Category Archives: For Leaders

Church Planting 201

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In my last post church planting 101, I wrote about some of the basics that I have seen work and some that have failed miserably. In this post I want to talk more about what is required in the church planter himself.

In church planting we need Holy Spirit power, sound and practical theology, future planning, church promotion and quality support to make the church plant into a viable and sustainable church. On top of that, a successful church plant needs a legit leader, this is a must.

About ten years ago, I was asked to help a guy start a church in California. He had financial backing, he had front man skills, was a decent speaker…but was an awful leader. Needless to say, the dude quit the plant less than 5 months into it. I didn’t join the team and that church plant fizzled into non-existence.

Now while there are many reasons why the plant didn’t succeed, the biggest reason was that the dude wasn’t a church planter or leader…he was just a guy who wanted to preach on Sunday. Preaching on Sunday is the cherry on the cake, it’s easy. You read, you prepare, you pray, you practice your delivery, you make programs and keynotes, you wake up Sunday and deliver it. It’s simple.

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Church planting is much more complex than just giving a sermon. You are a small business entrepreneur. You are a janitor. You are a counselor. You must become affluent with promotion and fundraising. You will need to understand your demograph and know how to connect with your city. You need to be trustworthy and reliable. You must be a general and also a humble servant. You must learn how to handle extensively troubled people and also learn how to help them without losing your mind. It’s complex.

A church planter must become more than just one dimensional.

I’ve seen plants fail because planters were too one sided. You’re not just a preacher, you are a pastor. You’re not just a speaker, you are a house call medic. You will need to learn when to say no, and when to say yes. You must start thinking like a theologian and living like a missionary. Church planting isn’t done on the side, it takes more than you think and demands your attention. It’s deep.

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As we launch out this year to start two more churches in the Detroit area, there are a few points that our Leadership Team at City Church has been stressing with our guys as we go forward in church planting. I pray they help you in your journey. This list obviously isn’t everything you need, but we see them as the basics needed to start a successful church plant. Some of these keys can be taught, others cannot, if you are planter you should know the difference.

  •  Passion. The church planter must have a passion for the area God has called him to. A burden and desire to plant a gospel center is a must. If a boxer doesn’t have a passion to fight, he will get cold feet when he enters the ring. The apostle Paul had a passion for lost people to meet Jesus. John the Baptist had a passion for the hearers to repent. The apostle John had a passion for the Jewish community to learn of Jesus. This passion will keep you up, help you up, prop you up and can only be fueled by God. Either you have it or you don’t.
  • Theology. The church planter had better know the book. Seminary isn’t a mandatory, but it should be. How stupid is it for someone to want to be a pro baseball player, but doesn’t know what a balk is? It’s ludicrous that some guys want to plant but can’t articulate their faith in a short conversation. Read books. Take some classes. Learn.
  • Entrepeneur. Have you ever started anything from scratch that has lasted? Ever run a lemonade stand? Have you ever coached little league? Have you ever managed a store? Have you ever opened and closed a business? I just described to you what a church planter does. When you start, most likely you have very little to start with. In the early months you will attract people with problems, lots of problems and mostly baby Christians. You will learn to answer questions about concenrs you never thought of before. You will have to balance bills, projects, materials, personnel and quality control.
  •  Fundraising. News flash: church planting cost money. So after you call mom and ask your neighbors for money, you had better have a financial plan to help start your gospel center or else you are done in 3 months. Think about it like this: why should anyone give you money to help you start a church? If you can’t answer it with a thought through financial plan, then you have some homework.
  • Community. Loners can make great people, but not always great leaders. Can you find 3 to 5 people that would drop everything to help you? If not, you might not have impacted others lives as much as you think you have. You don’t go to war with just anyone. The same is true in church planting. You need seasoned veterans on your team and people that will go to bat for you, with you and at you. I’m sorry guys, the days of just doing it yourself are over. Odds are against you already, work on being friendly and make a difference in your close circle…then tackle the circle of church planting.
  • Home. There is no off switch to church planting, but you had better have a safe zone with some backup. If your family isn’t on board, do something else. Church planting, like pastoring, requires a balanced life which includes the home. Your marriage will be tested, your kids will be put on display and your life is now a book for others to judge. How do you expect to give marriage counseling if your marriage is a wreck? How can you get up on Sunday and teach on raising your kids if they are burning your house down? You can you preach on trusting God in your life if you don’t want to go home? Balance guys.

There are exceptions to rules, but church planters shouldn’t be looking for them. Work on personal growth, family development, spiritual leadership, theological soundness, business savvy and developing loyalty. I can’t promise you that if you do all of this you’ll succeed, but I can promise you that without it…you will fail.

-jon

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Church Planting 101 (For Leaders)

Church Planting 101

City Church Canton

For as long as I can remember I have been involved in the ministry in some capacity, especially church planting. As a kid, I grew up in it. My dad was a church planter and from an early age I can remember setting up chairs, passing out invites and entertaining other people’s kids while my parents talked to them. Then in college I was apart of two different teams that helped launch churches in California. Now I find myself as an adult (some would argue that) doing the same thing…starting churches.

I have been apart of so many first days and launches that my mind gets fuzzy remembering them all. I say all that to tell you, I am not an expert nor am I telling you what to do, but rather wanting to put down what I have seen work and not work in my own experiences. Enjoy!

Note: This isn’t comprehensive and it is not a book. Just a few thoughts on the basics of church planting so please don’t send me hate-mail. 

What Works:

  • Teams that have a clear vision and planned timeline for the immediate and long term future. (I have been apart of teams as a kid, intern, assistant, pastor and planter. There must be a plan not just for the day of the launch but for a year after the launch. Have a detailed thought out process on what you want and what you don’t want.)
  • Slow sell soft services (this is where you don’t blow up with lots of people but rather take your time and organically grow the church over a period of time in anticipation of a launch day. Currently we are doing this in Canton. Instead of trying to pack out our small building every week, we are trying to grow the leaders we have there and develop a team so that when we get more people we are ready for them. I’ve been apart of a plant in college where a lot of people showed up and we all celebrated but we weren’t ready for that many people and didn’t know how to assimilate them. We never saw many of them again.)
  • Community Day Events, Block Parties, Life Group Dinners, Kids Bounce Houses and Giveaways. (This is huge for me, church needs to be fun and family oriented. Have a carnival day and be Disney World to your community.)
  • Concerts, Great Bands/Artists, Clear programs and clean print media. (JW’s come door knocking with nice full color handouts, why are you handing out those cheap homemade flyers? Now, I know that I have too have been short on money and used cheap handouts but if its cheap it will get thrown away. Find a way, use good print materials.)

City Church West Campus

What Doesn’t Work: 

  • Special Guest speakers on launch day. (It’s the big day for your church plant, your church needs to see a face that they will see again the next week. The problem I have seen with special guests speakers on a launch day is that people might come to hear someone they know but they won’t stay. The goal of a launch day shouldn’t be just to get a large crowd, but should be for retention.)
  • Being culturally irrelevant to your community. (I was apart of a plant where the community was very poor but the church plant was very classy. It just seemed out of place. I am all for everything being professional, but don’t launch a “Starbucks church” next to homeless people that need blankets and food. Be relevant to your community, not relevant to where you came from or your previous church.)
  • Rambo-style church planting. (You are not that great, sorry to bust your bubble. Call your mom if you want applause, you need people around you that will say no. You need help and others to make the wagon go and keep going. I have seen plants personally fail in my zip code because they did it on their own. If you are going to plant a church, you had better talk to the pastors in the community to see what the needs are and to get a feel for whats working and whats not working. Don’t just ask pastors that are like you, ask some small and large churches and even some of a different faith. Talk to the missions/chapels in the area. Don’t just show up and proclaim yourself “fixing” their city.)

City Church Food Drive

Now while the goal of church planting should be basically understood and appreciated, I have come to see that some don’t fully grasp it. The goal of church planting should be to start gospel centers that help start other gospel centers of Jesus believers and disciples that help their community. Existing churches don’t exist to get bigger, they exist to help the great commission get accomplished. We should be for multiplying churches rather than just increasing numbers in one specific church.

The church is a group of people who come together to worship Jesus, preach the gospel and help those in need.

Jon & Keiki Jackson at City Church West Campus

 

Currently, we are starting two churches and am planning three more launches for next year. My prayer for Detroit is gospel centers that make a real impact in the community and not just have a bunch of church people show up on the weekend. So whatever you do, don’t quit. If God called you to help people, then suck it up, get some help and keep on pushing. Church planting (like starting a small business) might be a science and it is certainly difficult and tough, but for you to succeed it at…#push.

-jon 

Here are some great books to read on the subject:

  • Planting Missional Churches – Ed Stetzer
  • Launch: Starting a New Church From Scratch
  • Church Planter: Darren Patrick

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Reflections from a Young Preacher – Demetrus Stokes (For Church Leaders)

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In March 2013, after much prayer and Godly counsel, I answered the Lord’s call to preach the gospel. I remember being extremely nervous as I preached three times over the course of that March weekend in the absence of our lead and associate pastors. The nervousness for the most part stemmed from me understanding the weight of this duty I was entrusted with. It was something I most certainly did not take lightly. Since my first sermon last year, I’ve been blessed with opportunities to preach at my church, mainly during our student ministry “Hype Night” services and more recently at our Saturday night services. Each opportunity has been a great learning experience and an opportunity to “hone my craft” so to speak. I generally badger my pastor for critiques and look for areas I can improve. I thank our elders and my church for being gracious and kind to me through my growth in ministry.

I was recently asked to reflect and talk about what I have learned in the last year about pastoring/preaching. As I continue to seek God for direction in terms of where and what teaching role I may have in the future, I hope that what I’m learning can be helpful to a young preacher like myself in the early stages of ministry.

More Than Just Sunday

In football, you often hear coaches or players use the term “Any Given Sunday” (which ironically was the title of a popular football movie several years ago). This means that anything can happen on the football field during a game. Well I’m learning that for pastors that phrase should be “Any Given Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday!” Anything can happen, any day of the week where as a pastor you may be needed. From counseling, to funerals, to weddings, a pastor’s job seemingly never ends! Add to that personal devotion, prayer, meetings and sermon prep and you my friend are one busy fellow!

I’ll admit, looking at pastors growing up, I thought they just threw on a suit, stepped up to the pulpit, and God just gave them the gift of gab. Not the case! Being a pastor is hard work! I often talk to my father-in-law who is a bi-vocational pastor in California and marvel at the fact that he works a full-time job and pastors a church. I seem to always catch my Lead Pastor on the go. Meetings, seminars, trips to pick up food and clothes for the pantries we have at our church, dude is always doing something. I’ve had a chance to tag along with him to some things and I have to make sure my energy level is on “10!” So while most of us see the finished product on Sunday, know that most of the heavy lifting is being done Monday-Saturday.

Pastors Can’t Fly

Pastors are often the “go to” people for life’s troubles. At times it seems that pastors have all the answers. This causes some in the church to place the pastor at an exalted level only meant for God. While most pastors are great leaders and Godly examples in our communities, they can’t “fly.” In other words, they are not superhuman. Pastors are human beings that have problems, get discouraged and need prayer just like anyone else. I remember being a kid and visiting my childhood pastor’s home. I walked into his house, and to my surprise he was sitting in his living room watching the Pistons. I was shocked! Why? Because I had always looked at pastors as guys who didn’t have time for “regular things” like watching sports. I always looked at them as “Holy Robots” who trained in righteousness 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  As I’ve grown and matured, I see pastors as men of God who enjoy sports, playing with their kids and going on dates with their wives. I see pastors as men who don’t have all the answers and thus seek guidance and prayer from their wives, godly friends and members of the church. I see pastors as honest men who don’t think they are above confessing sin and seeking help because quite frankly, they aren’t superhuman. Pastors can’t fly.

Readers Are Leaders

If I can be honest, there was a period in my adult life where the last thing you’d see me doing is reading. Between elementary, middle, high school and college, I figured that I had pretty much met whatever requirements I had when it came to reading. At the time, I would have much rather watched a game or play video games. As God began to mature me, even before I was called to ministry, he allowed me to begin to see the importance of reading. I can honestly say that today, I probably read more than I watch television. I truly love to read!

As preachers, that reading starts with the Word of God.   All scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). Paul tells the Romans that whatever was written in the past was written for instruction and the encouragement from the scriptures gives hope (Romans 15:4). I believe that holds true to us today. The Bible is a great source of encouragement and hope. In addition, it is your guide to teach and train the people God has entrusted you with.

God has also blessed great people of the faith with the ability to write awesome gospel centered books on a myriad of topics. Whether it’s books on preaching, marriage or biblical manhood and womanhood, I have personally been blessed to read some awesome books that have helped in my spiritual growth.

In addition to topical books, Christian biographies are great reads. John Piper in his book “Brothers We Are Not Professionals” calls pastors to read Christian biography as we continue to develop. Piper states that Christian biography is history and the most powerful kind of theology because it “burst forth from the lives of people.” So in your spare time pick up a biography on Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards or any of the great men and women of the faith who’ve come before us. You’ll be glad you did!

Plan, Prepare, Purpose

I’ve learned that pastors are great men of vision. They generally have a plan for where they see their church going and seek the Lord in seeing the plan come to fruition. Prior to coming to the City Church, our pastor had a vision plan he called “Think Big.” This was a plan that would call for different missions and churches to be established in Detroit and the surrounding area. While it took tons of prayer, assistance, successes and failures, God is working and we’re seeing our pastor’s “Think Big” vision coming to pass. We’ve done numerous feedings, outreach events and even helped a church launch in the past couple of years. It’s been a blessing to see God working through people as we impact our community for Jesus.

Proverbs 16:3 says “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Pastor Eric Mason in his book “Manhood Restored: How The Gospel Makes Men Whole,” states that “commit” means to roll, as in rolling one’s burdens on the Lord. Any Godly man of vision must have complete dependence on God and if it is in God’s will, his plans will be established. Mason also gives a helpful outline when we are seeking to establish vision and plans of the Lord:

  1. Pray
  2. Ask God for visionary and directional clarity
  3. Write down the vision
  4. Plan and strategize what it will take for the plan to come to fruition
  5. Continue to seek the Lord’s face
  6. Seek godly counsel
  7. Make the necessary revisions
  8. Work the updated plan with much prayer
  9. Thank the Lord for bringing different aspects of the vision and planning to fruition.

Pastors are men of vision who don’t seek out their vision and plans without direction from the Lord. They are fully dependent on the grace of God and his blessings to plan and cast vision for community impact that will ultimately glorify God.

It’s All About Jesus

Let’s face it; we live in a world where pastors have reality shows, TV deals, book deals and countless speaking opportunities. Some people in the world see church as “big business” and equate pastors to fancy car driving, big spenders who look to take as much of grandma’s life savings as possible. Then there are those who are “called” to ministry who look to attain what a lot of the “TV pastors” have, fame and fortune. Sadly, the mission of these preachers leans more towards attaining wealth than preaching the gospel.

On the other side there are those who are passionate about Jesus, the gospel and making disciples. Those who are passionate about preaching biblically accurate, gospel centered sermons that change lives and reconcile people to God through faith in Jesus Christ. I’ve been privileged to meet many pastors with this goal in mind. I had a cool opportunity to attend a seminar a few months ago on “The Gospel and Money.” This seminar was attended by many metro Detroit pastors and leaders as well as pastors and leaders from Ohio and Canada. One of the highlights of the seminar was intentional prayer time where groups of men and women gathered together and prayed for extended periods of time. The cries to the Lord for the people in our communities really showed me the heart for God that these co-laborers in the gospel have. Also, conversations I had with various leaders during the seminar further confirmed the desire for change and the hearts of those present.

My first year preaching has been challenging, but it has also been rewarding. I’ve learned a lot, continue to grow spiritually by God’s grace and have established new relationships with some great people. I hope to share more of what I am learning in a future blog post. Ultimately, I want to be a preacher whose goal is to not preach messages that focus on me but to preach messages that point people to Christ. Pray for me as I continue on this journey serving God, my family, my church and my community.

Grace and Peace,

Demetrus “Meech” Stokes

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What I Learned in Ministry (For Church Leaders) – Ritchie Jordan

Ritchie Jordan is a deacon & life group leader at City Church, a preachers kid and former pastor here in Detroit. She has served in the ministry for over 30 years, has a servants heart, worked very hard in the ministry and loves the Lord. She is happily married to Russell Jordan. This post took courage to write and as her friend I want to thank her for the honesty and insights she shares here in this post. Words cannot express how much she has helped me and our ministry here in Detroit. May these words encourage you, strengthen you and help you in your ministry. I asked her to write a few thoughts down on what she has learned in ministry that would help me and others. The following is her response. Enjoy! -jon 

Ritchie Jordan speaking to City Church in February on "Black History Month."

Ritchie Jordan speaking to City Church in February on “Black History Month.”

The Call

There was a grip on my life like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. I had to preach the gospel. Reading the word was like breathing. The more I read, the more he gave and made me to want more. I understood things with ease where if I tried on my own I would get very frustrated. I learned to allow God to have His way with me. When Christ enables me then I am strong.

Even when I find I am weak, when I cannot…God can and did.

Before God could use me, He had to bring me to a place where I had to completely rely on Him. I had no doubt it was Him working in my life. I was broken, of no use to anybody. Didn’t feel that I could do anything. I had to declutter my mind and my life by getting rid of things that kept me from focusing on God. I could never trust my common sense when the statements of Christ contradict it. This was a very hard lesson to learn when we are taught to rely on our common sense. For instance, when every thing in me tells me to go and do…Jesus tells me to sit and learn.

I never take anyone, especially myself to be good. Natural goodness always breaks, always disappoints because the heart is deceitful above all things who can know it. Never trust anything in yourself or anyone else that God has not placed there. The only way to know God’s will is to obey from the heart. Ask Him and wait for him to answer.

Ritchie welcoming two new members to City Church after they were baptized!

Ritchie welcoming two new members to City Church after they were baptized!

Knowing God

I have to allow Jesus Christ to manifest in my flesh, not just be an imitator of Him (Satan is an imitator). I had to always allow God to receive glory. It was and is God working in me, not me doing what I think God wants. But me knowing God’s word and being lead by the Holy Spirit to do God’s will. I had to Know who I was ministering to. God helped me to do that. Was I talking with New Christians or mature Christians? Did the body needed to know or be reminded of it’s position in Christ or do they need to know how to go and evangelize?

It was at these times that I gave away more than I received and I didn’t take the time I needed to refresh. I sacrificed family and personal enjoyment. Sometimes I got lied to, lied on and disrespected, tried to be tripped up and had my authority questioned, but I had to learn tolerance and be confident in my call, and above all else put God first.

I could not be quick to judge or criticize. Just because I haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean it is’t real. I never denounce something on which I know nothing about nor do I proclaim things I know nothing about. I don’t try to preach something I heard because it sounds right or good if I don’t know it to be true. This helps me to never forget who I am. What I have been and and what I may become is by the grace of God.

I tried to be available and willing to do his will. Trying to interpret the word of God on my own would wear me out physically, but a concentrated strenuous mental effort that allowed the word to talk to me invigorated me. When I concentrated on what Gods’ word said and allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal what I needed to learn from the word and share with others always worked for me When I felt a block I would take a walk and talk with God. If this didn’t cure than there was something wrong with me. I needed to take ” stock of my spiritual life” find out if there was a break in my relationship with God. What have I done that was not pleasing to God?

Know the word. Read daily, focus and concentrate on what the Lord is teaching. For me and for others, allow His word to soak in. Meditate on spiritual as well as natural aspects of the Word. I had to learn to receive as well as give. You give and give when God sends someone to give to you, be gracious and receive. This is still really hard for me to do. Trust God. Have faith that God is real and not just Bible verses or a catch phrase. I have to trust him in every aspect of my life and ministry. I have to be willing to say I don’t know and then go find out. I could’t try to fake it till I make it. If I didn’t know or was not sure I had to look it up verify what God says about it. Where I found it in the word and what were the circumstances. Then be able to and go back to explain.

Serving. Respect the lead pastor. Respect the office of pastor God has called them to be there for that time. I was taught this. I was taught this, but didn’t learn this until I was disrespected and the office I held was disrespected.
“Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” No leader can do it all by themselves. There is no success without sacrifice. I have heard it said, “every failure brings you one steps closer to success.” To get there we have to make sacrifices.

I had to be proactive, not reactive not every problem. I needed to go to the lead Pastor. When an assignment is given, learn to work through things to be a help and not an added burden to the Pastor. I read some good books to help me learn and in some cases, phrase thoughts and stimulate my thinking. Take some time out for myself to refresh to take stock and to listen to God. And when it was time for me to leave the ministry,  I tried to walk away with integrity not tearing the body apart.

Ritchie in City Church worshipping with her grandkids.

Ritchie in City Church worshipping with her grandkids.

Hurt and wounded

Being wounded (not just me, but my family also). When my family saw the hurtful way I was treated and the lack of respect I was shown, it made my family to question God as they wanted to know why. They questioned their faith and even their salvation, we had to talk about people and how sometimes they forget who they are representing. The same body that you think loves you, can be the same body to tear you down. A simple disagreement on order of service or praise team vs devotion leaders can be reason for an up raising. The important thing I learned was not to be focused on the issue but to stay focused on God and the assignment He had give me.

Don’t get hung up on the applause. Just because people told me how I blessed them, or how good of a job I did I must always give God the glory for doing good. And when not so good, I would have to go back and find out why. My sensitivities are impertinent. Find a way to renew the Spirit daily.

Taking up my cross. I looked for justice, when I should’ve looked to Jesus. I tried to find refuge in people and other pastors when I should have been finding that secret place of the most high God. I gave way to self pity and discouragement when I should’ve praised God for allowing His strength in my weakness. I allowed circumstances to hinder my relationship with people rather than allow my light to continue to shine for Christ. I learned denying myself really means denying my right to myself not just to things. Having a outpouring of love for Jesus and winning souls for Him.

Ritchie leads a Ladies Life Group monthly and City Cafe (pictured here) weekly on Sunday mornings 10a.

Ritchie leads a Ladies Life Group monthly and City Cafe (pictured here) weekly on Sunday mornings 10a.

Going On

I have learned that fear freezes, pain numbs, but forgiveness frees. Be willing to allow people to be whoever they are and wherever they are. I had to remain teachable as there is always something I can lean. I had to know when I was in pain and know when I was afraid. Sometimes I was so numb I didn’t know how I felt. I had to be willing to forgive even when no one wanted to be forgiven even when they continued to be hurtful and hateful toward me.

I was called into ministry, but I believe that being voted into becoming a Pastor and allowing the people to dictate to me my ministry (even though it was only meant to be temporary) was not the place I was supposed to be. A temporary misstep has taken me 10 years to get over and I am still coming out of it.

I forgot to maintain my personal relationship with God no matter what. Never allow any man, woman or demon from hell to come between my soul and God. Embrace anyone or thing that leads you to know God better. I have known this truth but I have not always done this. Knowing and practicing what you know can be very different things. It is said, “you never know what you would do until you go thru something,” but with God your eyes and mind should always be on Him for direction and strength.

-Ritchie

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A Few Observations from a Former Pastor (For Church Leaders) – Chris Armer

On Wednesday, August 14th, I sat down with the three deacons of my church in Sacramento, CA and communicated with them about issues that I felt needed to be addressed for my continued tenure. I no longer agreed with the track the church had taken and continued to take and change was forthcoming. But the church I pastored was an independent Baptist church and the word “change” is mostly a cuss word in the movement.

Chris Armer currently resides in Phoenix, AZ. He served in full-time vocational ministry for 10 years in the various roles of youth pastor, assistant pastor, and senior pastor. He is currently a full-time seminary student at Maranatha Baptist Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @christoarmer.

Chris Armer currently resides in Phoenix, AZ. He served in full-time vocational ministry for 10 years in the various roles of youth pastor, assistant pastor, and senior pastor. He is currently a full-time seminary student at Maranatha Baptist Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @christoarmer.

Now I wasn’t trying to gorilla my own way upon the people. I loved them and deeply cared for them. I wanted them to realize and experience the amazing grace of God. I was encouraged to hear testimonies from people telling me how focusing on God’s grace rather than man-made standards of righteousness had transformed them. I felt like we made some good progress. But I knew deep down that I would soon face the inevitable with my church. I would soon be leaving. In college we would hear it said about churches, “It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead.” The clear writing on the wall finally came when my changed views toward the Second Coming of Christ conflicted with the church’s Constitution. To be honest with the church, it was essential that I go. So to make a long story short, I stepped away from my pastorate on September 1, 2013.

So I have now been away from pastoring for a little over six months. I am currently finishing up another Master’s degree (this time from an accredited seminary). I am set to finish in July. I have actually enjoyed this journey and have left the future of my ministry in God’s hands. In these past six months I have also relished the privilege of visiting many churches. Some have been great and some have not been so stellar. In each church I observed what seemed to be working well and what probably should be changed. I had the unique opportunity to view things as an outsider.

So I’d like to share some of the things I’ve noticed. The points are not in any particular order of the churches I visited. Of course, these are all my opinions so you can take them or leave them. It is my hope that they can be a blessing to you.

• You might think that the stage prop that has multi-colored lit boxes makes your church look trendy, but it is very distracting as it keeps blinking while you speak.

• A projector with low lumens washes out the colors and makes the text and images hard to read.

• Childcare check-ins with touch screen kiosks that print labels for the children are simple and amazing.

• It’s awkward when your bass player plays without any shoes on. Big white feet are distracting.

• I really enjoy saving half of the song service for after the message. My heart is directed toward God in the sermon and I get to express praise afterwards. It sends the people away with a song of praise.

• If you say that you are going to call someone during the week for lunch, then do it. It reflects poorly on your character when you make empty promises and never communicate any change of plans.

• If you are Reformed, you don’t need a large picture of John Calvin and Martyn Lloyd Jones in your foyer.

• I can understand those who believe a service should be a time of focusing on God instead of others, but don’t use that as an excuse for why your church is cold and unfriendly.

• Broken up matzah bread tastes the best for communion.

• Not having childcare for very small children practically guarantees that one of the parents will be standing in the foyer or outside with their child or children. Two year olds don’t sit well through an exposition of Romans.

• There are still churches passing an attendance book during the service?

• Make it as easy as possible for new people to connect to a small group.

• Friendly greeters are still very effective.

• Don’t make changes to your service schedule without communicating them clearly on your website or voicemail. By the way, when is the last time you checked the info on your church voicemail? It still has the name of the previous pastor.

• You still don’t have a Facebook page for your church? If you have one, is it updated?

• It’s a very nice touch when you personally greet people before a service or as they leave.

• If you take an offering by means of a box in the back, be sure to communicate clearly about it in the service. Otherwise guests who would like to give are not sure how.

• It’s effective if you smile a lot through your message.

• The Baptist Confession of 1689 is not the 28th book in the New Testament.

• If you are still going to have Sunday School or a Bible study before the main service, then make it great. The 70-year-old teacher who didn’t even look over his lesson until that morning reflects very poorly on the church.

• Why are you wearing a gold name plate? Do people easily forget your name? It shimmers from the stage lights.

• Having a competent person do the announcements is imperative.

• There is no excuse for multiple-burned out lights in the auditorium. Get them fixed.

• Communion every week is very meaningful.

• You need to fact check the stories you share. Even though I am not a Joel Osteen fan, he did not start his own religion like you had heard.

• Did you know your piano player looks like she is playing Bejeweled on her cell phone during the announcements?

• The personal note from the children’s director sent to our kids was a really nice touch.

• The portion of your song service that allowed people to come to the front and pray with some leaders while the rest of the congregation continued to sing the worship song was really powerful. I was encouraged to see people praying with one another.

• It is refreshing to hear someone confidently and correctly preach the Word.

I hope these have been a help in some sort of way. I am thankful for you all who faithfully teach God’s Word and pastor His people. I understand the struggles and triumphs. May the blessings of God be upon you and your family.

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The NEW Church Foyer (For Church Leaders) – Brian Norris

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I can’t help noticing church trends, and I love visiting churches. Just ask Laura, my wife, and she will tell you that I will drive way out of our way when on vacation to visit a church that I’ve heard about. You can learn something from everybody.

Some time ago I began contacting numerous churches and scheduling presentations designed to communicate the need for church planting in the Urban South. As a result, I’ve had occasion to view lots of church websites. Some are great—some are not so great.

Church leaders, your website is your church’s new foyer!

Quite a while back, Zondervan sent me a few books from their Leadership Network series. One of them was A Multi-Site Church Road Trip by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird. This book offered me a unique opportunity. I could, in essence, visit a number of diverse churches around the nation without ever leaving my local ministry on a Sunday. To a churchman like myself, this was an appealing opportunity! Since all of the churches in this book were multi-site (already a bit out of the box) I wasn’t surprised to read that many of them had also added an “internet campus” so I could virtually visit as well.

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This post isn’t about the pros and cons of the multi-site church model or even whether an “internet campus” is or isn’t church. Rather, let’s focus on the simple thoughts that this book, along with other factors, has generated in my mind.

Specifically, let’s talk about how important online media has become to churches. One thing that each of these diverse churches seemed to “get” was that their church must leverage media. Experience seems to be indicating that 20-somethings will watch/listen to services online for several weeks or more before ever attending church in real life.

In Reaching the Unchurched Next Door, the survey team was surprised to discover that “most of the unchurched feel guilty about not attending church.” In addition, “96% of the unchurched said that they are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.”

This would seem to indicate that truly unchurched people are likely intimidated by all the unknown factors presented by any given church.

I remember going to play golf for the first time with “serious golfers” only to find out that there were all kinds of rules of golf etiquette that I was completely unaware of. It was intimidating! In the same way, the unknown intimidates people who are unfamiliar with church!

Enter: the church website. Your website is a tool that unchurched people who want to visit church are using to become familiar with an intimidating setting before they come.

  • Do you have a high bounce rate? Rethink the design of your site.
  • Do you have primarily single page views? Maybe you should re-work the content of your site.
  • If you provide audio—great! Could you provide video?
  • If you provide video, how could you make it more consumable?
  • By adding an attractive lead in?
  • Could you divide each video into parts?
  • Could you optimize for quicker uploads?
  • What about a better-written explanation for each video?
  • Should you consider moving your service media to a different location on your site?

I think that we will find more and more visitors spending a few services with us online before they ever meet the church in person. It’s like the new foyer—the place where people take time to get comfortable, get to know what your church is all about, and ultimately decide whether or not to push through the sanctuary doors.

Brian is a Husband, Father, Pastor, & Friend. "My family and I are so privileged to give our lives to God’s mission. Establishing Citylight Baptist Church in the heart of Charlotte, NC is an important step in that mission.  Citylight is a disciple-making & church-reproducing organism. My wife, Laura and I have been reconciled to our heavenly Father by our precious Savior– Jesus. It blows our minds that we could be filled with the Holy Spirit & given Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation. Laura and I love Jesus because He first loved us. We have had the joy of getting to see many of our friends rescued by Jesus and we hope to see many more experience His love in the near future. In short, I’m just a guy embracing my Lord, seeking to exalt Jesus!" -Brian

Husband, Father, Pastor, & Friend.
“My family and I are so privileged to give our lives to God’s mission. Establishing Citylight Church in the heart of Charlotte, NC is an important step in that mission. Citylight is a disciple-making & church-reproducing organism. My wife, Laura and I have been reconciled to our heavenly Father by our precious Savior– Jesus. It blows our minds that we could be filled with the Holy Spirit & given Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation. Laura and I love Jesus because He first loved us. We have had the joy of getting to see many of our friends rescued by Jesus and we hope to see many more experience His love in the near future. In short, I’m just a guy embracing my Lord, seeking to exalt Jesus!” -Brian

You can get connected with Brian via Twitter @BrianNorris, Facebook, or http://briannorris.info.

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Does God hate rap and rappers? – Paul Collins

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Paul is dropping a new mixtape in April and the Single is coming soon!

Given the climate in the religious community and the disdain that some of the older generation have with all things hip-hop/rap related you would think so! I often wonder why people don’t exercise the same rational about things considered sacred as they do to every other situation. People often get goofy when the tone of anything is connected to religion like all common sense is just removed. Lets take gospel music as an example from a historical standpoint. What we know as gospel music now is strikingly different as far as style is concerned from what it once was, but is that a bad thing?

First off, I would dare say that most assemblies probably don’t mirror what worship looked like in biblical times.

Psalms 150:3 reads “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.”

Reading verses like this often make me wonder why some churches are against instruments in worship, or limiting the instruments to just piano or organ. That is clearly not the biblical picture. This sounds more like an orchestra than what were used to and even though I’m sure there are some churches that have them, when was the last time you saw a harp in a service? I am not saying that music in worship has to look that way, but the point I’m making is that people claim authority over a particular sound or style that biblically may not be an accurate portrayal.

Let’s look at some early gospel as kind of a gauge to see what has been happening in gospel music for a long time. 

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Dr. Thomas A Dorsey and his band.

Dr. Thomas A Dorsey was a leading blues pianist who performed under the name Georgia Tom. In fact Dr. Dorsey was one half of a team who penned a raunchy record entitled “Tight like that.” In 1928, that album sold 7 million records. He is credited with penning over 400 blues and jazz songs. While he was still recording blues he penned the gospel great “Precious lord take my hand.” At that time there is documented proof that his sound was a point of contention with religious folks because he blended spiritual lyrics with jazz riffs and blues cords. Back then, he was accused of using the devils music in the church. Thomas Dorsey is now considered the father of gospel music. Isn’t it funny how things change with time?

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Lecrae is an American Christian hip hop artist, celebrity, entrepreneur, and record producer. He is the president, co-owner and co-founder of the independent record label Reach Records, and the co-founder and president of the non-profit organization ReachLife Ministries. To date, he has released seven studio albums and two mixtapes as a solo artist, and has released three studio albums, a remix album, and one studio album as the leader of the rap group 116 Clique.
Lecrae is by far the most popular Christian hip hop artist today.

Also, culture has a lot to do with the music we listen to, where you grew up, family and social influences as well as the time period. Black churches by in large have just started to accept contemporary worship music in the last ten to fifteen years (This is a blanket statement, of course, there are some churches that have always been an exception). Some churches thought it was a watered down version of gospel music. CCM has been huge in white congregations for a long time. Groups like Commissioned and The Winans ushered in the contemporary gospel sound in the black gospel community and it has grown exponentially ever since. The funny thing is people fought their sound as well since they made use of synthesizers and digital drum tracks that favored R&B more than traditional gospel. All of their music is considered gospel classics years removed!

Forward now to 2014, rap music and culture has been a driving force in music for at least 20 years (If not more).

There is a generation of people who grew up in the golden era of rap that are now in there 40s and 50s. That means hip hop culture has been front and center in their lives for a number of decades. If you come from an urban context, especially if you are a male, you have been privy to some of raps biggest ebbs and flows and have been a part of the society from which many of these urban manifestos have sprung! For some, music is not just melodies, music is escape from life’s pressures; music is the soundtracks that we live by. Granted, not everyone is a rap fan, neither are they fans of, Pop, Folk, R&B or Country, etc.

No music on the face of the planet has been vilified as much as rap music. Not the blatantly satanic themed heavy metal which is considered classic now a days, not the country music full of adulterous liaisons, odes to alcohol and depressing lyrics. Nothing seems to garner more negativity than rap music and hip hop culture.

To those who grew up in it, those defining moments in hip-hop history also coincide with defining moments in our lives. Who can remember the first time they ever heard Rappers delight? No one cared how long it was, but it just felt good. Rakim’s arrival via “Check out my melody”, Public Enemy’s “Fight the power” I could go on and on all the way to present day. But hopefully you get the point! It was not just music… it was life on wax. Sure there were and still are some ugly things associated with music, but that is all music.

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Paul has released multiple CDs, Compilations, DJ Tracks and Singles that are all available for purchase on his website: http://goodsonemr.net

I am an eighties baby and proud of it, born and bread not just on hip-hop but on many different types of music but rap has always been a part of my life. Growing up around party Djs made it easy to appreciate music in general and my mother was an R&B fanatic. It wasn’t strange to hear Earth Wind and Fire, Luther Van Dross or The Average White Band coming from my home. Once I got a taste of Detroit Techno and East Coast rappers, that was all she wrote as far as music preferences went. At 16 years old I became a Dj and would spin records and make tapes on my rag -tag Dj rig for anyone that would listen. By the time I turned 19 the Lord came into my life and everything Dj and rap associated had to go! I was prompted to give away a ton of records, which are worth thousands right now! God rebuilt my life and I virtually became a man in a bubble sheltered from all outside influences!

Music as I knew it along with the lifestyle that came with it had to change for me!

It would be a couple of years before I heard a Christian rapper. Talk about eye opening, I’ll never forget that first album I bought which I found by mistake at Kmart. The group was Sfc out of Cali, when I tell you I was amped to hear some rappers that I identified with would be an understatement! My favorite song was called “In The House” and it spoke of being sure of the conversion process that took place in your life when Christ came and how the enemy tells you it’s not real. Then came T-Bone, then Cross Movement, and it grew from there. Each artist with their own unique takes on what Christ is to them and what he could be to the listener. I cannot tell you how many times some of these songs convicted, encouraged, challenged, and equipped me as a believer.

Some of the most scripturally sound teaching I ever heard was on a rap song. And I have heard a lot of preaching and a lot of songs!

I still get chills when I hear “What do you see” or “I love you Jesus” by the Ambassador. I still cry like a baby when I hear “Smile for me” by the Convictor, or “Father Figure” by T-Bone. I could go on. These are not just songs, these are lyrics full of love, adoration and fear for the Sovereign King Jesus! Once I became an artist myself I experienced the sheer joy, pain and awe of what if felt like to be a tool in the masters hand. I have experienced triumph and defeat, acceptance and rejection all while fleshing out life as a Jesus freak, one who loves the Lord and also at times express it in a musical form.

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“We Lift You on High” is available for your church or music ministry.

Let me state for the record again that everyone may not be a fan of rap music and that is okay! Everyone may not wear snapbacks and sneakers or sunglasses or rock fauxhawks or dreads, and that is okay as well. Based on the life I have led thus far and the people I have met as well as the Word of God, I think that is safe to say that even though people hate other people, nationalities, brands of faith and musical preferences, God loves all those who are called by his name and live according to his divine purpose.

Paul is the Worship Pastor, a Life Groups leader & Student Ministries Pastor here at City Church.  Paul is a talented musician, a dedicated family man and has a genuine heart for God. Paul is married to the love of his life Kenya. They have three children Paul Jr., Lakayah & Jardan.

Paul is the Worship Pastor, a Life Groups leader & Student Ministries Pastor here at City Church.
Paul is a talented musician, a dedicated family man and has a genuine heart for God. Paul is married to the love of his life Kenya. They have three children Paul Jr., Lakayah & Jardan.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:4-31 ESV)

You can contact Paul about Music, Concerts/Bookings, Questions or Comments @ Email goodsonemr@gmail.comPaul’s Facebook page, Website or YouTube.

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