One of the most significant and unsung verses in the Christmas Story and maybe in the New Testament is Luke 1:11.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.Luke 1:11 Christian Standard Bible
This is the moment that God broke through after 400 years of silence, after allowing the rampaging and devastation and defeat of His chosen people, and after allowing Judaism to become a ritualistic shell of itself. God broke through. God spoke. God set in course the events that would bring salvation to all the world in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The before and after of this verse goes like this: An aging Priest named Zechariah got the opportunity of a lifetime to offer incense in the Temple’s sanctuary. He and his wife Elizabeth, who was never able to have children, and now was well along in years, made arrangements to fulfill this obligation. As he offered incense, God reached down and spoke. Unexpected events, unexpected people involved, unexpected announcement that Elizabeth would have a baby. That baby would become the way-preparer for the Messiah, John the Baptist.
This is the moment where God initiated the keeping of His Promises and Securing the Hope of all who believe. This is the moment that those caught up in this story saw their Hope Restored. What does Restored Hope look like? For Zechariah and Elizabeth and that group of ordinaries that surrounded them on this day, it looked like this:
The Pathway to Hope Again:
1. Recognition that God’s Word is still true. The prophecy of the coming Messiah and the Way-Preparer IS TRUE! And in the coming days, 100’s of other prophecies would be fulfilled in the coming of Christ. For Zechariah, this was no longer just stale religious ritual, but a dynamic voice, capable of restoring hope and bringing change.
2. Recognition that God can still use even me. The sun was seemingly setting on Zechariah’s life and ministry, but God broke through and gave he and Elizabeth a place of prominence in the Gospel story. God is never finished. He gets the last word on our significance.
3. Recognition that God can still accomplish the impossible. Elizabeth’s barren womb and old age, would be no obstacle to God’s will and God’s promise being kept. Neither will any obstacle that we face in life and leadership. Nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37) will be a core belief of the hope-filled believers.
Maybe this Christmas, you find yourself with lost hope or deferred hope (Proverbs 29:13). Ask God to breakthrough again with these three truths. You can Hope Again. His Word is True. He’s not finished with you. He’s still doing the impossible. Hope Again. Believe Again.
Father, restore our hope through demonstrating the truth of Your Word. Show us that we are your instruments until the day we die. Open our eyes to see the possibilities of your power and your promise.
Join Bridge Church, Sunday’s at 10am at Hollywood Theater in Covington to discover more great truths from the story of Christmas.
Louisiana Baptists have planted 22 Churches so far in 2018.
- 6 in North Louisiana, 16 in South Louisiana
- 6 in New Orleans
- 13 non-Anglo. 8 African-American, 3 Hispanic, 1 Asian, 1 Multi-Ethnic
- 234 Churches Planted
- 56 in north Louisiana, 178 in south Louisiana
- 61 in New Orleans
- 128 non-Anglo. 70 African-American, 31 Hispanic, 10 Asian, 17 Other
Our goals have been to plant 300 churches by 2020; to plant more in south Louisiana where 70% of the population lives; at least 20% of plants in New Orleans where 20% of our population lives; and to plant more non-Anglo churches, increasing the diversity in Louisiana Baptist life.
- Since 2010, Church Plants have reported 13,208 Professions of Faith and 3,536 Baptisms. Church Planting continues to be one of the best ways to evangelize communities.
- Since 2010, churches have been planted in 100 of Louisiana’s 304 cities and towns and 41 of Louisiana’s 64 Parishes.
- Now, RePlanting is ramping up, with 25% of last years new works being replants and 40% this year.
66 churches away from our 2020 goal of 300. With each new church comes new brothers and sisters in Christ, new fronts on meeting real needs in communities, and more glory for our great God as the gospel bears its fruit across Louisiana.
You can be a part:
I’ve heard this one for years when church planting comes up among pastors. A couple of responses:
1. Who said we’re trying to plant small churches? That’s never the goal. The goal is to reach people for Christ. Church Planting is one of the means. God, the context, the partners, and a lot of other things often determines the size of the church. If you don’t want to see another small church, get involved and help us plant a big one!
2. This may say more about your vision and belief in God’s ability than the local church planting strategy. In every apple is an orchard. In every believer is a potential to reach more. In every group of believers, no matter how small is the potential for a movement. Let’s believe God for bigger things.
3. “We don’t need another small church…” Unless your lost and on your way to hell. Then you need a small church, medium size church, mega church, or whatever kind of church to come and get you and share the good news of God’s grace and salvation! Let’s not forget that this is about heaven and hell, not our own ego or discomfort.
4. And remember, God has no small churches and no big pastors. God doesn’t show favoritism (James 2:9). God doesn’t see as man sees (1 Samuel 16:7). The kingdom is upside down – to be great, be a servant; to be first, go last; to live, you’ve got to die. Can’t you imagine with me that the God that governs an upside down kingdom values and cheers on the small church as much as the big church?
Church Planting is a great means of evangelizing and discipling a community. Until every person is reached, let’s strive to do everything possible to reach them. Including planting small churches, big churches, and all kinds of other churches to see the kingdom come as earth as it is in heaven. And today, every church can get involved in church planting, church replanting, multi-site development. Pick your pleasure and lets reach people for Christ.
“The Gospel came to you because it was heading to someone else. God never intended for your salvation to be an end, but a beginning. God saved you to be a conduit through whom His glorious, life changing gospel would flow to others. You are a link in a chain….”
Robby Gallaty, in Growing Up: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes Disciples
This month, Louisiana Baptists will mark new churches number 228 and 229, since 2010. The goal is 300 by 2020. We’ve passed the milestones of 10,000 new commitments to Christ, and celebrated 150 and 200 churches planted. Another interesting stat to watch for me has been the breadth of church planting in Louisiana. With the next two plants, we’ll mark the 100th city or town to have a new church planted in it since 2010. And keep in mind, Louisiana only has 304 incorporated cities and towns. Grateful for our church planters, partner church’s, and all who contribute to the Cooperative Program and State Missions Offerings to see churches planted across Louisiana.
We actually still have some significant towns without a Southern Baptist church in Louisiana, and a few with little or no evangelical presence. So our work continues…
And if you’re wondering WHY? Why plant churches in Louisiana, see my post entitled Recent Q&A: Why Plant Churches.
“You don’t have to be rich to tithe, but you do have to be organized.”
I’m convinced many people are just not organized enough to make a difference with their money and resources. Obedience to God seldom happens by accident. It requires conviction, courage, and a decision to do what’s right, before the opportunity comes. What decisions do Christians need to make in regard to money?
- Give it all to God. Understand that it’s all His anyway. He’s made you a steward or manager of it, for now. Hopefully, you are not Lord over your life. If you’ve allowed Christ to take the reigns in your life, has that extended to your checking account?
- Know what you have. Do you have a budget and a tool that helps you track income and outflow? Watching the balance and putting the breaks on when you’re close to broke, is not a plan. If you’re doing that, you’re most likely broke and don’t know it yet.
- Plan for obedient generosity. God calls us to sacrificial, regular, cheerful giving (Malachi 3:10; Luke 6:38; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7). Pick a % of your income that is sacrificial, give it regularly (weekly, bi-monthly, monthly), and do it with a smile. God’s promised blessings WILL be know to you soon.
Here are a few tools that help us plan for generosity and obedience:
- YNAB – YouNeedaBudget.com. Great budgeting a tracking tool for income and expenses. Small annual fee. Everydollar.com, by Dave Ramsey, looks good as well. We were already sold on YNAB before that came out.
- Dave Ramsey Resources. Dave Ramsey’s books, web resources, and daily podcasts, helps me keep my mind renewed in regards to money and its pitfalls. Find at daveramsey.com.
- A few helpful blogs that I follow
- PTMoney.com – Phil Taylor is a Louisiana man. Now famous financial blogger and conference host.
- Mary Hunt’s blog, everydaycheapskate.com. Mary Hunt’s book on Debt Free Living was helpful to us in the early years of our marriage. Her blog is full of tips and tricks to save money on every day stuff of life.
What decisions, challenges, resources have you found helpful in regard to money and finances?
Believing in God’s power to provide means trusting God enough to obey His precepts about Giving and Resting.
- Giving sacrificially, regularly, and cheerfully. Giving a % of your income to God.
- Setting aside one day in seven for rest and worship. Sabbath.
If I trust God, then I believe that I can do more with 6 days of work and God’s power than I can with 7 days of work in my power. I can do more with 90% of my income and God promises than I can with 100% of my income in my own power.
- Do I trust God enough to take a day off from work to recharge and reconnect with him? Or do I believe that it is my effort alone that makes my ends meet?
- Do I trust God enough to believe his promises toward the generous? or do I believe that what I have is mine and I deserve all of it?
I’ve spent most of my ministry in Church Planting, which has required a bivocational approach. I’ve had side hustles as a fireman and a commercial janitor, and the part-time and now full-time rolls as denominational strategist. For the Bivocational Preacher, time is always a challenge. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from 20 years of Bivocational Preaching:
1. Read through the Bible systematically and make outlines
Your devotional time should be separate from your sermon preparation. However, your devotional time should FEED your sermon preparation. As you follow Jesus, by spending time in His word and prayer, journal your thoughts, outline the texts that jump out at you, and develop a system where you’ll remember where that outline and those thoughts were for when you come to that passage in your preaching.
I love the story of the old preacher that was asked by the young preacher, “How long did it take you to prepare that sermon?” The old preacher said, “About 35 years.”
The older I get, the more my preaching benefits from a systematic reading through the Bible every year.
2. Get a handle on a few solid and simple tools
Sermon prep tools are plentiful. Bible software, commentaries, websites, etc. Most preachers love study, so we can get bogged down with so many tools. As a bivocational pastor I’ve had to cut through my love for the bells and whistles and pull together fewer and simpler tools for each sermon and series. Usually two commentaries, a free online interlinear tool, a Bible Handbook and Dictionary, and my devotional feeds do the trick for me.
This also helps me with one of my goals in preaching. I don’t want anyone to walk away from a sermon I preach and say, “I could never do that.” Simple tools that you can pass along to others for a small costs keeps the preaching ministry of the church reproducible.
3. Have a system for recording quotes, illustrations, and ideas
The morning paper for most of us has moved online. Preachers need a system for collecting data, articles, and quotes that we come across throughout our online lives. D.L. Moody did this with newspapers and books, amassing a collection of quips and illustrations that fathoms the mind. There are numerous online clipping tools and places for storing ideas. I like the Evernote Webclipper. It allows you to create categories and tags for easy location by topic later. I also follow hundreds of blogs and feeds daily in Feedly. Feedly allows you to save articles by categories for easy location by topic later as well. I also subscribe to Preaching Today for $69 per year, which includes an archive of illustrations from the news and history. There are other subscription based services that can be utilized as well.
4. Start preparing early
Monday morning is key to a prepared sermon. If I don’t have at least a rough outline by the end of the day Monday, I’m behind on the sermon the rest of the week. Ideally you can get two – four weeks out. And I recommend preaching series of sermons, where a team can be utilized in planning and the big ideas for the series along with the major tools to be utilized are planned out months in advance.
Smoked meat is the best tasting of all. The key to delicious smoked meat is TIME. Like that, I like to get my sermon outlines done far enough in advance (2-4 weeks) to give them time to fill with flavor and soak in thoroughly. A great Sunday for me is actually, a sermon that soaked for at least two weeks and delivered in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then heading home to pull some delicious beef, pork, or turkey out of the smoker. Yes!
5. Commit 30 minutes to 1 hour everyday
When you’re bivocational, often time does not allow for 4-6 hours of preparation at once. I try to budget 30 minutes to 1 hour each day for a “Sermon Look.” Take a look at your outlines, pray over them, consider any current events or news or quotes to include. For me, this mean getting up extra early or staying at the computer for an extra 30 minutes to an hour. I also like to include discussing the passage with my wife and kids, and maybe a few trusted friends, throughout the week to get their perspective and help me in thinking through communication of the truths to real people.
6. Depend on God’s Power
It’s usually when I’m least prepared and when I feel the delivery was the poorest, that someone comes up and says, “This message changed my life!” What?!?! This always reminds me, that it’s God’s work to use his messengers how he sees fit. All the preparation in the world can’t overcome the spiritual war we’re facing when we stand and proclaim God’s word. We need his power, his presence. To depend on ourselves is to fail in this task.
What other tips and tricks do you know that can help us Bivocational Preachers?
72,000 drug overdoses in 2017. So this happens almost 200 times per day in the United States. Every overdose is someone’s Charlie. Stop the spiral by taking initiative to love, speak up, pray, get involved, and help restore those being caught up in this horrible nightmare experienced by too many families.
Bivocational ministry is an approach to ministry that includes the pastor or ministry holding a full-time or part-time job, along with a ministry position in a church or ministry of some kind. This has become a big conversation in North America as less money for ministry is available due to less percentage giving by church members, higher maintenance and facility cost, and an emphasis on church planting, which at least 50% of the time requires a bivocational approach. I’ve been bivocational for most of my ministry, holding down side hustles as a fireman, janitor, teacher, and now a full-time denominational strategists. In Louisiana, where I serve, I know pastors and church planters who do everything from rocket science to handy man work. It’s getting to where, talking to a Pastor, the conversation is not IF he is bivocational, but WHAT does he do on the side to make ends meet.
I believe Bivocational ministry will continue to grow as churches decline and new churches are planted. Here’s a few Pros and Cons for Bivocational ministry:
1. It’s Biblical. At least for apostolic, church planting type leaders; a bivocational ministry approach puts you on firm Biblical grounds. The foundation is the Apostle Paul who served as a tent maker, and while he sought and taught the churches the necessity of paying the pastor, did not demand salary for his ministry of church planting and leading the movement that became Christianity in the 1st century.
2. It’s a Reproducible Model. If reproduction is the goal, then accepting a bivocational approach as normative will be necessary. It’s reproducible because there are so many people that already have jobs they love, while wanting to engage in fruitful ministry. So equipping those with the gifts of teaching, leadership, apostleship to plant churches along side their day jobs is something we must aim for.
3. Ministers can serve the church without being dependent on the church for income. Pastors can feel hand tied by the need to make tough decisions and the need to keep people attending and giving. A bivocational minister with a full-time income is freed completely from this arrangement. The minister is also able to be an example of Biblical stewardship from the same perspective as those he leads.
4. The church can have a higher percentage of funds available for ministry and missions. The cost of personnel and facilities is often 65% to 80% of a churches budget. This leaves small amounts for the work of the church and the needs of the world. Take out the personnel line and it can drastically reduce that percentage and free up money for fruitful ministry.
5. Every member ministry is affirmed. When the pastor and staff are bivocational, every member is needed to make ministry happen. The gifts of the people are not something we consider once per year when the nominating committee is meeting. The gifts of the people are desperately needed for every week. The pastor needs to be freed up to use his limited time (due to being employed 25-40 hours per week) to prepare sermons, seek God’s will for the vision of the church, and reaching the lost. To work, churches with bivocational approaches must mobilize every one for ministry.
What about the Cons? If your pastor is bivocational here is what to expect:
- Things may move slower than churches down the road. Idea implementation may take a little longer because there isn’t people working on implementation for 40 hours each week. Bivocational / Every Member Ministry churches move at the speed of the team, not the speed of the pastor.
- The pastor WILL feel inadequate and struggle with his time. Most bivocational pastors would love to have more time for the ministry and may be working toward that. And they feel the pressure of comparison to larger churches with staff. He must take up the task of mobilization and the people must take up the task of affirmation and servanthood.
- The church must manage expectations of the role of the Bivocational Pastor and the work of the church. The pastor may not be the first one there when something happens. The church may not move as fast as the churches with full-time staff. But if everyone uses their gifts and the expectations are right for the situation, bivocational churches can grow and thrive in any community.