved out of area to be closer to family. I did my best to give them ample attention and care, but at the same time we prayed for and began seeking more young people, and gradually, the population began to shift to a better balance of old and young.

Besides the obvious hospital and nursing home visits, here are a few things that have been helpful to our church over the years in ministering to older members:

  • For several years, we did a church newsletter to show pictures and write short articles about what was going on in the church. This kept our homebound members connected and enabled me to speak truth into their lives, even when they weren’t present at church.
  • One senior in our church has the gift of encouragement. She’s a very sweet lady and has all the time in the world to call and chat/pray with seniors. They love to hear from her, and she always has the inside scoop, telling me of needs our seniors have.
  • Our secretary keeps a list of all birth dates in the church, and we mail out birthday cards (hand signed) to all the members. Both seniors and kids LOVE this personal touch.
  • Phone calls go a long way to show you care, and save much time over excessive house calls.
  • Some seniors have grown comfortable with technology like email and Facebook, so I try to maintain an online presence by sending out occasional ministry updates, prayer requests, photos, etc.
  • We developed a prayer chain that many of our seniors participate in
  • I ask some seniors to accompany me on house calls or counseling. This involves them and helps train and equip them to share in the load of ministry too.
  • Early on, we started having Christian college groups come serve like music teams, short term missions teams, sharing testimonies, kids camp, ministry interns, etc. Eventually, we also added a praise team of 2-4 younger adults up on stage to help with worship and reduced the choir from a weekly ministry to once a month special music. The older people LOVE to see the younger generation worshipping the Lord, and are more receptive to ministry changes when they see the positive effects.

Remember, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Prov. 16:31). We need to honor our seniors!

Photo credit: Patrick Gage Kelley

Are You Prepared for the Next Earthquake?

106616341_1aac011323_bAre you prepared for the next earthquake, or other natural disaster?

Yesterday morning, I attended an emergency preparedness workshop at our local Community Center. About forty leaders from local churches and non profits came together to learn how we can partner in time of disaster.

Whether an earthquake, flood, fire, or terrorist attack, there’s a good chance we’ll face at least one major disaster in our lifetime. God doesn’t want us to panic, but he does want us to prepare. (Remember how Joseph prepared Egypt for a devastating 7-year famine).

A few of our church members were around back in 1992 for the Landers earthquake, a magnitude 7.3. To this day, you can see where the earth shifted along Reche Rd. If an event of this scale (or larger) ever struck in a more urban area of Southern California in the middle of the day, it could result in thousands of lost lives; downed power, gas, and water lines; crippled freeways and railways; lost communication; and billions of dollars in damage. The high desert could be isolated for days, or even weeks.

Yesterday, Cheryl Nagy from the San Bernardino County Fire/Office of Emergency Services visited Yucca Valley and gave an excellent presentation. It was just an introduction, but she conveyed the importance of emergency preparedness, and the benefits of creating a local network here in the Morongo Basin. We learned about the four phases of an Emergency: Prepare, Respond, Recover, and Mitigate. It was the first of what we hope will become a basin-wide movement to prepare for disaster.

What can you do? Well, as the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you don’t have one already, please create a 72 hour Emergency Kit for your family. Start stocking basic supplies over the next couple months, and keep a small kit in your car. Here is a sample list and downloadable checklist from FEMA. Lord willing, you’ll never need it. But better to be prepared, than to suddenly realize it’s too late.

You should also consider adding earthquake coverage to your Homeowner’s Insurance policy. My family had been without earthquake insurance for years. But after taking Dave Ramsey’s course and evaluating our insurance needs, we did some research and discovered a policy with Geico would only set us back about 50 bucks a month.  That’s a small price to pay compared to the risk of bankruptcy in one minute of disaster.

Wow, how’s that for an encouraging post? If I could leave you with one positive thought, it is that God is control — even over natural disasters. Psalm 135:7 says, “He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightning for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” God is still personally involved in his creation. No wonder they used to call natural disasters “acts of God.”

Pray for God’s protection, take preventative measures, then live every day as a gift from God, free of worry, knowing God is on his throne!

Photo credit: Brian Lopez

The Duties of an Elder

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

The Apostle Paul gave this solemn charge to the elders of the church of Ephesus at the end of his final missionary journey. In it we see three duties of elders:

1. Watch. Elders must pay careful attention to our own hearts and show compassion for the needs around us. We are watchmen on the wall, scanning the flock for needs, threats, and opportunities.

2. Oversee. Elders are expected to give guidance and supervision. We seek the Lord and make decisions with people’s best interests in mind. Jesus is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25), and he enlists elders to help in this sacred task.

3. Care. Elders are not to “lord it over” the congregation, but to lead, feed, tend, warn, and nurture the blood-bought saints of God. “Do you love me?” Jesus asked Peter. “Feed my sheep.” The same is true of us today.

I pray that as our church transitions from a committee-led leadership model to a more biblical eldership model this fall, that the Holy Spirit would give us this kind of men.

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Nine Steps to Discover Your Church’s Health

ID-100283221A friend of mine shepherds a small church, and by small, I mean less than 50. They’ve faced some unavoidable changes recently, and he asked me if I have any advice for doing a Church Evaluation. Think of it as a healthy church check-up. Here’s what I told him…

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I agree this is a strategic time to take a step back and evaluate the ministry. I can’t say I have one particular evaluation method, but here are some steps I would recommend…

  1. Listen to Lance Quinn’s message “Small Church, Big Impact” from the 2014 Shepherd’s Conference. It will get you pumped and give you a general direction to move in.
  2. Read the book The Trellis and the Vine or the shorter booklet Mission Minded to understand the mission of the church and its main components of evangelism and discipleship, with a focus on people (not programs). Using the Great Commission as a starting point, you want to personalize your own mission statement. The one I came up for our church is, “Our mission is to magnify Christ by making disciples with truth and love.” I’ve seen other churches use missions statements like, “We exist to glorify God through our worship, work, and witness,” or “We are disciples making disciples.” Pray, be creative, and make it your own.
  3. After step 2, make a list of every program/ministry in your church and ask, how does this ministry fit uniquely within our mission? Where are there gaps? Where is there overlap? Where do we see gospel growth? Where do we see stagnancy or decline?
  4. On your own or with one or two men in the church, do a SWOT Analysis – What are the church’s Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats? Brainstorm and be brutally honest with one another.
  5. Make a list of everyone who has joined or left the church in the past three years. Why do you think they joined? Why do you think they left? This may indicate some of the strengths/weaknesses of your church, or at least tell you something about your church culture (e.g. economy, demographics, lifestyle, etc.).
  6. Church Discipleship is inextricably linked to family discipleship. How is the health of your families? What could you do to improve this? (e.g. men being spiritual leaders at home, families worshipping/serving/praying together).
  7. From conversations you’ve had with people in the community who do not attend your church, do you have any sense why? Is there anything you could do to better serve/accommodate them while staying faithful to your doctrine and mission?
  8. Consider doing a demographic study of your area and ask, what are we doing to effectively reach this area for Christ? If a new church were to be planted here, what would it look like? What prevents us from being that kind of church now?
  9. Consider an all-church survey. I’m not completely sold on demographics and church surveys, but sometimes helpful ideas do come out of them, and can give you a finger on the pulse of the congregation. I think people appreciate being asked for their input. Take all the results and put them into a spreadsheet to discover any trends, common problems, interests, etc.

Even small changes can be difficult in a small church, but I think it becomes easier as you love the people, earn their trust, make changes slowly (often on a “trial” basis first), and trumpet the cause of your mission (the reason why we need to change).

Photo credit: Free Digital Photos

Stepping Forward

Small_Step

At a recent congregational business meeting, I answered some of the common questions I expected people might have in moving to biblical eldership. It’s not that we’ve had a lot of pushback; in reality, everyone has been gracious and things are going quite smoothly. But we do want our members to make an informed decision when it comes time for vote, and I realize eldership is new to some of our people. We’ve deliberately taken this slowly, and I believe God has rewarded our patience.

Today, I’m posting the last two questions I prepared ahead of time for our business meeting. (You can read my earlier posts here, here, and here explaining what eldership would look like in our church). In a future post, I hope to recap some of the questions raised from the floor during the meeting itself.

Q. What if I want things to stay the way they are now? Perhaps you’re still not convinced about biblical eldership and see no need for change. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We appreciate your honesty, but ask you to carefully examine your heart and try to identify the main concern. Do you have a specific reason for opposing eldership? Do you think it is unbiblical? Against church tradition? Your personal preference? Are you concerned about a specific candidate? Are you afraid it will be abused?

Please bring your questions or concerns to myself or the other leaders in the church. You may also want to go back and listen to my sermons on Titus 1, which are posted online.

We value your input, and want to answer all questions as satisfactorily as possible. But we also are convinced the time is approaching for us to take this step of obedience and to structure God’s church in a more biblical way. On the day of the vote, we would love to have a 100% churchwide affirmation of biblical eldership as an expression of unity on this issue.

Q. What is our timetable? We still need time to finish our elder training and to revise our bylaws, but I image we should be ready for vote by late summer or early fall. In the meantime, I hope to give more opportunity for our deacons and future elders to help in areas such as prayer, teaching, counseling, and visitation.

Photo credit: symphony of love

Selecting Elders

This week I’ve been posting notes from our Business Meeting last Sunday on transitioning from a committee-led to an elder-led model of church leadership. Already, we’ve talked about What Biblical Eldership Is and the Relationship of Elders to the Congregation. Today, I’d like to talk about the Elder Selection Process.

Selection

Q. How will elders be selected? A. I’ve developed a 15-week training program and have invited a small group of potentially elder-qualified men to go through this process with me for the first time. We are nearing the end of our program and have discussed topics like godly character, the purpose of the church, biblical theology, the gospel, evangelism, worship, prayer, visitation, and teaching, while also doing ministry together.

Explaining the details of this course is a topic for another day. But my goal is to build within each man a solid foundation of godly character, theological conviction, and ministry competency that will lend itself to biblical eldership.

At the conclusion of this training program, each candidate is required to preach on a Wednesday night and to field questions from the congregation in an ordination style meeting. If the elder prospect completes the training in a satisfactory manner, he will be presented to the congregation for vote and approval.

Each year, we will invite church members to nominate additional people for elder. These names will be then reviewed by the existing elders and suitable candidates will begin the elder training program.

Q. Can women become elders? While women have many vital roles in the local church, elder is not one of them. Every mention of eldership in both Old and New Testament suggests this office is restricted to men (Deut. 21:21; 1 Tim. 2:12; 3:2; 2 Tim. 3:17; Titus 1:6).

Once a biblical plurality of elders has been established, however, the role of deacon can open up to both male and female candidates. That’s because the deacon ministry will finally take on its true biblical meaning of helper/servant/minister. It is my conviction that, far from suppressing women, a plurality of elders will actually expand the role of women in our church in beautiful, Christ-exalting ways.

Next week, I’ll wrap up this series and talk about the timing of change, and what to do if I prefer things to stay the way they are right now.

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Let’s Talk About Change

ChangeAny significant change in a local church should come after careful study of the scriptures and thoughtful, prayerful dialogue. Transitioning to biblical eldership is no small change, so naturally, people will have questions.

Yesterday, I explained what biblical eldership is and what it would look like in our church. Here are the next two questions I addressed at last Sunday’s congregational business meeting…

Q. What authority will the congregation have? A. All authority rests in Jesus Christ, who is alone the Chief Shepherd and Architect of the church. He has delegated some of this authority to elders in the church, who will be held accountable to God for the choices they make (Rom. 13:1; 1 Tim. 2:12; Titus 2:15; 1 Pet. 5:2). However, the Bible also indicates the whole congregation has some level of authority with a system of “checks and balances.”

It is the church membership (not just leadership) who do the “work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12). The congregation will be responsible for testing and approving new elders and deacons, reaffirming lay elders on an annual basis, exercising spiritual gifts, guarding the truth, pursuing holiness, approving new church members, administering church discipline, approving an annual budget, approving staff changes, approving the purchase and sale of property, etc. We will still have quarterly congregational business meetings for these kinds of business and will strive for respect, good communication, and transparency between elders, ministry leaders, and congregation.

Q. What will my relationship be with the elders? A. We hope you will not merely follow these men out of duty, but will grow to love, trust, respect, and genuinely admire them as your under-shepherds. Your responsibility will be to pray for, listen to, seek counsel, follow the example, and submit to their God-given authority. They deserve the same level of respect as Jesus Himself, for they are His chosen instruments and spokesmen. Hebrews 13:17 is especially helpful, which says to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

On matters of preference, we ask you to preserve the unity of the church and support the decisions of the leaders (Eph. 4:1-3). If there are moral or doctrinal concerns about an elder, it is essential to follow the process outlined by the Apostle Paul: “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:19-20).

Please come back tomorrow for part 3 of this series.

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Photo credit: rajue

Questions About Eldership

IMG_0154One of the most exciting developments for our church this year is a transition to biblical eldership. On Sunday, as part of our quarterly congregational business meeting, I gave an update on this transition plan and posed some “Frequently Asked Questions” I anticipated people might have. Then I opened it up for any other questions from the congregation. It was a good opportunity to cast vision while also respecting that people have legitimate questions that need to be addressed. Over the next few days, I will post my answers here for those who missed the meeting.

Q. What is biblical eldership? A. Biblical eldership is a model of church leadership where a team of godly elders lead, feed, and care for the flock. Rather than having one senior pastor serve as “the pastor” or “the elder,” the New Testament seems to favor a plurality of elders working together and sharing the load of ministry according to their spiritual gifts. We prefer the term “elder led” over “elder rule” because it is not a dictatorship or oligarchy, but a group of servant leaders guiding God’s flock.

Q. What will biblical eldership look like? A. In many ways, it will resemble our church today. There will still be congregational business meetings. There will still be a primary teaching pastor. There will still be a team of leaders praying for, caring for, and shepherding the church. Our deacons are already functioning in some ways as biblical elders, and our committees and church council are already functioning in some ways as biblical deacons.

We will, however, have a clearer decision-making process and tighter organizational structure. In the past, some of our committees like the Nominating Committee, Personnel Committee, and Pastoral Search Committee, were asked to do things that are very pastoral in nature, such as choosing ministry leaders, identifying ministry priorities, and casting vision. These would seem to fit better under the office of Elder. Other committees like the Stewardship Committee, Trustees, Church Council, and Constitution Review Committee, were asked to do things that are administrative in nature, such as balancing the budget, maintaining and developing property, and facilitating ordinances. These would seem to fit better under the office of Deacon.

A committee-driven organizational structure has served our church well for the first 35 years, but it is time to grow up into maturity and accept a more biblical model of leadership. Many of the finer details still need to be ironed out as we revise our bylaws, but we would expect the need for some of our committees to be simplified or eliminated under this new structure.

Tomorrow, I will post part two in this series.