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This February, I’ve for the first time tackled preaching through the Song of Solomon. Sounded like a great idea last summer when I was planning sermon series for 2018, but as I got to digging in I began to think, “what have I gotten myself in to!?” Ha! As I studied, I began to see a beautiful love story outlined in the relationship between the bride and groom depicted in the Song. Here it is:
- God is the author of LOVE, ROMANCE, SEX, AND MARRIAGE. Genesis 2:18-25.
- Love is FOSTERED through God-given desire, attraction, and curiosity. Song of Solomon 1:2, 7-10; Proverbs 30:19.
- Love is FULFILLED in the marital relationship between man and woman. Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:7-11; 4:9-11; 5:1; Proverbs 5:19
- Love can be FRUSTRATING as two people bring their differences together and experience life’s difficulties. Song of Solomon 5:2-3; Proverbs 17:1; 21:9; 25:24
- The beauty of Love is found in FAITHFULNESS. Song of Solomon 7:1-2; 8:6-7; Proverbs 5:18; Ecclesiastes 9:9
And I’m glad to be living this story out with my bride of 18 years now (valentine of 21 years). Thinking about our story, here’s my Valentine’s Day letter to my valentine:
God created you just for me. Light shined from heaven and music started playing in my head the first time I saw you. You were different from anyone I had ever met. As I got to know you, the curiosity and desire to know more about you never dulled. Separation from you scared me because it made me feel incomplete. Our wedding day still seems like the best dream I’ve ever had. My every wish and idea about love has been fulfilled in this relationship. There has never been one day that I have regretted taking you as my wife. My heart still leaps when you walk into the room and my mind remains ever curious about your heart and your thoughts on everything. We’ve faced our share of frustrations with this life, with no doubt more trials and difficulties to come. I look forward to growing old with you and experiencing the beauty of faithfulness. Thank you for being my valentine and my wife. Thank you for putting up with the frustrations caused by me. Thank you for the promise of life long love. Thank you for making faithfulness easy and longed for. Happy 21st Valentine’s day!
Pastor Charles Starnes went home to be with the Lord on December 29th, 2017. He served as Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Slidell for 32 years. During that time the church baptized 485 new believers and added 733 other members to their roles. They also gave over $1.5 million to the Cooperative Program and other missions causes. I remember Bro. Charles as a great encourager of church planters, which included me, after moving to St. Tammany Parish in 2001 to plant a church about 35 minutes from Calvary. Under Bro. Charles’ leadership Calvary was part of planting six new churches, including the first Hispanic SBC Church on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. I’ll never forget what he said at the constitution service of one of those church plants, Thompson Road Baptist Church in West Slidell. He said,
“Everyone always makes a big deal about Calvary planting churches. Thanks for the kind words, but I just thought that planting churches and missions is what every church was supposed to be doing.”
On another occasion he said it like this:
“Everybody makes a big deal about Calvary being part of planting churches. I always say, I didn’t know it was optional.”
Grateful for Bro. Charles and his vision for multiplication and encouragement for church planting everywhere. May his tribe increase.
“through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus”
“those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ”
“There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus”
Galatians 3:26-28 (CSB)
Relationship, so we’re loved and accepted.
Divine Presence, for when we need help that’s beyond ourselves.
Family, so that we’re never alone or abandoned
Thank you Father, for making us sons and daughters, for giving us the promise of your presence, and for making us part of your great family. Let us live that others may know you, feel your presence, and desire to become a part of your great kingdom.
2016 ACP (Annual Church Profile) Reports are in for Louisiana. The Annual Church Profile is collected by State Convention Communication and Information Services Departments and tallied together nationally by Lifeway. Our Information Services Department works hard to gather the data, even from churches that do not turn in the form, by calling them and asking for what data can be gathered over the phone. Most Associations do a good job helping churches see the importance. It is valuable for us to see how we are doing together and for our strategists to have good data as we plan church planting and missions efforts nationally. It also gets our state included in national data collection.
Here are a few highlights that I found interesting from this years ACP Reports:
- 86% or 1,376 Louisiana Baptist Churches reported. So 248 churches did not report.
- Total Worship Attendance for 2016 in Louisiana was 165,228. Which is 3.5% of Louisiana’s total population of 4,670,724.
- Total Resident Membership for 2016 was 357,631. Which is 7.7% of Louisiana’s total population.
- Total Baptisms reported – 10,214. Down almost 900 from the previous year. Baptisms declined in every age group, but most drastically among children and youth.
- Worship Attendance is down 8% since 2012.
- 791 or 57% of Louisiana congregations are <150 in Resident Membership
- 449 or 33% are between 150 and 499 in Resident Membership
- 136 or 10% are over 500 in Resident Membership.
- Out of 1,376 reporting congregations, 498 or 36% reported a decline in attendance from 2015-2016. 331 or 24% showed a decline of 10% or more.
- 551 or 40% reported a decline in Small Group Attendance. 25% had a decline of 10% or more. 656 out of 1,376 or 48% reported a decline over the last 10 years.
- Small Group Attendance is at an all-time low in Louisiana, dropping below 100,000 only the 2nd time in reported history.
- No congregation had showed a decline every year in the last 10 years.
A few takeaways:
- A decline continues to be noted in attendance and membership.
- The decline is not a doomsday 80% of churches, that we hear sometimes. 36% of churches, not 80% declined since last year. And NO CHURCH showed a decline every year in the last 10 years.
- Small Group attendance figures are alarming. Small Group attendance has dropped drastically for Southern Baptist in Louisiana. Part of this is probably due to programming issues. More churches doing two worship services, etc. But knowing how much great face to face discipleship happens in small groups, it grieves me to see these figures dropping so drastically.
- Noted decline among children and youth baptisms continue in Louisiana. In the 1990’s Louisiana Baptist were baptizing 5,000+ children and 4,000+ youth every year. This year only 2,597 children and 1,896 youth baptisms were reported. Prayers for the next generation.
What data point most interest you? What would you like to know from this years ACP data? What are your takeaways? Comments? etc.
The 2017 Generate Conference is a wrap. This years host and showcase church was North Monroe Baptist. Grateful to Pastor Bill Dye and staff for the generosity and hospitality. The Generate Conference is designed to help church planters in years 3 to 10 to get beyond growth barriers and leadership hurdles. Pastors and leaders in churches from >50 to <500 have also attended and took away actionable steps. With the Generate Conference we highlight the work of several Louisiana churches that have found ways to grow and break growth barriers in our unique context. Shawn Lovejoy, with Courage to Lead and Kirk Jones, Fellowship Church in Prairieville, also served as equippers this year, along with North Monroe’s staff. Here’s a few of my big takeaways this year:
From Bill Dye:
- You can’t be a great pastoral leader without having the heart of Jesus.
- Find a way to use new people. They are the best volunteers because they’ve bought in to the vision. Don’t wait to put them on ministry teams.
- Only person who likes change is a wet baby. Don’t attempt any substantial change until you’ve done at least one year of vision casting.
- Be willing to ignore and work around difficult people. Are you trying to win a fight or win the world for Christ.
- Let the quality of your work speak for itself. When you do tough things in a spirit of humility, your stock goes up with the right people.
- We’re not done when we make converts. Our mission is maturity.
- Church staff are not ministers, but administrators of ministry. We don’t pay people to minister. Everybody ministers.
From Shawn Lovejoy:
- The Three Gears of Growth: Culture – Team – Systems
- Growth depends not on your preaching ability but the ability to let go of control and build a great team.
- Decisions must be made based on who we might reach instead of who might leave.
- If you have the right culture and the right team, almost any system will work.
- You have to be the culture you want to build. We reproduce who we are.
- Behaviors of a High Performing Team: They Trust Each Other, They Engage in Healthy Conflict, They Commit to Decisions and Plans of Actions, They Focus on Collective, not Individual Results.
- Four things we owe our leaders: Clarity, Grace, Honesty, and Proper Placement.
- God will not bring you more followers than you have leaders.
- A learning church is a growing church. A learning leader is a growing leader.
- Church staff is to be the equippers, not to do ministry, but to develop ministers.
Other presenters were: Jacob Crawford, Life Point Mansura; Chad Merrell, First West Fairbanks; Jason McGuffie, FBC Tallulah.
Look forward to highlighting other growing churches and leaders in 2018. Lots to learn from those right around us.
I’ve been a part of a couple of growing churches. The fun of it is having a growing number of people to call friends and then a growing number of people to call family. This is essentially a good, simple church growth strategy. Hey, let’s make more friends and let’s stick with them long enough that they become family. Scaling this to grow a church larger and larger requires intentional strategy. Nothing wrong with a small group of friends and small families. But most churches want to grow. Many pastors and most church planters want their churches to be self-sustaining and be around for future generations. So how do we grow friends and family?
1. Design systems to discover and track the number of friends your church has.
A friend is anyone that may be connected with your church or with a member of your church family. Do you know how many friends you have? In the past, we’ve called these prospects. I prefer to think of them as friends. Do you have a list of prospects / friends? Here’s some ways to discover them:
- Have a connection card on Sunday’s that people fill out. All first time guests are added to our Friends list, so that we can pray for them, and stay in touch with them.
- Ask people in your church to make a list of friends that don’t have a church family. List them, pray for them among the leadership, visit them, invite them.
- Have regular events that are just designed to make new friends. Easter Egg Hunts, Fall Festivals, Movie Nights in the park, etc. Let the community know that this is a safe place to know and be known.
- Our church uses a list we call Crowd – Congregation – Core to track where people are spiritually within our family.
2. Cast a vision and provide resources to help people in your church to make new friends.
Tim Keller said, “In the first two centuries, mission work was informal, conversational, and largely through friendship.” I think our world could use a lot of this kind of mission work as well. What if people got a vision for expanding the kingdom through friendship and caring for those around them. Here’s some ways a church may encourage this:
- Teach people the importance of initiating new relationships in the process of evangelism.
- Provide resources for people to celebrate and party well within the community. Like a block party trailer with inflatables, tents, and outdoor sound equipment. Like a big BBQ pit that can be loaned out to families on the weekends for Birthday parties and neighborhood gatherings.
- Have special friend days, designed just for people to invite new friends to church that promises a meaningful message with them in mind.
3. Design systems to lead to deeper family-like connections and commitments.
We become family-like by sticking with each other through difficult times and awkward moments. Having systems in your church that provides meaningful connections for friends going through transitions and crisis – like moving, bringing home a new baby, experiencing loss, etc. helps develop sticky family-like connections. How do we do that?
- Have a small group ministry where people can develop great connections where they can know and be known through good and bad seasons.
- Have a team in your church that looks for opportunities to serve people in transition of some kind. For our church it’s the Family Support Team and the individual small groups. Care and concern make relationships sticky and family-like.
4. Move people to Commit to God’s family by Connecting them with Christ.
Our ultimate goal is not to have family-like relationships. We can do that through other organizations and relationships. We want to move people to become real spiritual family members and we do that through connecting them with the person and work of Christ.
- Share the story of Christ at every gathering.
- Teach people to share their story of connecting with Christ as they build friendship in the community.
- Offer a Family Connections Class or Workshop or New Members Class that teaches people how to become real spiritual family through Christ.
Don’t focus on what you can’t do as a church. Make it simple. Friendship + Family. Every church can make new friends in their community and stick with them long enough to become family.
A couple of years ago I read one of the most challenging and informative books on this subject called The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door. Here’s a few great quotes from the book that should get you thinking about how to live out your faith in your neighborhood:
- “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.” – local small town mayor
- We are often moving too fast to notice that those who are right around us need a good neighbor.
- To love someone, it helps to actually know their name.
- It’s vital to take a step back and ask ourselves if we live at a pace that allows us to be available to those who live around us.
- In this life, we can only do a few things really well; I think it’s a good idea to make certain that one of those things is what Jesus says is most important.
- Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people don’t have.
- If you don’t set your priorities, others will do it for you.
- God is already working in your neighborhood. Being a good neighbor simply means slowing down and being aware of what he is designing.
- Jesus didn’t tell us to become acquaintances with our neighbors; he called us to love them, and that means we need to have an actual relationship with them.
- We don’t love our neighbors to convert them; we love our neighbors because we’re converted.
- If we live out the Great Commandment, an environment is created where the Great Commission can be effectively obeyed.
- Good neighboring – you walk alongside those in need and help them find their way.
- Behind every door is a story.
- What would happen if every Christ-follower made it a point to know and befriend their literal neighbors?
- Do I live at a pace that allows me to be available to those around me? And if not, are all of those things I’m doing more important than taking the Great Commandment literally?
- What are the activities you most enjoy doing, and how might they become tools for building relationships with your neighbors?
- Which of your neighbors do you feel God calling you to spend more time with?
Find some great resources that go with the book at ArtofNeighboring.com.
What do my REACTIONS say about me? and about what’s in my heart? A lot! I love C.S. Lewis’ notes on our reactions being like rats in the cellar.
what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is… what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth. If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding.
what we are matters even more that what we do… what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are.
C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity
My reactions to insults, interruptions, corrections, questions from people I have hidden angst against. My snapping at my spouse or kids or coworkers. These reveal what’s really in my heart. I can excuse it, call it an exception, blame it on my ancestors, but ultimately its pointing to something that’s amiss in my life. Christ’s work in our hearts produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These do not always automatically appear in our lives. They’re born out of being convicted of our sin and going to God for help.
Ask: What are my reactions saying about what I am? Ask Jesus, to reveal and replace for his glory.
Lewis finished this thought with a reminder of our need for God:
the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary effort cannot bring about… After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.
Three new church plants added this month in Louisiana. That brings us to 18 for the year & 142 since 2010.
Pray for these Church Plants & Planters:
>> Connect Church Northshore, in Covington. Planter Matthew C. Smith. Sponsor: New Zion Baptist in Covington. Association: Northshore Baptist Associations. In just a few months, Matt has gathered 20+ & already had one new commitment to Christ!
>> Lakeshore Church, New Orleans. Planter George Ross. Sponsor: Canal Street Mosaic. Association: New Orleans Baptist Association. This will be the 19th replanting project in our current slate of church plants. Replanting of Pontchartrain Baptist, which is in a historic spot just north of where the 17th Street Canal breached & flooded New Orleans in 2005. Brings us to 8 plants in New Orleans this year, topping last years high of 7.
>> Seeds of Faith Baptist Church, Lake Charles. Planter Felix Harris. Sponsor: Emmanuel Baptist, Lake Charles. Association: Carey Association. Felix & his wife lead the Lake Charles Charter Schools. He is a former Florida State Seminole Running Back. Scored his first TD against our LSU Tigers. All is forgiven. Look fwd to how God will use Felix in Lake Charles. This is our 7th African-American plant of 2016. 32nd since 2014.
We’ve got at least SEVEN starting next month! Yea! Need 12 more to reach our goal of 30 for the year.
Thankful for the generosity of Louisiana Baptist churches in giving to the Cooperative Program, Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering, & Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions which allows us to provide some resources for great church planting projects like these. Let me know if you know an area in need or are considering a multiplication project. You can email me at email@example.com or check in on one of our upcoming networking opportunities:
- Summer Church Planting Network Luncheons.
- Multiply Louisiana Conference at New Orleans Seminary, August 29-30.
- Greenhouse: Basic Training for Church Multiplication, Acadia Baptist Center, September 15-16.