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 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.
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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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited our movement, emptied our stores, closed our schools, taken our jobs and prevented us from assembling. Several articles have addressed the issue of “closings.” Folks have responded with articles on what is still “open.”
We have a choice when it comes to responding to this pandemic. One choice is to be angry and refuse to cooperate with authorities. Another one is to be unhappy and be controlled by our circumstances. However, there is an alternative: we can use this time, as some have suggested, to spend more time together with family, spend more time reading the Bible, more time praying, etc.
I suggest that we should use this crisis as an opportunity to grow spiritually. In the April 24, 2020 issue of “World” magazine, Audree Sue Peterson suggests that we should be setting and achieving spiritual goals as we shelter in place.
For example, if we don’t learn patience during this crisis, this time would have been wasted. A crisis without opportunity is hopeless. Our present crisis, however, presents many opportunities.
We should also be spending this time making plans for what is waiting for us when this pandemic is over (some are now saying that it may not be over for several years). The pandemic has changed our assemblies, Bible classes and outreach already. When it subsides or goes away, its affects will remain for years to come. In some businesses future plans have been moved up to the present. Some congregations had plans for the future, and this pandemic has forced them to go ahead and implement the plans. Medical professionals had future plans for telemedicine in two or three years. Guess what? They are doing it now. Necessity demands the change===ahead of schedule. Churches are faced with a similar phenomenon. For example, as the church turns more and more gray, more opportunities/challenges will come to use virtual means to communicate with those older members who cannot get out. However, we are being forced to do such right now. Similar things are happening with church education. Fewer and fewer are att3nding Bible classes. Solution? Virtual. We’re doing that now; it can’t wait no longer.
While you are in the thick of this pandemic, I suggest you some spend time evaluating and assessing several things in your congregation. You may object by saying that you are too busy just trying to adjust to this new norm/reality. However, I suggest that you look at the following in this context because issues are fresh on your minds. If you wait til everything returns to normal (which, it never will be same again), you will forget what you are learning ln a daily basis now. Following are a few suggestions:
Assess your mission statement as a church. Most congregations don’t even have a mission statement. If you are one of those, I strongly suggest you get one or credit one. The pandemic can show you where you are weak and where you need to make changes. Your core values are coming to the top; possibly some changes need to be made. For those who have a mission statement, the challenges of this pandemic may have provided church leaders ideas for revised and updated mission statements.
Assess your assemblies. We haven’t assembled for 12 weeks. We have had virtual worship services all this time. We don’t have all the elements in virtual services and we’ve added one more: communication for an elder each week. Sometimes our normal assemblies are stuck in a rut and need to be evaluated. I am NOT promoting unscriptural worship; I AM promoting assemblies that truly worship the Lord, communicate to the church, edify the church and emphasize just how important being together is.
You might want to ask this question, “Should we stop having Sunday evening services?” Face two facts: Sunday night attendance has been going down for years, and you haven’t been attending Sunday night services since the pandemic started. Why start up something that was dying in the first place, and hasn’t been utilized for 12 weeks. To me, Sunday night services are a thing of the past. This is something to think about.
Assess your Bible classes. If your congregation is like most, only 50% of your membership attends. For the past 12 weeks 100% of your congregation may have not attended Bible classes. I am not advocating doing away from Bible study. However, this is an opportunity to do it differently when you get back together. Some are advocating returning the responsibility of teaching children to their parents. There is material available to help parents teach their children at home. I would also strong urge leadership to know what their children and adults are being taught. Some of it is heavily repeated and some areas are totally neglected. And some printed material is weak and, in some cases has false doctrine. Why not take some time to review everything.
Assess small groups. Some congregations already have small groups. Those who do and those who have trained well, they work well. While you were not assembling as a whole, several of your members met in smaller groups, many without your knowing. Definitely families met together. This crisis also affords you the opportunity to rethink why you have small groups. You may revise your purposes, add others and delete some.
Assess all of your ministries. Some of your ministries will die. Some should die. New ministries will begin because of a new need. New needs have surfaced during the crisis. Assessment of ministries need to be done constantly. Good stewardship and common-sense demand it.
Assess your church budget. Let’s face it, the church budget in most cases has been hit hard by this pandemic. In most cases, members have done a pretty good with their giving the first month of the pandemic. The second month was/is a disaster. Some churches have closed their doors forever their giving tanked. Some are having to make big adjustments. One thing is for sure, you need to communicate to the congregation the need for them to continue to give during the crisis. Salaries continue to be paid, bills continue to come in and emergency needs arise. Members laid off need help. Community needs offer opportunities to serve and many of these cost money.
Assess your means of communication. We use eight or nine means of communicating with our members. A large number of means should be used all the time. Budwiser and other vice-producing companies spend billions advertising to and communicating with us. We can’t do less; we must do more.
Assess your staff. You may have to let someone go because of the money. You may have to hire someone to do a ministry that now requires a full time staffer. Someone on staff may have to submit to a new/different job description. Some of this is obvious and some of it will not.
I’d like to hear from you. Please share how you are using this crisis to make some needed changes.
Does 20% or less of your church’s membership do all the work in the church?
Do you have to beg for volunteers? (e.g. Bible class teachers, men leading worship)?
Does a healthy percentage of your members serve others in your community?
Are your church ministries evaluated at least once a year?
Do all your congregation’s ministries have intentional purposes?
Does your congregation provide continual training for members who volunteer?
Does your congregation express appreciation for those who volunteer and serve?
The members who volunteer and serve, are they happy in their service?
Could your members tell someone what your congregation’s core values are?
Is individual spiritual growth admired, expected, and encouraged?
If you answered either of the first two questions with a “Yes” or any of the other questions with a “No,” the health of your congregation may be compromised. Please contact me so we can work together to make the health of your church more certain.
What do you do as an involvement coach?
I assist church leaders who are concerned with congregational stagnation by planning and executing a customized plan to assess every member of their non-miraculous gifts, personalities, passions, life skills and life experiences for the purpose of getting them into ministries for which God has designed them.
Contact me and let’s talk on Zoom about a plan for your congregation.
I assist church leaders who have concerns about congregational stagnation in creating and executing a customized plan to assess each member in spiritual gifts, personalities and life skills and experiences for the goal of getting all members involved in ministries best suited for them.
Contact me today so we can start working on a plan for your congregation.
Involvement Coach exists to assist churches and church leaders in moving church members from the sitting position to the serving position. As important as sitting and worshiping are, there comes a time in every Christian’s life when he or she should be serving others. We call this Christian maturity.
Every Christian has been blessed with a non-miraculous spiritual gift, passions, life experiences, a personality and other blessings that they are to be using to serve others. We help Christians discover how God has created them for His purpose and for Ministry.
Contact me today so I can design a plan for your congregation.
A couple of years ago I was invited to moderate a panel discussion at the Church Involvement Conference in Athens, Tennessee. The panel related to Millennials and the practice of faith, or reaching them and keeping them. The primary message that stood out with universal agreement from the panelists is that Millennials (and younger generations) desire to be challenged and not coddled. The younger generations appear to have more in common with the Greatest Generation than the Generation Xers (my generation) and the Boomers. Yet, it is these last two generations that are in leadership in most churches, thus, the apparent disconnect.
Millennials and their younger counterparts, it seems, take Jesus admonition to “take up your cross daily” pretty seriously (Luke 9:23). They aren’t pushing to jettison all traditions or make wholesale changes to worship practices, but they do deeply desire a more profound and sincere approach to following Jesus. They take the Greatest Commands (Matthew 22:34-40) to heart, they want to see sincerity and genuineness, and they seek real community. That all sounds really good to me!
This all got me thinking back to a phrase I have heard throughout my life that I saw illustrated first-hand: “raising the bar”. What exactly does that mean, and what does it have to do with the Bible, church leadership, and reaching and keeping the younger generations for Christ?
My daughter worked with a pole vault coach while she was in high school who won an Olympic Gold Medal in the sport. His name is Tim Mack, and he won in the games in Athens, Greece. He was in his 30s when he won, and he had failed to make the team twice before. What he discovered and what I saw play out in his coaching sessions is this, you have to literally raise the bar higher if you ever expect to go higher. In my daughter’s case and in the case of her fellow athletes, he would raise the bar sometimes when they weren’t even hitting the current height he thought they could reach, and they would go much higher. What he relayed to me is that athletes will usually only try to hit the height of the bar where it is placed and not go much higher, in so doing, they will often fail to even hit the lower mark. Interesting, isn’t it?
The Hebrew writer, in Hebrews 12, upped the ante in his challenge and encouragement to his readers to stay true to Jesus and keep the faith. He moved on from Moses and the other heroes of the Faith and went to Jesus instead. He held Jesus up as the example of perseverance and success and suggested that they hadn’t even “resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:1-4). Talk about raising the bar!
So, maybe we have failed the younger generations by not expecting enough from them when it comes to discipleship. Perhaps we have tried to fashion things like we think they would like for them to be, or just force them into a model of ministry that we like better, instead of truly embracing the truths of Scripture to deny our self and take up our cross.
I would encourage you, as an individual, to raise the level of expectation you have for yourself in following Jesus. I would encourage church leaders to raise the level of expectation and paint a genuine picture of discipleship in your churches. I would encourage Millennials and younger generations to help us see what we are missing that would do more to raise the bar of expectations for all of us.
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12)
Timothy Gunnells, DMin.
Associate Professor of Bible, Leadership, and Ministry at Amridge University
I had the privilege to work with Tim when he was our full-time pulpit minister here in Athens. He and family are a great blessing to the church in Athens, TN. Tim travels all over the country assisting churches in the area of leadership. He is especially interested in helping church plants in this area.
Dean Miller knows firsthand how difficult life can be after the death of a spouse.
Dean Miller has preached the Gospel all his life.
At 67, he shares a message of hope for widows and widowers. This ministry was born out of the loss of his wife and seeks to lift others and himself out of the depths of sadness and depression.
Miller served churches in Tennessee and Ohio for over 45 years. For 33 of those years, he ministered to the Hartville Church of Christ in Ohio.
A 1976 graduate of Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson,Tenn., Miller married Ruth Ann, his high school girlfriend, at 19. After 33 years of marriage, Ruth Ann was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and suffered eight years of decline. She died Christmas Day 2013 after 41 years of marriage.
After struggling to find himself and his place in a new world of singlehood, Miller began speaking and teaching on widowhood.
Dean has three daughters, Michelle Johnson, Melissa Cere (husband Tony) and Deanna Johnson (husband Chris), and five grandchildren.
Given the extreme environment and isolation that many are experiencing during the COVID-19 crisis, what are some specific actions we can take to support the widowed?
This crisis magnifies an already existing problem — social disconnect and isolation. The most effective ministry now may be in using the human voice. One widow shared with me, “It gets old just talking to the dog, because she doesn’t always answer me.”
Call them or FaceTime them. Have a list of things to talk with them about. That conversation will likely reveal their needs. Inquire about their eating habits. Drop food off at their house. Have children tape a picture to their window. Do a version of caroling from their front yard or porch. Do not ask them what they need. Just do things that will let them know they have not been forgotten.
Besides understandable grief at one’s loss, what other emotions do widowed persons experience?
Loneliness is almost always the first emotion discussed in my workshops because attendees commonly associate this with widowhood. The loneliness is unparalleled because marriage is the most precious and intimate of human relationships.
“Do not ask them what they need. Just do things that will let them know they have not been forgotten.”
Uncertainty is another feeling. That uncertainty can fester and turn into fear. Questions about the future can be so overwhelming that one begins to doubt their ability to cope.
Going out in public in a “coupled” world, when you are no longer part of a couple, creates social awkwardness. Anger is common and often targets medical professionals, the departed spouse, even God. Then there is a loss of one’s identity. Previously one was a wife or a husband, half of a whole. Now that whole no longer exists, so who are you? A wide range of emotions is often experienced.
What special needs do the widowed have?
They need not to be forgotten. How many churches even know how many widowed members they have and who they are? Our long- term care leaves much to be desired.
One brother observed that we are good at the three C’s: cards, condolences and casseroles. After that, everybody goes home, but only one goes to their home alone. Widowed people are often socially deprived.Widows need people who minister to them, long after the cemetery, by presence in their lives.
People minister by the “laying on of ears.” There is nothing like the deafening silence in a widowed person’s house at night, especially in the long winter nights. Then, there are those special days when life after loss is more difficult: birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Forgotten translates into feeling forsaken.
What about widowhood do we all need to be sensitive to?
Please don’t ever tell a widowed person, “I know how you feel,” because we don’t. Life’s losses help us appreciate another’s struggle or even empathize, but to say, “I know how you feel” can almost be offensive.
Also, respect the personal nature of the grief journey. They are going through something they have never experienced. Their behaviors may seem out of character. Healing may take much longer than anticipated. Don’t push. Just walk with them in their grief journey, no matter what, no matter how long.
Does widowhood challenge faith?
It certainly can. The loss of a beloved mate can shake one to their spiritual core. Why did God do this? Or why did he permit this? We may question why we feel so awful, knowing our mate is at home with the Lord. Don’t I have enough faith?
“The loss of a beloved mate can shake one to their spiritual core.”
We can become internally conflicted like the father who brought his troubled son to Jesus: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). It’s not just the loss that can challenge our faith but the difficulty of living daily with the reality of the loss.
Our “feeler” and our faith aren’t always on the same page. Sadly, we are sometimes inclined to give our feelings more credence than our faith. Loss is not a choice, but how we respond to it is. Loss can be what drives us to our knees. It can prompt us to more passionately seek the Lord than ever before. Faith tried can also grow and become stronger (1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-4).
How can churches serve the daily needs of the widowed?
Educate families regarding their responsibility to be the first line of ministry (1 Timothy 5:3-16). However, to minister effectively, education has to be provided to those families about grief, especially the grief experienced in spousal loss.
It pains me to see widowed people sitting alone in our assemblies. As strange as it may seem to the inexperienced, church can be a really hard place for the widowed to go. It’s a blunt reminder of loss. What sweet words: “May I sit with you today?” Help them find a ministry. Often, the person left behind was engaged in a ministry with their spouse.
What is their place in the church now that they are involuntarily single? Launching active local widowhood ministries is so important. These ministries can provide the encouragement widows and widowers need. They help rebuild social networks and even provide that ministry “fit” so important after loss.
Did widowhood change your relationship with your children and grandchildren?
Yes. It brought us closer together, even though we have always been separated geographically.
One evidence of that is the Widowhood Workshop ministry. We call it our “family passion project.” All 11 of us are working together in this ministry doing different things, even the five grandchildren.
They make door prizes for the workshops and serve attendees at our annual summer Widow/Widower Retreat in Middle Tennessee. We talk freely about “Nana” anytime we are together. We have chosen to have our loss bind us together even more closely.
If you go to the County Fair you may be given one of their
Bibles. If you stay in a motel, you may
see one of their Bibles. If you go to a
flea market or attend a book sale, you may have the opportunity to purchases
dozens of their color New Testaments.
If I were to ask you, “What is the mission of the Gideons
International?”, what would you say?
At the end of 2019, the Gideons stopped printing Bibles. People were laid off and buildings that
housed 170 printing companies and their presses were closed. Gideons have been known for their
Bibles. They have distributed over 2
billion of them. They are everywhere
including hospitals, colleges, fairs, trains, prisons and military bases.
But now, the 122-year-old ministry is changing. Printing more Bibles is no longer needed due
to overproduction in the past and now some motel chains will not accept them.
The Gideons are in a period of refocusing and rebalancing their
ministry. They have reminded themselves of
their original purpose: to save souls.
Printing Bibles was a part of that mission. But they now feel they need to return to
their original mission of saving souls.
They printed the Bibles and gave them to traveling businessmen who would
in turn attempt to convert others to Christ using those Bibles. For the first 10 years of their existence
they did not distribute Bibles. But
somehow their method got confused with their purpose. They are seeing a resurgence in interest in
what they do. They are attempting to
recruit new members and their emphasis upon soul winning is helping in that
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not against distributing Bibles. EEM is a great example of Bible distribution that
is paying great dividends in the way of souls for Christ. However, I am concerned if we have lost our
original mission. Possibly we have gotten
our method (ministry) confused with our mission.
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples….” The church exists to “make God’s wisdom known.” And, I am ALL for ministry. Sometimes our ministry is the method that we
have confused with the mission. How far have we gotten from the Lord’s
original mission for His church?
Maybe, we like the Gideons, need to take some time to
reexamine what we are doing and why we are doing it. If you are familiar with the Lord’s church
and if you read such papers as the Christian Chronicle, you know the Lord’s
church is doing a lot of good all over the world. Yet how much of it is directly related to
winning souls to Jesus Christ?
In the arena of church ministry, much of our ministry is
internal and maintenance. Both types of
ministries are necessary because they contribute either directly or indirectly
to the spiritual growth of Christians.
But how many of our ministries are directly aimed at winnings souls to
the Lord? How many of our ministries are
intentionally designed to win lost folks to the Lord?
All I am encouraging us to do is to learn from the Gideons. Let’s don’t get our methods mixed up with
our God-given mission. Let’s not be
afraid to rethink how and why we do the things we do in the Lord’s church.
Possibly you see other lessons we can learn. Please share those with me. Above all, let us all be diligent in serving
the Lord and pointing all men to Jesus.
Millions of people are cooped up in their homes with their children. They are playing games, watching movies,
creating memories and getting to know each other better. These days provide many opportunities that
our normal busy schedules do not allow.
As these days go by, many church buildings remain empty. We are not assembling and as a result, we
are not being ‘built up’ and made stronger.
We aren’t being encouraged and we aren’t encouraging others. We miss Bible study, fellowship, worship and
communing. Church leadership is
concerned about the loss of funding and members who may not return.
The work of the church (ministry) is in limbo. Many good ministries and church events have
come to a grinding halt or have been totally cancelled. Others are indefinitely postponed.
The question that many dedicated involved church members and
leaders are asking is “what do you when the momentum is lost?” In other words, what do we do while we are
absent from one another? How do we keep
the spirit of the church alive? How may
we prevent discouragement during this period of time?
It is obvious that many churches are now using modern technology
to bring people ‘together’ digitally and virtually. This is a tremendous means of bringing us
and keeping us together. I commend and
appreciate church leaders and members who are doing this. As time goes along, such people are becoming
more creative in making fellowship possible.
They contribute in a very meaningful way to the life and growth of the
church. Their attempts, are among many
things, aiding the momentum of the local church.
But what does God say?
We must remember that God is THE source of all we have that is good and
which enables us to live and grow. His
counsel is above all else.
If you read John 15:1-8 you will find several things there:
God owns and takes care of us – we are His
vineyard. He is the source of all good
things related to the vineyard.
We are to bear much good fruit – there is no
qualification on when or where on this.
God does not ‘close shop’ when things and circumstances are bad. We are expected to bear fruit under all
God prunes us – in fact, He may very well be
pruning individual Christians and His Son’s church during these trying times –
the goal of the pruning is a higher quality of fruit and more fruit. We cannot bear such fruit without pruning
and pruning many times is painful and challenging.
I what I really want you to see here is this:
Jesus says “abide” or “remain” in me.
And, then He says for ‘without me you can do nothing.’
The key to momentum or any type of growth, be it spiritual or
numerical, is Jesus. We must be
connected to Him; HE is our power source.
Without Him there is no momentum and there is no fruit.
I am all for suggestions from my fellow Christian leaders and
members during these difficult times. I
am all ears. We are trying many new things
here in Athens to stay connected to each other/the church. Yet none are as important to living and
church life as being connected (remaining, abiding in) to Jesus.
What is this word “remain” mean? If you do a thorough study of these words, they carry with them the idea of a personal walk or relationship with the Lord. It’s more than church attendance or even reading God’s Word. It is walking with Him. It is living in His presence. It is living, serving, praying, suffering and communion with Jesus.
In some very real sense our fruit is different. However, it remains “fruit.” And the key once agian, no matter where we are, no matter what our circumstances are and who we are around, the key to momentum is reaming in Jesus.
After all of this COVID 19 virus fear and death are gone, we
must continue to abide and remain in Jesus.
While there is a place for special events and using technology to keep us
connected to each other, let us not forget to ‘remain’ in Him. In Him is ‘lasting’ (eternal) fruit.