Blog Archives

Reaching out to Bees and Moths

Bee attracted to sweet nectar

Sweet nectar attracts bees, and people too!

Bees are attracted to sweet nectar, and moths are attracted to light. People are attracted to other people who love them, who are kind to them, who truly accept them for who they are. People who shine the grace filled the light of Christ into their lives.

It is sad to me that I still see an exclusive, sectarian, judgmental, even superior attitude in many Christians and churches. Why is this? Do we as Followers of Christ have it all together? Are we above reproach at all times? I know I’m not, and it seems to me that if we choose to believe that of ourselves, and let others believe that about us, then we are no better than the “Pharisees and Teachers of the Law” of Jesus’ day.

Jesus said, “Come to me.” He didn’t say get it all together, dress a certain way, clean up your language, be a teetotaler, etc., and then come to me. He said come to me and let my love heal you, restore you. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

This whole train of thought came about when I recently read the below article by Jud Wilhite.

Neither Do I Condemn You
By Jud Wilhite

I talked to a guy recently who was really lamenting that fact that more pastors aren’t preaching hellfire, brimstone and condemnation. He felt like the problem with Christianity is that everybody just believes God loves you.
Really? As I talk with people in Las Vegas who are not Christians, as well as many who are, I find lots of people who already believe God hates them or at best tolerates them. Like the guy with the tattoo that said, “God hates us all.” To me this isn’t news, it is assumed.
The good news is that God loved us so much he sent his son to die in our place and take the punishment for sin. This is the greatest picture of love and it implies that yes… God loves us!
It’s like one of my favorite stories in John 8 where we read about a woman whose encounter with Jesus teaches us about guilt, grace, and forgiveness. She was dragged before Jesus by religious leaders who angrily throw her in front of him. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:4-5)
Stone faces and stones in their hands. The woman must have been so terrified and embarrassed. In moments, she was exposed and hurled onto death row. From secret delight to public humiliation. The accusation – guilty of adultery – punishable by death.
This whole scene is fishy to begin with, though. How does one happen to catch someone in the act of adultery? And it takes two to tango – so where is this man? He is equally guilty. Maybe he was paid off to set her up or he could have been friends with these religious leaders. One thing is for sure – the religious leaders were using this question as a trap so they could have a basis for accusing Jesus (John 8:6). Rather than offering the woman help, they set her up. She had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and her guilt was real.
At first, Jesus did not respond to the religious leaders’ accusations. He bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. This is the only record of Jesus writing. People have speculated that he wrote the sins of the religious leaders gathered around. Some say he wrote Scripture. Maybe he just doodled!
As he knelt, the leaders kept questioning him; they planned to snare Jesus in a catch-22. If he sentenced the woman to death, the Roman government would intervene. They alone determined an execution. If Jesus condoned a stoning, he might lose popularity. The crowd had followed him and had been attracted to his compassion. But if he told the leaders to let her go, they would accuse him of violating an Old Testament law.
They thought they had him cornered. But Jesus rose and spoke one of the most profound statements of Scripture: “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Then he knelt down and continued writing.
What followed? Silence. A few awkward moments of anger turning to introspection. The rocks fell to the ground one at a time. By moving the focus off of the woman, Jesus had forced them to see their own guilt. He wasn’t concerned about the woman’s innocence, but rather that she was treated fairly. If she was to be judged, the witnesses were to come forth and be just and impartial (Deuteronomy 19:15-19). And the religious leaders were neither of those things. Jesus was not trying to throw out the process of law and legal procedure, but rather exposing the trial as a sham!
Once everyone had left and Jesus was alone with the woman, he asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replies with, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus declared… “Then neither do I condemn you” (John 8:10-11).
Beautiful words from the lips of a Savior. He came not to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). He showed her pure, unmerited, undeserved grace. We are quick to judge, but what accusations could be leveled at us? This story gives us caution. Too often Christians, and churches, shoot their wounded. When people fail, they need to be restored with a heart of compassion. It’s too easy to judge people who don’t have our particular sin struggle.
It’s time to show grace. The same grace Christ offers us, despite all of our short-comings. The grace he offers everyone.

Looking at the idea of Grace verses Judgement from a church growth point of view, if bees are attracted to sweet nectar, and moths are attracted to light, is your church, are you, projecting sweetness and light in a way that says, “ I’m still on this journey too; lets walk together”? Because remember, Church growth is not about numbers, but it’s about seeking and saving the lost.

Until next Time:

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28 – 30

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The Healthy Church and Church Growth

helalthy church growth

A Healthy Church leads to a Growing a Church

Recently our Executive Pastor, Jared Dunn, sent this great email out to the entire staff. Jared has been with us just seven months and we are already seeing great things happen. His insights below on the importance of a healthy church are fantastic and oh so true.

Becoming a HEALTHY Church

Pursuing church health allows us to focus on the legitimate desire to see our church flourish without some of the impure motivations that might trip us up. As we pursue church health, we’ll most likely experience church growth as a by product. This paradigm shift places the priority on keeping our church healthy and trusting God to do the rest. Church health falls easily within our stewardship roles as church leaders. Church growth is God’s department and the attendance of the church will ultimately grow or decline in accordance with His will. Most would agree this makes intuitive sense and yet how many of us live each day as if both health and growth were up to us?
It can be very freeing to focus on what God has called us to do and let Him bring the people.

Keys to Lasting Health and Vitality:

If you’re looking for church growth principles, here’s one: church growth begins with church health, not the other way around. We see in nature that healthy things grow. It’s that simple! This is by no means a new concept, but it’s still true.

But how do you know if you’re a healthy church? What can you use as a measuring stick? Based on extensive field testing and research with thousands of churches and individuals, we’ve compiled these church health categories and use them regularly in helping churches measure and monitor their own church health:

› God’s Empowering Presence
› God-Exalting Worship
› Spiritual Disciplines
› Learning and Growing in Community
› A Commitment to Loving and Caring Relationships › Servant-Leadership Development › An Outward Focus › Wise Administration and Accountability › Networking with the Body of Christ › Stewardship and Generosity

I encourage you to lean toward the following attributes in pursuit of lasting health and vitality:

› Stay Humble.
Humble people listen, humble churches listen. They are open to what God has to say to them and what other people have to say to them. The day we stop listening is the day pride begins to eat away at the framework of our ministry. The key to lasting health and vitality is to stay humble and grounded.

› Be Teachable.
A life-long learner who is submitted to the will of God has nearly limitless potential. Are you open to learning new things? Do you acknowledge your mistakes or cast blame on others? Are you willing to defer to others who have specialized expertise?

› Exude Gratitude.
Stop regularly to count your blessings. Express gratitude to God for all He has done and continues to do in the life of your church. Regularly show appreciation to those around you who are faithfully serving. People rarely complain of being excessively appreciated.

› Remain Open.
Open hands. Open hearts. Open minds. Open people are pliable in God’s hands. Are you open to feedback and change? Do you let people see your humanity and imperfections or do you lead from behind a rigid, got-it-all-together exterior? Are you open to other people’s ideas or do all the good ideas have to originate with you?

In closing, I am absolutely committed to partnering with you to make South Hills a place that is absolutely healthy, a place where we all can flourish in our gifts and calling, and grow into all that God has for us. I believe in you and thank God for the privilege to serve you!

Much love, respect, and blessings,

Jared Dunn

Until next Time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“A healthy church is a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his Word.” – Mark Denver

The Importance of Children’s Ministry

importance of children

Place a high value on the children in your church

Here at South Hills Church kids are a very big deal. If fact we are determined to make our church “The premier place for Families” and the first step is to fully embrace the children in our community. To that end, recently we needed to hire a new children’s pastor, and so we scoured the country to find the very best we could get. We found that person in Justyn Smith.  Justyn has recently been named one of “Children’s Ministry Magazine’s” Top 20 to Watch, and with his help, we are looking forward to taking our “Kidmin” to a whole new level. Here are some thoughts from Pastor Justyn on the importance of Children’s ministry.

How Important is Children’s ministry?

How important is children’s ministry? How about if you don’t reach people with the gospel by the time someone turns the age of 12 there is only a 20% chance that person will ever become a Christ follower. Yet, only 13% of senior pastors list “ministry to children” among their church’s top three priorities.

Children’s ministry is one of the most important ministries in the church. It’s important because they are our kids. They are the leaders and movement shakers of tomorrow. Children’s ministry cannot be just a babysitting service. Children’s ministry should have the church’s best and brightest teachers and leaders. We all want the best for our children, yet we grow complacent with accepting anyone with a pulse to teach our kids. It’s not a time to become self-indulgent. We have been commissioned and entrusted by God to train of the next generation.

Children’s ministry is an equipping ground; it’s a time where kids should get together to celebrate God and reinforce the teachings of Christ that they should be receiving at home. If they’re not receiving godly teaching at home, then it’s a place of hope and love where we should be reaching out and become a Christ-like figure for those kids.

The healthy, growing churches of today all have at least this one thing in common—great children’s ministries. They have invested in the next generation. They have poured resources, money and time into creating a culture where kids—our future—are valued and celebrated. These church’s understand that children’s ministry is vital to the continuation of the mission God has placed inside of them. They have chosen to look beyond themselves and today and instead look outward and what lies ahead tomorrow.

For some larger church’s who have the ability to pour major money into their children’s ministry atmospheres have seen up to a 150% increase in church attendance. That means thousands more people—not just kids—are coming to church to hear about Jesus and grow deeper in their relationship with Him.

We are already seeing exciting changes in the couple of months since Justyn has joined us. In addition to the great things Justyn is doing on our church campus, he is also helping us to put Celera Kidmin in place.

Celera Kidmin was created to equip and empower children’s leaders by sharing resources for the kingdom. We are very excited that Celera Kidmin coaches are some of the greatest leaders and innovators in children’s ministry today, and those that are part of a Celera Coaching group will have access to their knowledge and direction on a monthly basis.

In addition to the monthly coaching Celera Kidmin members will receive:

One-on-one coaching
During the course of the twelve month pastors’ coaching series each participant will receive two one-on-one coaching sessions with Pastor Justyn Smith.

Annual Roundtable Discussion
Once a year you will have the opportunity to come together in a live setting with your and other network groups and one or two of the Celera Kidmin coaches for a full day of discussion and connection.

Free and discounted resources
Over the course of a twelve month subscription each participant will receive a variety of free resources from the Celera Kidmin coaches.

I strongly encourage you that if Children’s ministry is not yet a priority in your church to do so. It is our great desire to reach kids for Christ and to help Kidmin leaders better meet the need of the kids in their communities. If you would like more information on how we can help you please contact us at info@celeragroup.org. Or call us at 951-734-4833.

Until next time.,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6

Equipping the Smaller Church for Growth

equip small church

Helping to Equip Small Churches

Here at Celera it is our goal to “Raise the national average of church attendance.” We do this by equipping and resourcing pastors and churches around the country and now extending globally. Dan Reiland is one of our Celera coaches and is also the Executive Pastor at 12 Stone Church in Georgia.  Dan recently wrote the below article regarding equipping churches to grow and more effectively function as a church in reaching people for Christ. He lays out great instructions, that if followed your church will grow.

“Equipping in the Smaller Church”
by Dan Reiland

“Preach and visit.” Does that sound familiar to you? That’s not only the framework of ministry in thousands of smaller churches, it is the expectation. Teaching the Word of God and shepherding the congregation is obviously a good thing. How that gets done is another thing entirely.

In many smaller church settings the pastors come and go every few years and the board and key leaders “run” the church. There is an obvious expectation for the pastor to teach on Sunday morning, visit the sick and provide pastoral care for the members. I’ve actually seen this in job descriptions, including “the board will take care of the direction and business of the church.”

I’m not writing with an edge. My reference to good volunteer leaders who love their pastor(s) and are fully dedicated to their church. They love God and work hard in their church. These are good churches, doing good things, but they remain small. Even that isn’t bad or wrong by itself, but if we are honest about it, God does intend for churches to grow.

One of the primary ways to help a church grow is to equip (train) the people to serve in the church and release the pastor to get other things done, including partnering with the board in the real “running” (leadership) of the church. This process increases the “muscle” of the church, making the church stronger and increasing its capacity to reach more people. The picture is simple. One person can pick up 50 pounds, one hundred people can pick up 5,000 pounds.

Change your thinking

Your church is on the right track if more than just the faithful few begin to serve. But here’s the big test. If you hear people say “I’m helping Pastor with his ministry” (or statements like that), the congregation doesn’t yet have the right idea and equipping will never find it’s true place in your church.

Ephesians 4:11-13 makes it clear that the Pastor is the one to help the people accomplish their work in ministry! “11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

As the pastor, your job is to build up the people and train them for meaningful ministry. It’s not about getting people to “get stuff done”. The big idea is about building up the body of Christ and developing spiritual maturity. When you, the staff, and key leaders believe this biblical principle, it can then be taught to the congregation. And more than taught, it needs to become part of the DNA of your church, meaning literally, part of who you are.

Change your approach

Don’t be the hero, be the coach. As you saw in Ephesians 4, the pastor functions more like the coach who is responsible to train his team to win, rather than being the star of the team. It’s very tempting to listen to the people tell you how good your sermon was, and tell you that they don’t know what they would have done without your presence in the last crisis they experienced. If that sounds like your experience, I’m glad you love your people, but your ministry will grow exponentially if you stop trying to do everything, and train others to serve.

Don’t ask the people to help, instead, invite them to participate in what God has planned for them. If, for example, you print in the bulletin that you are desperate for helpers in the nursery, the congregation will experience that in a negative way. (You don’t have to use the word desperate for the people to feel it that way.) Some churches force people to “work” in the nursery, if they want to use the nursery. I have a better suggestion. Invite people to participate in the big vision that God has in mind through the personal expression He has planned for each person. Ephesians 2:8-10 makes it clear. “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

When you invite people to ministry, invite big. If you see people through the eyes of God you will see more potential, believe in them and empower them for greater responsibility. It’s usually wise to give a little responsibility at a time, but don’t hold back if someone is doing well. Make the people the hero’s. Brag on them from the platform on Sundays. Tell stories of how lives are being changed because the people are rising up and serving!

Change your practice

Start with the big picture in mind. Work yourself out of a job. That’s not literal, but almost. Working yourself out of a job doesn’t mean that you surrender overall spiritual leadership, communication on Sunday mornings, responsibility for raising money in the church (stewardship), and responsibility as primary evangelist. But there are dozens of other things you can give away, and should!

You can do some of this by one on one coaching. Take people with you when you do ministry and show them how. From printing the bulletin to visiting people in the hospital, they can do it! Candidly, there is very little the people in your church can’t do. It starts with you seeing them differently. They may not all be “10” leaders. Start with what you have. This is what God has given you. Grow them up and train them! You might be surprised how well the people you have can serve and lead!

You can also do this in groups. (large and small) Help people in your congregation discover their spiritual gifts. There are many spiritual gifts tests available today. I’ve written one that you can get from injoy.com. Pick one that you like and get it in the hands of your people. Let your congregation know the opportunities available. Don’t “beg” for someone to assume the student ministry. Cast vision for someone to make a difference in the next generation! If you need several ushers, let them know how vital this role is to the preparation of a moment that God will speak to the people during a Sunday service. You get the idea!

Let people experiment with different ministries. If they know they are not locked-in for life, they are more apt to try more options and find the one they truly love. Make sure they get the training they need, encourage them much and thank them often for all they do.

This process doesn’t take place overnight, especially if your congregation 20 years old or more. It requires an intentional approach that might take you a good 12-18 months before you begin to see real change in the congregation. So, don’t look for quick and easy results. One sermon won’t do it. Stay in the game. Get the key leaders on board with you and begin the incredible ride of multiplying your leadership by equipping the church to serve.

Until Next Time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson

Things I learned in Ghana

Churches in Ghana

Inspiration from Ghana

Last week I returned from a week long whirlwind trip to Africa. I had the opportunity to go to Ghana, Africa with a group called Meaningful Life International. A few months back the group approached me to speak at a conference for Pastors and Missionaries from across Africa. So on August 25th I left the comforts of America to journey to Ghana and joined Pastor Godwin Ahlijah where I spoke sixteen times over 7 days. I even had the chance to give a 30 minute message on a radio station that has over 5 million listeners. The trip was an exhausting, exciting privilege.

At the conference I was surrounded by courageous, intelligent men and women passionately serving Christ. They were eager to soak up any information I could give them. No matter the topic from leadership to time management, and from church growth to personal growth, they listened intently to everything I had to offer. It was humbling to have been given this opportunity, and I was reminded of how blessed I am to live where I do with such tremendous resources at my finger tips.

Also while in Ghana I had the opportunity to visit Cape Coast Castle, one of the Slave Castles along Ghana’s coast.  Ghana was a primary source used by the English to capture slaves. After trading for the slaves from the local chiefs the Europeans used the castles as a holding place before shipping them around the world.  As I went through the castle it was a somber awakening of how bad the African slave trade really was.  I encourage you to visit the website.  Being there reminded me of the scripture in Jeremiah 17:9 that says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Although we likely can’t see ourselves doing something as bad as torturing, raping, murdering, and enslaving another human being, we still do things or think things that are “desperately wicked.”  I encourage you to take a moment and examine your heart. I know I have these past few days.

Another interesting and unexpected thing that occurred while I was in Ghana was the potential expansion of Celera Group into Ghana. I shared with the leaders there that Celera was created to “raise the national average of church attendance” in America. They were very interested in the program and would like to start a network group in Ghana. (I guess now we will need to change the Celera creed to “raising the international average of church attendance!”) I believe that God is opening an amazing door for us to be a greater assistance to the pastors in Ghana, and to help them to grow personally and to reach their country for Christ.

One final thought… It was a big challenge to me how the Ghanaians wanted to grow and how so often we in America take the opportunity to grow for granted. They really challenged me and I want to challenge you to become even a stronger student of leadership.  Read, Listen, attend events…take every opportunity to grow.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Risking to outreach

community outreach

South Hills Church 2nd Annual Food Drive

This past Saturday we hosted our second annual food drive/day of outreach. Don’t let the name fool you. Community outreach is something we feel very passionately about here at South Hills. This is just one special day where we stretch ourselves to further reach out to our community.

On that one day the South Hills family fed 409 families that represented 2,300 people.  On that day we also provided clothing, haircuts and connected people to free job skills classes from Smooth Transition. Many families said “thank you so much, we have no food in our home.”  And “Thank you so much, this is a months’ worth of food for our family.”

Also the staff and volunteers had blast!  Here is what one volunteer said:

“My time spent serving the community was one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life.  Several times throughout the day I felt the Lords presence and Him overwhelming me with total joy.  I caught myself having to stop several times so that I could gather my emotions.  God is awesome!”

It was a fantastic day!

So why did we do this?  Because we have made a commitment to “Raise Your Risk for the Disadvantaged” We want to be the flesh of Christ to literally touch people with His love.

Why am I telling you this? To toot our own horn? Well maybe a little. I am very proud of all of our staff, volunteers, and contributors who made this day happen. They worked well and gave big. But equal to that, I want to encourage you to reach out to those in your community who need a loving hand up.

I want to encourage you to be a church that demonstrates a gigantic, God-sized faith. Jesus said, if you love me, you’ll do what I ask. So what did he ask us to do? Seek & save the lost. Serve “the least of these.” Go and make disciples, baptize them. Go farther than your church, farther than your own town, help the church in the next county or another state or even on the other side of the world. These are the radical ideas of our RISK Project.

We raise our risk level when we’re willing to get our hands dirty to meet the needs of the needy. We raise our risk level when we decide to cross the line to have a conversation with a friend to bring them to Christ. We raise our risk level when we say I’ll sacrifice to give more dollars to help other churches grow, to leverage our resources for maximum impact. When you demonstrate a radical risk of faith, incredible things will happen.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTES OF THE DAY

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Wiling is not enough, we must do.”
– TJohann Wolfgang Von Goethe

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”     – 1 Peter 4: 10-11

Loving and Leading the youth of the “Next Generation”

happy teens

Reach out to the youth in your community and encourage them to Thrive


On the Weekend of July 3rd and 4th South Hills Church vibrated with a new energy, an energy and vitality that comes from youth who are on fire and passionately following Christ. For it was on that weekend that “Remnant Youth” took over all of South Hills services. Beginning in our Saturday night service and carrying through all of our Sunday mourning services, the youth and youth staff took over or assisted in every aspect our services.  From ushering, to leading worship, to announcements they were there, and not just physically but in a very real, connected, vibrant way. Finally, our fabulous Youth Pastor Chris Harrell (affectionately known as PCH) gave the message. It was an amazing weekend!

So now you may be asking, why? Why would we trust our weekend services to a bunch of kids and a youth pastor? There are several reasons.  First of all we take reaching out to the youth in our church and our community very seriously, and the reason for this is…

  • Research from Barna states “That young adults between 17 and 35 make up approximately 35% of our population nationally, but within our churches, most are lucky if they average 10%.

Secondly, teens and young adults are passionate and want to share that passion. Under the right leadership that passion can be directed to do amazing things. Here at South Hills we have made having the right leadership a very high priority and now have an amazing team of staff and volunteers to love on and guide these kids. Their passion in our services is contagious, with their uninhibited praise of the God they love. Also, most often youth thrive when given responsibility. When they are trusted with something big and given the right tools and guidance to complete the task, I have seen truly great things happen.  This 4th of July weekend was no exception.

I asked Pastor Chris Harrell to sum up the why and how of Remnant Youth, and the following is what he had to say…

Remnant: A group that remains after the majority no longer exists.

At South Hills, our youth or Next Generation ministry (this includes Jr. High through the 20 something crowd) is called Remnant. We, as Remnant, desire to be what is left from what Jesus originally asked of His followers. Most of what is thought of Christianity or ‘church people’ isn’t really biblically accurate. We want to redefine what our culture believes about Jesus and His Church… and by church, we do not mean the building, but the people who enter the doors. At Remnant we call our ‘services’, gatherings, because it’s a ‘church’ that is gathering rather than a ‘service’ they are getting. At South Hills, our leadership believes in raising up the Next Generation and actually gave us COMPLETE freedom over an entire set of weekend services. I can NOT bold, underline or italicize how much of an impact this had on our young people. They KNOW they are believed in, supported and encouraged to be all God has them to be.

It is our goal at Remnant that we will be known for our love above all else and we will celebrate everyone because everyone matters!

We believe Jesus meant it when he said to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and “They will know you are my disciples when you love one another” (John 13:35)

For too long the message of love and grace has not been found amongst Christians, but instead the opposite was to be expected… hate and condemnation. We have made this our priority; to love without judging, no strings attached. Our generation (teens, tweens and 20s) is seeking truth, seeking transparency, seeking that which is genuine. And so we are transparent, we offer truth, and strive to be genuine.

We have found that when you offer unconditional belonging to a generation who is used to circumstantial love, that walls will fall, voices will be heard and hearts will be opened. This is where the church must invite people, including the youth, to come to and then be ready to journey with those who come.

I’d love to tell you all the stories. I’d tell you about girls who were Atheist and now believe in Christ, and are learning how to walk their mom through her fight with breast cancer. I’d tell you of the cutters who have given us erasers and blades as a surrender to the healing power of Christ. All would say they thought church was so outdated, irrelevant, or just not for them. But love is for everybody. So at Remnant, they realize that the church is for them, and they are for the church. Countless students who wanted nothing to do with God or church, have again found themselves surrounded by a love they could not explain… and months later have discovered what it means to be a part of a family. Students have walked away from addictions, girls have found their identity as daughters of God, relationships have been healed, and young men have learned who they are in Christ instead of how cool or popular they are at school. It’s not a perfect group of people…quite the opposite. That’s how we know that it’s healthy….alive…moving….and changing lives.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12


“Make a Difference in the Next Generation!”

children's ministry

Making children a priority is vital to every church

What comes to your mind when you think of growing your church? When you are visualizing reaching your community for Christ, who are you picturing? I think it would be probable to say that no matter what your vision of church growth may be, the people most of you are picturing reaching out to,the people you are envisioning filling the seats of your church are adults.

I recently read this article by Greg Baird (one of our new Celera Kidmin coaches) who was a guest writer for the Pastor’s Coach. In his article, Greg shows us the importance of a strong, impactful children’s ministry both for those who already attend your church and for those you are reaching out to in your community.  I challenge you to read the article, and then take a good, honest look at your children’s ministry.

“Make a Difference in the Next Generation!”


“What do you want to do when you get out of college?” is the question I was often asked. “I want to be in full-time ministry” was my standard response. Of course, that always led to the next question, “What area of ministry?” And my usual response? “I’m not sure, I just know it won’t be with kids!” God has a sense of humor.

I grew up immersed in ministry. My parents led Junior High groups and discipled college students in Japan (Dad was in the Navy). Then, after he retired and graduated with Bible and Counseling degrees, they moved our family to the mission field to plant a church. I saw many aspects of ministry, and decided early on it was for me – I just wasn’t sure in what area. But I knew I wanted to be a leader who made a difference. Just knew I wasn’t interested in working with kids. As a 16 year old I taught a first and second-grade Sunday School class on the field in Australia. Nope, didn’t want anything to do with kids after that!

After college, things changed. A friend invited me to work at a kids’ camp. That’s where I found my calling. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but over the few months I was there God’s voice was clear: “I want you to reach my children, and I want you to do it by equipping others.” That was it. That was how I was going to make a difference in people’s lives.

What God impressed on me during my time at that kids’ camp is the value of children in His eyes. Jesus tangibly modeled this with the familiar story found in Mark 10:13-16. He rebuked the disciples for their lack of value of children and then tells them that the faith of a child is exactly the kind of faith we need to have! With that, Jesus does more than He was asked to do – He not only touches them to bless them, but He takes them up in His arms and fervently prays over them. They were of great value to Him, and He greatly loved them.

Children are no different today. Innocent and vulnerable, yet fully capable of a very real faith, they represent the single greatest mission field in the world. Children are, by far, the most responsive to evangelistic efforts. Some studies indicate that as many as 85% of those who accept Christ as their Savior will do so between the ages of 4 and 14.

Since that time at the kids’ camp, as I have pursued my calling and sought to equip others to reach kids, I have discovered much more about the world of children in the church. Children’s Ministry is a complex and challenging ministry, encompassing the greatest developmental range of any ministry age group. It represents the area of highest risk – be it for physical injury or unlawful conduct by adults. It presents the greatest communication challenges — as adults try to communicate the love of Jesus and Biblical truth in age appropriate and engaging ways. And children’s ministry represents the rewarding but never-ending challenge of recruiting, training, and retaining large numbers of volunteers!

Yet as I work with churches across the country, I too often find that Children’s Ministry is viewed as childcare. The prevailing, yet often unspoken, sentiment is “keep the children busy while the real ministry (to adults) is happening.” The unrecognized attitude is nothing less than that of the disciples. I often wonder what Jesus would think of how churches approach ministry to children.

Recently I was consulting with a Senior Pastor and we engaged in a very candid discussion about the value of Children’s Ministry. He was wrestling with how his church ought to approach it, and shared how very few churches within their denomination, and even within their region, gave children the kind of value that I was urging him to consider. I told him that perhaps he ought to be the one to set the example for not only his own church, but other churches within the denomination and region. With some hesitancy in his eyes, he asked me what that might look like. I think he thought I was suggesting he take his turn teaching in the three year old class!

I assured this Pastor that I was not suggesting he teach the three year old class, nor was I suggesting that Children’s Ministry take over the church. Instead, I recommended three ways that he and the church could give appropriate value to children:

1. Cast vision to match the incredible potential of spiritual formation within Children’s Ministry.

The potential that resides in children as the most spiritually receptive members of the body, mandates reaching them for Christ as early as possible and equipping parents to disciple them at home.

  • Talk about the vision of reaching children for Christ at every opportunity
  • Train parents and volunteers to lead children to Christ
  • Offer training for parents on how to effectively disciple their children (on-going, in-house training, or seminars open to the whole community)
  • Provide materials for parents to use in discipling their children (take-home “talksheets” provided with curriculum, family devotionals, etc.)

2. Invest appropriate time and attention to match the vision.

Ensure the Children’s Ministry staff and volunteer leaders are adequately equipped and trained.

  • Assist core Children’s Ministry leaders (paid or unpaid) in creating and following a leadership development plan and facilitate their participation in leadership training (conferences, coaching, etc.)
  • Design a Children’s Ministry training schedule for volunteers

Provide time in adult venues to cast vision and share ministry opportunities.

  • Have an annual “Kid’s Day” in the main service to cast vision and recruit leaders
  • Create opportunities for kids to serve in the main service, or participate on a regular basis

Encourage volunteers, knowing that encouragement from senior leadership of the church is priceless to the heart of those serving.

  • Put a note of thanks in the bulletin, say something from the pulpit, or write 3 cards to volunteers each week
  • Walk through the children’s area once a month to say thanks to volunteers

3. Resource your Children’s Ministry for success.

By its very nature, Children’s Ministry requires greater resources than most other ministries.

  • A minimum annual budget of $75 per child (avg. weekly attendance) is an acceptable guideline

Understand staffing needs and hire/recruit appropriately.

  • One full-time (or equivalent part-time) paid staff per 150-175 children is a minimum acceptable guideline
  • Maximum adult/child ratios should be: infants = 1 to 3; preschool = 1 to 7; elementary = 1 to 12)

In short, resource Children’s Ministry with equal value to other ministries within the church.

Children did not dominate the ministry of Jesus – most of His time was spent with adults – yet He recognized their value and gave appropriate time and energy to them. How would you evaluate your children’s ministry in light of the thoughts in this article?

As church leaders we balance many priorities. Like Jesus, we have many demands for our time and attention. It’s easy to overlook areas that are not our strength or passion, and too often that area is Children’s Ministry. But like Jesus, a little interest can speak volumes.

I encourage you to value your Children’s Ministry for the spiritually ripe field that it is. Articulate vision, invest appropriate time and attention, and provide resources they need. A little interest will go a long way, and the impact on the lives of children, families, leaders and the church as a whole will be felt for generations to come.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow black, (brown), white. All are precious in His sight. Jesus love the children of the world.

C.Herbert Woolston (1856-1927)

To Seek and Save the Lost

Merlin

Embrace the "Merlins" God sends your way

God has called us to seek and save the lost. He did not tell us to seek and save those whom you connect with, those whom you are alike, those who are “normal”. He said “the lost”. Will the lost sometime be those whom you connect with, you are alike and are normal? Absolutely! But sometime the lost will be the racially different, the dirty, smelly homeless, the openly gay, or the just plain weird. We do not have the luxury of being selective. Evangelism cannot be selective. We need to open our arms and hearts wide. We need to cast out a bigger net. As fishers of men we need to embrace every soul that God places in our boat. Below is a compelling article by Pastor Clark Cothern that was originally published in Christianity Today. It really makes you stop and think, “who have I tuned off to the gospel because of my cold shoulder?”

Church Shows Love to New Age Visitor

Pastor Clark Cothern tells this story to illustrate how God speaks to us through his Word:
A self-appointed New Age guru glided into our church wearing an outfit that rivaled Merlin the Magician’s best duds. It was 10:55 a.m. and I was changing for a baptism, when a couple of deacons popped their heads in and said, “Pastor, I think we have a situation.”

After explaining who had just entered the sanctuary, they asked, “What do you want us to do?” Underneath their question was this subtext, “Do you want us to throw him out?”

Perfect love casts out fear. That was my first thought.

“Well,” I said while buttoning my robe, “we should demonstrate that we love him and that he’s welcome here.” The second thought that came to mind: For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

“Tell you what,” I said, grabbing a towel. “If he’s here seeking truth, let’s let him listen. God’s Word will be proclaimed, and God’s truth will be revealed. If he’s here to make trouble, we’ll know it soon enough. If that’s the case, I’ll warn him once not to disrupt the service, and I’ll politely ask him to stay afterward so we can get to know him better. If he persists in making trouble, then we’ll follow through on our promise to politely remove him. And if that happens, one of you should call the police—just in case.”

The moment I stepped into the baptistery, I looked out and saw that man and began a silent prayer for him to know that he was loved. God’s perfect love was casting out fear—in the messenger.

I found out after the service that one of our elderly members, a gentle fellow named Elmer, had seen the Merlin look-alike walking in and had whispered to his wife, “Oh, good! It looks like we’re going to have a skit today.” He and all the others in the church had smiled graciously and warmly welcomed our guest, Merlin costume and all. That morning our congregation loved that uniquely clad man. He stayed. He listened. He didn’t cause trouble. He heard the gospel. And he even stayed after to discuss the gospel with several of us for nearly an hour.

Those thoughts that rushed into the brain back in the changing room? That was God talking.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

What Does the Bible Say About Outreach?

reaching out

Reach out to your community

Here is another great article by Brian Tubbs as to why, as the church, our focus should be on growth. Growth is an indicator that we are making an impact and reaching people for Christ. This apples to both individual churches as well the entire church as a whole.

What Does the Bible Say About Outreach?

Biblical Passages for Church Growth

Many pastors and church leaders have a tough time persuading their congregations to pursue church growth. This is especially the case with established congregations, who have become comfortable in their size, culture, and traditions.

There are, however, no small churches in the Bible commended for remaining small. In fact, those churches most committed to the Christian faith were growing churches. In light of this biblical truth, how can pastors and church leaders persuade congregations to embrace and work toward church growth?

The Great Commission

Anytime one considers the subject of church growth, it’s important to start with the commissioning of the church. What does Jesus teach about church growth?

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20, KJV).

Jesus’ Great Commission to the disciples (and, by extension, his entire church) is a three-step process:

1.Evangelism – Teaching all “nations” (or people groups, nationalities, races, etc.) about the “Gospel” (or “good news”) of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection.
2.Baptism – The first step of obedience for those who have received Christ, and the act that publicly confirms them as members of a Christian congregation.
3.Discipleship – The process of teaching Jesus’ new followers doctrine and Christlike living (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 2:19-20).

Though the “church” of Jesus is universal in scope, it is locally organized, and each congregation is to commit itself to this three-fold task.

What Does Jesus Teach About Church Growth?

The scope and strategy of Jesus’ Great Commission is captured in the first chapter of the book of Acts, when he tells his disciples to begin in Jerusalem, expand outward to all of Judea, then to Samaria, and the “uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Evangelism is to be comprehensive, all-fronts push outward. The kingdom of God is to be advanced city by city, nation by nation, throughout the entire world.

Prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus modeled the passion and commitment to which he calls his followers. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is seen talking with sinners, tending to the sick and disadvantaged, and preaching to great crowds. He is unswervingly committed to reaching people and changing hearts.

Theologian Millard Erickson carefully examines Jesus’ ministry and his Great Commission, and says the “call to evangelize is a command” and that “if the church is to be faithful to its Lord and bring joy to his heart, it must be engaged in bringing the gospel to all people.” (Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology, 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998).

Scholar Wayne Grudem says the “evangelistic work of declaring the gospel is the primary ministry that the church has toward the world.” (Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

Growth of the Early Christian Church

While some Christian congregations languish in mediocrity or decline today, this was not the case with the first century church in Jerusalem. Following Jesus’ ascension, the eleven remaining disciples gathered with the wider network of Jesus’ followers.

At the time of Pentecost, about 120 of Jesus’ followers were praying in the “upper room,” when the Holy Spirit came down and empowered them (Acts 2:1-4). Pentecost saw 3,000 men and women added to the Jerusalem church. Talk about church growth!

The early church continued to grow, spreading well beyond Jerusalem. Churches sprung up in Greece, Rome, Africa, and throughout the known world.

What Does the Bible Say About Outreach?

The bottom line is that the Christian church is commanded to evangelize and expected to grow. Those Christians who refuse to pursue evangelism or outreach are not in line with Scripture. Those congregations that refuse to embrace church growth are not in step with the Great
Commission.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20