Church Involvement

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Disabling the Brethren

Are We Disabling the Brethren?

Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) tells the story of a woman who for decades lived in a family that kept her stuck in a life of immaturity.

Madeleine arrived at St. Benedict’s Hospital in 1980; she was sixty at the time.   She had been born blind and with cerebral palsy.

She had lived a very sheltered life.  She was intently looked after, taken care of and babied by her family.   Dr. Sacks was her assigned physician.  What shocked him the most was her intelligence and ability to speak eloquently.  She was very bright.  However, she could do nothing with her hands.

Dr. Sacks observed that she was well read.  He said, “You’ve read a tremendous amount.”  He continued, “You must be really at home with Braille.”   “No, I’m not,” she responded.   “All my reading was done for me…I can’t read Braille, not a single word.”   And, then, she said, “I can’t do anything with my hands—they are completely useless.”

She held up her hands.   “Useless godforsaken lumps of dough—they don’t even feel part of me.”   Dr. Sacks was a bit startled.  He knew that the hands are usually not affected by cerebral palsy.  It appeared to him that Madeleine’s hands would have the potential of being perfectly good hands—and yet they are not.

Could it have been that they were useless because they had never been used?  Had everything been done for her in a matter that presented her from developing a normal pair of hands?

She had no memory of ever using her hands.  Dr. Sacks noted that she had never fed herself, used the toilet by herself or reached out to help herself, always leaving it to others to help her.   She had lived sixty years as a human being without hands.

Dr. Sacks tried an experiment where her lunch was put just out of reach from her.  He writes, “And one day it happened—what had never happened before:  impatient, hungry, instead of waiting passively and patiently, she reached out an arm, groped, found a bagel and took it to her mouth.   This was the first use of her hands, her first manual act, in sixty years.”

As he continues with her story, he says that she progressed rapidly.  She soon reached out to touch the world trying all kinds of foods, containers, and implements.  She asked for clay and made models and sculptures.  She began to explore human faces and figures.   She made have been blind but her mind became a creative artist.   Her was a woman whose world had been very small and who’s new world was large and offering new opportunities of personal growth and expression.

Madeleine’s artistry developed to the point that within a year, she became locally famous as the “Blind Sculptress of St. Benedict’s.”

Who would have imagined that a sculptress and artist were in the hands of this blind lady?   She had been born with some limitations.  However, she had been further disabled by those who thought they were caring for her.

Sometimes we as leaders think we are doing the brethren a favor by enabling them to go through the motions of being a Christian without ever training them to live and serve as a disciple of Christ.   Many Christians sit in our pews year after year never using their God-given spiritual gifts, personalities, passions and life experiences and skills in ministry.    In some instances, we have ‘babied’ those in our pews.

Some may object by saying, “But the brethren are busy.”    And, I would have to agree.   My limited experience is that many Christians are overcommitted to things that have little or no eternal or spiritual significance.   Some of their lives are full of fluff.

Let us NOT be guilty of disabling the brethren but enabling them to serve.   Let us not be guilty of babying them but equipping them for service.  Every member of the Lord’s church should be serving in some manner in and out of the church to win disciples for Jesus and to mature Christians.

If I can assist you in changing the culture of your congregation from one which possibly disables members to one that enables each member to serve, please let me know.

Travis Irwin, involvement coach

423 290 3060

Disciple-Making & Involvement

You ask, “Is there a correlation between church members being involved in ministry and making disciples?”    The answer is an emphatic “Yes!”   How so?

Ephesians 4:8 is a quote from Psalm 68 with a Pauline twist:  God gave gifts to men.   This isn’t surprising because our God is always giving us something:  it may be rain, air breathe, and food to eat.   He has given us His very best gift in Jesus and His written will, the Bible and when we obey Him, we receive His Spirit indwelling, and the church (the family and fellowship in which we grow and develop) and a several other wonderful things, too.

We know that God has given a mission and His church is to fulfill that mission; that mission is making followers (disciples) of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19).   The church is the means by which a lost and dying world comes to a knowledge of the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:9-11).   The church is also the means by which disciples are developed and matured in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).

HOWEVER, my Lord never ever leaves us unprepared to do His work.   The Lord also gives non-miraculous team/grace gifts to (1) make the church strong, (2) to unite the church and (3) make every Christian a minister or servant.   These gifts are listed in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 and one is mentioned in 1 Peter 4:10-11.    The only controversial gift is apostle (Ephesians 4:11) and many feel we no longer have apostles and I would agree.   Apostles were usually witnesses to the resurrected Christ and confirmed their teaching with miracles and signs. However, Barnabas was also called an apostle (Acts 14:14). We have folks that go to foreign lands to preach the gospel that are very similar; we call these missionaries or evangelists.  They are like the original twelve in one aspect; they are “sent out from.” The word apostle means one who has been sent out from….

Without arguing over the details, we find that the Lord equips, empowers and enables His children to fulfill the mission He has given them by these gifts.  If you do a thorough study of these gifts (in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 and I Peter 4:10-11), you will discover that they are not the same as the “miraculous” ones in 1 Corinthians 12 (which confirmed the preaching and teaching of the apostles and church members at Corinth). More importantly, they are designed, I believe, to make and strengthen disciples.  You can take any of the ten gifts in question (evangelism, shepherding, teaching, giving, prophesy, serving, showing compassion, hospitality, exhortation, and leadership) and in a matter of a few minutes you can easily imagine how each of these actually contributes in a serious manner to the mission of the church.   My experience is very limited, yet I personally believe that many churches are struggling in the area of numerical and spiritual growth because they have not discovered, developed and deployed these gifts among the members in their congregations.   

Back to the original question:  is there a correlation between members being involved in ministry and making disciples?    Yes, or there should be.

Some may react by saying, “I’ve never seen this before.   This appears to be only a theory.”   It may be something new to many of us but I assure you it is not a theory; it is a teaching from the Word of God.

God has always given His people mission and purpose AND He has always equipped, empowered and enabled them to fulfill His assignments.

Many congregations wrestle with growth issues.    So do individual members.  To promote spiritual and numerical growth, let’s depend upon and exercise the gifts that the Lord has given us.

May I suggest 3 other gifts that God has given every child of His?

A personality, that when led by the Spirit of God will bear fruit that makes a person winsome and full of confidence and ready to tell others about Jesus Christ.  When we display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control, the truth and the church are more attractive to a lost and dying world.   These fruit also provide an amazing atmosphere in which to grow spiritually and cause unity and growth in the church.

Passions.   Every person has passions:  some good and some evil.  I’m talking about good passions.    Some have a passion to help the lost, the poor, the incarcerated, the lonely, the old, etc.   Some have a passion to teach, to serve, to greet, to give, etc.  If we all work together, our passions can drive us to reach everyone that has a need and to share the gospel with them.   When every member of a local church is busy fulfilling their passions, the work of the church has more excitement and there isn’t time for any division in the local church.

Life skills and life experiences.     Many have blue collar and white-collar skills.  Some have professional skills and others have craft skills.  But all of us have some skill that is either a natural skill or a skill that comes as a result of training and experience.   We can use these skills to reach the lost and disciple the saved.   And then we each have life experiences that have taught us some invaluable lessons and have made us more dependent upon the Lord.   Our life experiences when used properly can assist us in reaching others with the gospel who have had other similar or the same experiences.    Some of the helpful life experiences include loss, incarceration, addiction recovered from, financial setbacks, cancer recovered from, raising children, marriage, joblessness, homelessness, raising special needs children, adoption, failure, etc.   The world is full of people who need Christians who have had similar experiences and have become victorious through the Lord Jesus Christ.  These Christians can help others who don’t know Christ to come to know Him and obey Him.

Simply put, we need to use our gifts and all of the ministries in the Lord’s church to reach the lost and mature the saved.    It’s a matter of thinking the way the Lord would have us think.   This is a large part of true discipleship.

If I can assist in some way, please let me know.   If you start using your ministries in the manners just discussed, please let me know the fruits of your labor so I can share them with others.

Travis Irwin

423 920 3060

The Brethren: A Love-Frustration Relationship

The Brethren:  A Love-Frustration Relationship

This is a pretty weird title to a simple article.   However, in some of our eyes our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, may at times, appear to be a loving and yet frustrating (at times) relationship.

First, the Lord wants us to love each other as He loves us.   That sounds nice and yet it is difficult especially when brethren disappoint or even hurt us in some way.

The brethren at times have been known to disappoint, disagree, disillusion, hurt us, break our hearts, break their word, be insensitive at times and appear to be uncaring.   Hey, I’ve known the brethren to lie and disregard Christian courtesy and rules.  What do we do when any of this happens?   We have choices.    We can focus on their negative behavior or we can focus on their positive behavior.    We can react and be angry or we can show mercy and forgive.  We should also seek to reconcile.   I offer these suggestions:

Expect your brothers and sisters to fail you.   They are human and weak; they will make mistakes and errors.   If you expect perfection, you will be greatly disappointed.   Yes, in some sense, they should know better but many times in spite of that, they do ‘unexpected’ things.

Remember you do similar things also.   You are human also.   You make the same or other types of errors as do the brethren and sometimes your motivations are just as questionable.   He who is without sin…applies here.

Communicate with them not about them.    Matt.18:15-17 tells us the procedure of dealing with brethren who disappoint.   Don’t talk about them, talk to them.  You may learn something if you talk to them.   They may also learn something about you.  Both are helpful.

Don’t allow Satan to destroy any of your relationships with the brethren.   Remember, Satan is the enemy, not the brethren.    Don’t allow Satan to control you in difficult situations.

Pray for patience.  Don’t walk away. Practice patience.   Love is patient and kind; pray for the patience that only the Holy Spirit can give you.    Also a prayer for self-control may be in order.   And yes, wisdom.

Ask the right questions and don’t accuse.   Listen and learn what the real issue is.  Everyone of us carries burdens and challenges and these things can cause us to take short cuts, deceive and even do poor work.   I’m not making excuses for the brethren, I’m suggesting that we have a merciful attitude towards the brethren.  Seek to understand versus be understood. You might offer assistance or help.

I’d rather have a disagreement or disappointment with a brother or sister in Christ than some non-believer who has little or no moral code on such matters.   Almost 100% of time, a brother or sister and I can work things out.   This is God’s way. 

In spite of all their faults and shortcomings, I treasure and adore all of my brothers and sisters in Christ—even the grouchy ones.   They are precious and I look forward to worship with them when we assemble and I look forward to one day being with them forever.   Trav

Nothing Has Changed

Many well-known authors and church experts have been telling us for the past year that church work will never look the same again after the pandemic.   We’ve been fore-warned that we will have to face a new normal.   We’ve also been told that change is inevitable because it has already occurred and more is on the way.   In fact, I have said some of same things.  And, moreover, some things need to change and we should not go back to whatever our original normal was; in many cases, it wasn’t what it should have been.    In many cases, our original normal wasn’t causing growth.   Some of us had gotten pretty comfortable with the way things were.

However, there is a sense in which NOTHING HAS CHANGED.   I will add one more phrase to that for emphasis:   IT WILL NEVER CHANGE UNTIL THE LORD COMES.

Of course, the Word of God will never change.   Jesus said that heaven and earth would pass away, but His Word never would.   The Hebrew writer assures us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  And we take great comfort in these facts.  

But you and I need to understand that there are a host of things that will never change until the Lord returns:

  •   The Mission of the church:  Making disciples.   If we weren’t busy making disciples before the pandemic, we need to start making them.  If we were busy making them, we need to return to making disciples.
  •   We still have gifts.   We have team gifts that equip the church for service.  We are to be busy discovering, developing and deploying these gifts.
  •   We still have personalities.   Our personality is given to us by the Lord and it is to be used and be developed to reach people with the gospel and to edify the church.
  •   We still have passions.   You have a fire in your bones; this is your passion.  You have a passion for certain people and certain things.   When you move from the sitting position to the serving position, those passions are your fuel to make the church and world a better place to live in.
  •   We are still blessed with life experiences and skills.    Daily your life is being prepared for new and different ministry.  The pandemic is an example.   Don’t be surprised that the Lord is always preparing you for new levels and avenues of service.
  •   We are still God’s Masterpiece and we have work to do and the Lord has equipped us to do it.   God does not qualify the called, He calls the qualified—and WE are the qualified because of His blessings.

I am saying this to church leaders (elders, deacons, ministry leaders, teachers, preachers, youth ministers, etc.).    When the pandemic is over, all the masks are gone from our faces and we are all seated close together again in assemblies, we need to return to these things that have not changed.    And, in some cases, some of us have never acknowledged that these things exist and that we are stewards of them.    When the pandemic is over, we need to equip everyone in our congregations to serve.  

If I can assist, please let me know.

For now, talk about it and pray about it.   Above all, take this information seriously.  The Lord certainly does.


Are Inventories Accurate?

Are the Spiritual Gift Inventories Accurate?

In one word, “Yes,” they are accurate.   How do I know this?   Simply because of how they are put together.

  •  Inventories are based upon the definition of the terms/words used in the original Greek for each gift.   Inventory questions/statements are then made based upon these definitions.
  •  Inventory wording is based (in many cases) upon age group and simplicity so each statement/question is understood by those using the inventory.  In other words, great care is taken to make sure those taking the inventory can clearly understand it and feel confident when they fill it out.
  •  Inventories for spiritual gifts have been around for many years and have been improved over the years.   This is not a new or untested science; it is a well-established means of assisting people in discovering their spiritual gifts.   Some of these have a few questions/statements and others have many questions or statements.  I personally believe you can have too few or too many questions/statements.   Our inventory is a general one and yet serves the purpose we have in mind.    Anyone who has any doubts can locate a more detailed inventory with more questions if they wish.
  •   The best way to test an inventory is to take it and fill it out and then look at the results.   Do the results describe you?  Your gift?  How you serve?

This is the ‘proof is in the pudding’ approach and this is difficult to argue against.   As of this date, no one has disagreed with the inventory results when doing workshops and retreats.   What we have experienced is that a few folks do not like their spiritual gift.  They need to talk to God about that; He is the one who gave it to them.

The other inventory that is used often is the personality assessment inventory.   It too, is based upon years of study and use.   Some personal assessment inventories are better than others in that they are more detailed.   The one we use is a general inventory and yet it performs well for what we are attempting to accomplish.


Christ Has No Hands, But Our Hands

In the courtyard of a quaint little church in a French village was standing a beautiful marble statue of Jesus with his hands outstretched. One day during the war, a bomb struck close to the statue and severely damaged it. After the battle was over, the citizens of the village decided to find the pieces of their beloved statue and reconstruct it.
Patiently they gathered broken pieces and reassembled it. Even the scars on the body added to the beauty of the statue. But there was one problem. They were unable to find the hands of the statue. “A Christ without hands is no Christ at all,” someone lamented. “Hands with scars, yes. But what’s a Lord without hands? We need a new statue.”
Then someone else came up with another idea that appealed to the people. A brass plaque was attached at the base of the statue which read: “I HAVE NO HANDS BUT YOUR HANDS.” A few years later Annie Johnson Flint saw that inscription and wrote these famous words, which we sing from time to time in worship assemblies:
I have no hands but your hands to do my work today.
I have no feet but your feet to lead men on the way.
I have no tongue but your tongue to tell men how I died.
I have no help but your help to bring men to God’s side.
The church of Christ in Waverly, Tennessee has been using the words “Being the Hands of Jesus” as a theme (congregational focus) in 2021.   We have been working with the elders and ministers and church staff for several months getting ready to start an involvement campaign that we had hoped would start in early 2021. However, the pandemic has postponed this campaign until January, 2022.    Both the youth minister and pulpit minister having been presenting relevant lessons daily and weekly.    The deacons were first informed and then the congregation as a whole of the direction that the church will take in the new year. Some adjustments will be made as we approach 2022.
When working with a congregation, I encourage the eldership and staff to come up with the focus.  I have several that I can suggest, but I prefer that they make a personal decision on what would work best there and what they need.   The church secretary recently came up with a brilliant idea of portraying the hands of Jesus:  she has been taking pictures of all the members’ hands and she is presently working on creating a collage of these hands to hang in an obvious place so the members can see it as they enter to worship, study and fellowship.
This is my first such work with a church after retirement.    They and I decided to work together for a total of 13 weeks with me on site 3 days a week.   They are providing housing for my wife and myself.   So far, our sharing and learning together has been a great experience for us all.
If you are interested in a similar arrangement please contact me.   I can hold retreats (usually Friday evenings and Saturday mornings or just Saturday for a total of six hours), workshops (which are usually 8 to 9 hours), or a residence with you for one to thirteen weeks.   The goal:   to help church leaders in creating a customized plan to assist members in learning how God has designed them for His purpose and get every member involved in ministry.
Please contact me at
Travis Irwin, involvement coach
423 920 3060
2134 River Chase Drive
Murfreesboro, TN 37128

2 Books I Highly Recommend

2 Highly Recommended Books

I wish to recommend the two following books and I will make comments about each.   Neither of these is written by members of the church of Christ.  Therefore, you need to read and use them with discretion.  However, you will receive many blessings from both of these books.   

The first of these recommended books is Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney.   Our brethren have generally been taught only two of these disciplines:  study and prayer.  And while these two are very important and I think non-optional, there are other disciplines that all Christians should practice.    Whitney emphasizes over and over again that discipline is for godliness.  The spiritual disciplines have a grand goal:  godliness.   And, what Christian doesn’t want to be more godly?

One of the disciplines discussed in the book is Christian service or as he words it “service.”   I recommend this book for a class or a series of lessons so the brethren can see how service fits into the scheme of Christian growth and godliness.

The other book is by Drs. Townsend and Cloud, the authors of all the Boundaries books that have been and continue to be so popular.  The book’s title is How People Grow What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth.   This book is about 360 pages.  However, it has been rewritten in a shorter 182 page book entitled Growth Has No Boundaries the Christian’s Secret to a Deeper Spiritual Life.   This book would make for a great class, book discussion group or series of sermons.   I mention it here because there has been a general de-emphasis (intentional or unintentional) of studying personal spiritual growth as a topic (this is my opinion).   Generally speaking, we do not tackle topics such as spiritual growth and we can see the consequences of such an avoidance.  A word of caution:  whoever leads a class or discussion group or preaches from these books, this person must be a seasoned teacher.    We would not agree necessarily on their plan of salvation or how the Holy Spirit works.  But everything else in the book is helpful for those who are interested in growing spiritually in Christ.  There IS much helpful information in this book.   I mention this book because only spiritually mature/growing Christians fully appreciate Christian service and gladly consistently find themselves involved in Christian service and service for godly reasons.   As you assist members in growing spiritually, you will have more and more members interested in and involved in ministry.


Do Life Skills Become More or Less Important with Time?

Do Life Skills Become More or Less Important?

What is a life skill?     This could include a lot of things including hobbies, job skills, natural skills, education, life experiences and special training.    Skills, generally speaking, are abilities that we accure and learn over time. Sometimes a formal education is involved but many times we learn skills from others. As we age, I believe that these become even more important.

When we have children at home and we are making a living, these things are very important in providing food, clothing, transportation and housing for us and our families.  We use our life skills to make a living.  As we age, we may become more attractive to employers who are looking for folks like us.

As it pertains to ministry in the church, these skills are more valued, desired and needed and are often sought after.     Some Christians never use life skills in serving others, other than employers.  We need to be using all of these at any age for the good of the kingdom of God; we shouldn’t wait until we are retired to use them for ministry.    However, when retirement comes, which means we usually have more free time, these skills become priceless to the church and to the people we serve.

One of my favorite examples is the late Ken Smith.   Kenny taught me most of what I know in home repair and remodeling.     Kenny not only served me, he also served many in the church.    He could build and repair anything to do with buildings and carpentry including electrical work and plumbing. He could also fix appliances. He helped many older members (especilly widows) and didn’t charge them a dime for his services.

Another favorite example of mine is my late father-in-law, Frank Sadler.  “Pap” could do anything with his hands much like Ken.   However, Pap could tear down an engine, find a problem, fix it and reassemble it and reinstall it.  He would fix things for free and the price of the parts. This was his ministry in his retirement years.   He helped many people and one man, Paul Allen became a Christian because of Pap.

People who have medical experience can go on medical missions, people with accounting experience can help folks with taxes and life planning, people who cook can help with Meals on Wheels, people who love children can teach and read to them, and mechanics can help repair cars for those who can’t afford it and the list goes on.  The list is endless.

Do your life skills become more valuable?    Yes.   I hope that as a steward of all of God’s blessings, you will use your skills for the furtherance and growth of His kingdom.   Trav

Do You Wear a Bib or An Apron?

Do You Wear a Bib or an Apron?

When I think of a bib I think of an infant in a high chair being fed.   The bib catches all the food that doesn’t find the mouth of the infant.    The baby is happy that most of the food goes in.

On the other hand, I can also think of an apron.    Years ago, many ladies wore aprons as they cooked a meal for their families.   Some men wear them today when they grill outside.

The bib imagery is of a child being fed and the imagery of the apron is that of someone preparing a meal to feed others.     Which imagery best describes you as a Christian?     Do you wear a bib or an apron?   Are you constantly waiting on others to serve you or are you busy finding ways of serving others?

We all are blessed time to time to be wearing a bib; others in the church lovingly serve us and we gladly receive the blessings.   But hopefully we all, are the for the most part, wearing the apron of service.

Some of the Lord’s church believe that the church exists to serve them.   The Bible paints an entirely different picture.    Jesus said he came to serve, not to be served.    He washed the disciples’ feet and said that he had left them an example of what they should do for each other.    Paul said we are to have the mind of Christ.   I believe that we are most like Jesus when we serve others.

If you are always waiting for other Christians to serve you, you will sooner or later be miserable.     You will never be satisfied.   To move beyond bib wearing, you must learn to see others and their needs clearly.  You must look intently at others so you can really see them.   When you do, you will see the need.   Many of us can only see our needs.   Martin Luther King, Jr. said anyone can be great because anyone can serve.    Jesus said it this way:   “the greatest among you will be your servant.”

I suggest that you think of someone you know that has a need and seek to fulfill it.   Open your home to a member of the church you don’t know.   Send a gift to Tennessee Children’s Home.   Make a visit to a shut-in.   Pray for a missionary or parents who are raising their children.  Look around Athens and see all the needs and seek to fulfil one of them with your time and energy.   Put on your apron and serve.   Trav


Who Recommends You?

Who Recommends Travis Irwin? Several people recommend my services:  Jerrie Barber, my preacher Mark Littleton, my present elders and dozens  of folks who have received my training (I can send a list of these if you wish).  But most recently I got this one from a brother In Brazil who attended some of my webinars via Zoom:

Thank you brother! We will never know how much your work will influence the church in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which in turn involves all of Brazil and the Portuguese speaking world. As an example, tonight our National Bible School has a webinar with our brothers Daniel and Carol Morgan from Garland, TX motivating our students and the churches all over Brazil to become involved in “Brazilian Harvest”, a mission of planting the Lord’s church in every capital city of Brazil.  We now lack only 5.
I realize you are “retiring”, but Christians don’t retire; we redirect! Would you be interested in coming to Belo Horizonte to teach a short course on “Church Growth” or “Church Involvement” in our National Bible School? Many brothers have come from around Brazil and around the USA to help us in this way.
Keep up the good work!
In Christ,
Eddison Fowler

My 45 year full-time ministry career ends December 31, 2020. My wife and I will move to Murfreesboro, TN to be near family. I will enter a period where I will be available to work with congregations on a part-time basis and I am even willing to reside in their locale up to 13 weeks.
I know that COVID 19 has postponed and changed many congregation’s plans in many areas of work including involvement. Please keep me in mind when all this chaos is over. One thing is for sure: things will never be the same again and I will be there to help you through this transition.

Contact information:

Travis Irwin

423 920 3060 (text or call)

to receive our bi-weekly email please contact us with your email address

Mission statement: I work with church leadership who wish to prevent membership stagnation by assisting members in discovering how God has created/designed them for His purpose. I help church leaders move church members from the sitting position to the serving position.

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