Blog Archives

Step Back to Move Forward

Step back growth

Step back, Re-focus, Move on

On the Australian coat of arms is a picture of an emu and a kangaroo. These animals were chosen because they share a characteristic that appealed to our forefathers. Both the emu and kangaroo can move only forward, not back. The emu’s three-toed foot causes it to fall if it tries to go backwards, and the kangaroo is prevented from moving in reverse by its large tail.

I love this illustration; I am all about moving forward, keeping your eyes on the goal, never give up, but I have learned that sometimes you have to take a step to move forward. Everyone, whether it be in business, your personal life, church growth, will hit a slump or get a curve ball. When that happens we get the opportunity to pause and reevaluate. The article below is a great illustration of someone stepping back to move forward.

Efrain Escudero Looking back to move forward
By Jordan Newmark April 08, 2012

When a professional athlete rebounds from a slump or a setback, the easiest conclusion to jump to is that they added something “new”. A change in routine, mindset, workout, technique or anything that has been recently tweaked by the world’s latest and greatest ideas.

For many, this is the case, but for others, like UFC lightweight Efrain Escudero, rediscovering what they did in the past is how they progressed in the future. For “Hecho en Mexico”, the journey back to the Octagon was accomplished by fighting for the reason that originally drew Escudero to the sport: because it was fun. … “I went back and saw my old tapes, my old highlight videos, and what I did in them – I had fun,” states Escudero. “Every time I went to the cage I was having fun. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t nervous, I was ready to have fun. Getting called back up to the UFC, I had fun having to bust my butt again to get back where I belong.” 

Recently, we had a couple of key staff members move on for very positive, personal reasons. When this happened we knew we would have to make some major changes, so we took this opportunity to step back, not to dwell in a pity party, but in keeping our eyes on our goals, to pause, redirect and move forward again. We are truly excited about our new structure and direction. We are expecting great things to happen!

So while we may at times pause and step back our constant direction over time is forward.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Plan backwards as well as forward. Set objectives and trace back to see how to achieve them. You may find that no path can get you there. Plan forward to see where your steps will take you, which may not be clear or intuitive. – Donald Rumsfeld

First Impressions

First impressions

Ushers and greeters are your church’s first impression.

I’m sure you have all heard the saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression. It is true in your personal life, and it is true in your church.   An area of serving that is often overlooked in churches is that of Usher.  Not everyone can be an usher. Just as not everyone can be a worship leader, work in child care, repair the building, or preach the sermon. We each have our unique God given gifts, and that includes people who are wired to be good ushers. I love how well Dan Reiland outlines the importance and “how to’s” of the usher ministry in the article below.

“Your Usher Ministry”

by Dan Reiland

One of my favorite ministries to lead is the usher team. Their role is so important, but often undervalued, undertrained, and less than organized.

The ushers are a huge force in setting the tone for worship and helping to prepare the people to hear and respond to the Word of God.

I’m pulling a portion of the training notes for our usher team and adapting for this article. If you would like the full usher training manual (free) CLICK HERE!

An usher is a spiritual ambassador for the local church – God’s ordained and organized body of believers. The usher serves as a “first representative” of Jesus Christ for a worship service. Though we thoroughly enjoy the creative edge of our worship services, make no mistake, this is a holy event where God is meeting with His people.

From the tabernacle in the Old Testament to the temple and synagogue in the New Testament, God’s presence and the teaching of His word is of supreme importance.

Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Mark 1:21-22

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. John 8:2

Who Can Serve as an Usher?

Not just anyone can be an usher. In the same way that not just anyone can sing in the choir, work in children’s ministry or lead a small group. The right gifts, passion, and ability make a big difference.

As you recruit new ushers keep spiritual qualities, characteristics and usher responsibilities in mind. Please make sure you work in coordination with your section leader or a service leader rather than practicing “random recruiting.”

The fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23 is a solid guideline for a good usher. This is not about perfection, but a heartfelt motive and desire to live a life of a spirit-filled believer.

Qualifications of an Usher

• You understand the vital role of the usher ministry.

• You enjoy and care about people.

• You possess a servant heart.

• You are committed to the vision of “your church name.”

• You are supportive of the leadership at “your church name.”

Responsibilities of an Usher

1. Committed leadership

• Prepare yourself spiritually.

A good usher comes prepared mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is not to be seen as a duty, but a privilege to connect with God as part of your preparation. Don’t feel like this requires an hour of Bible study before you show up. God is far more interested in the commitment of your heart than the amount of your time. Take a few moments at home to connect with God and ask Him to use you as a representative of His love and an agent of His redemptive plan.

• Take initiative!

This is huge. The cardinal sin of an usher is to not pay attention. At all times watch what is going on in your section and jump in to handle it. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask your section leader. The only wrong choice is to do nothing. Never assume “someone” else is taking care of the need. Pay attention, take initiative, and make it happen!!

• Absorb the pressure of the moment, don’t transfer it.

Most of the ministry of an usher is pure joy. Seriously, it’s a lot of fun. But on occasion there are moments of pressure when someone is upset or something isn’t working right. In these moments never transfer the pressure to the person entering into their worship experience. You are the leader. You absorb the pressure. Get help if you need it, but never make the issue their problem. You help deliver a solution.

• Own your section, lead your section, shepherd your section.

This is exciting. In an average environment with average ushers, once the seats are filled the ushers relax and mentally check out. As a leader you are empowered to take ownership of the area of seats you serve in and give leadership where needed. Think of your area like you are responsible to do everything in your power to ensure that all those people have the best opportunity possible to connect with and hear from God. You can shepherd the people by getting to know them, praying for them, learning their names, and meeting appropriate needs.

• Follow the direction of your head usher.

All good leaders are good followers. It is important that you follow the leadership of the person responsible to lead you. Be supportive and encouraging. Offer suggestions if you have good ideas, but don’t be overly sensitive if your ideas aren’t used. Your head usher will do his or her best to serve and lead you and the rest of their team well.

2. Core tasks

In each of these areas you will receive practical hands-on training.

• Help people find a seat.

This seems obvious, but there is an art to it. The art is all about making people, especially new people and people far from God, feel comfortable. Their insecurities can rise and their feelings of self-consciousness prevent them from connecting with God.

Imagine what it feels like to walk into an unfamiliar restaurant or other environment and not know what to do. Do I seat myself or do I wait to be seated? Who do I talk to if I have a question? Who do I tell if I have special circumstances? (e.g. potential medical condition)

Your job is to move toward and engage people quickly and with confidence to help them know what to do. Don’t leave people hanging. Let them know that you can handle anything they need, and that you are the one that can make this a smooth and enjoyable experience.

Don’t make them come to you and ask. You approach them with confidence and a smile. Take charge with grace and poise.

• Collect the offering.

On a divine level, the offering is part of worship. It is the opportunity for worshippers to express their love, trust and obedience toward God. On a practical level, the financial needs of a large church are significant. Your smooth and coordinated execution of an offering can and does impact the resources that fund the Kingdom. On a security level, this is one of the most detailed functions of an usher.

You will be trained in the actual physical process for receiving an offering in a live session.

You will receive detailed training that will help us ensure compliance with legal guidelines and practical security issues.

• Assist in the execution of special moments.

Many churches are known for creativity in their worship services. From motorcycles to doughnuts, to tractors and bottles of coke, you just never know what may be coming down the aisles! Some of the special moments are fun, some are crazy, and some are deeply spiritual. Things like crossing a bridge, writing in journals, or taking communion. The service of an usher is crucial to these moments being leveraged toward life-change.

We are depending on your flexibility. Don’t get flustered when last minute changes are made. That will happen. Just keep positive, stay flexible and know that creativity is at work “making the magic” that makes all the difference.

• Get an accurate people count.

Why does this matter so much? Why must these numbers be so accurate? Why can’t we just make a good estimate? The answer is that every number represents a person. We want to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us and therefore it matters that we know how well we are reaching people. Just like in the book of Acts, they counted, recorded, and celebrated how many people were saved . . . we count too!

• Re-set and clean up the auditorium.

People will leave papers, cups and “stuff”. The glamorous part of an usher’s ministry is cleaning up after each service. In addition, supplies such as Bibles and pens are replenished.

Remember, many hands make light work. If all ushers jump in and help, it takes about 10 minutes.

3. Common sense

• Maintain proper appearance and personal hygiene.

• Show up on time.

o Section leaders 40 minutes before the service. o Ushers 30 minutes before the service.

• Read the bulletin – get informed, stay informed.

• Wear your name tag.

• You are not required to usher every Sunday, but when you are on the schedule, give it 100%.

• If you are on the schedule and can’t make it, it is imperative that you call your section leader.

• Smile, talk to people, and learn their names!!

Yes, there’s more, and as mentioned, you can have the complete training booklet – CLICK HERE!

Happy Ushering!!


Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  – 1 Corinthians 12:20-25

Staffing for Excellence

hire church business staff

The Right Staff Will Create a Great Team

Hiring the right staff is so important to the health and growth of your organization. Whether you you are a church, a small business owner or the CEO of a large company, the right people make all the difference.  I have had and currently have the pleasure of hiring and working with some fabulous people (both at South Hills and in my business life). I have also had the disappointment and headaches associated with hiring people who were not a good fit for my team. Below is an article featuring an interview from Tony Morgan and William Vanderbloemen with some great tips to finding and hiring the right staff for your organization. The article is church specific, but the most of the information is great for the business world as well.

“An Interview with Tony Morgan and William Vanderbloemen”
by Dan Reiland

As an executive pastor I’ve been hiring staff for over twenty years. I’m still learning. My experience is extensive, but I still make mistakes. Let’s be candid, hiring the right people is complicated. There is no formula or textbook that can give you the seven steps to create a “happily ever after” story every time.

Since I like to learn, I asked two friends of mine, Tony Morgan and William Vanderbloemen if they would agree to an interview. They both have considerable pastoral experience and also have special expertise in hiring as part of a professional search firm. VanderbloemenSearch

Both William and Tony have come to 12Stone to teach a leadership lesson to our ministry staff, and they have become trusted advisors and good friends. Let me introduce you to each one, and then share the interview with you.

William is the president of the Vanderbloemen Search Group. He has over 15 years of ministry experience as a senior pastor of three churches ranging in size from 350 to over 5,000. He has also served as a manager of human resources at a Fortune 200 corporation, and learned executive search from a mentor with twenty-five years of top-level search experience. William, his wife Adrienne, their seven children, and two poodles (one small who thinks she’s big, and one big who thinks he is a lap dog) live in Houston, Texas. In his free time, William enjoys running, working out, and caddying for his kids, who are now better golfers than he is. As an avid social networker you can contact him at http://twitter.com/wvanderbloemen.

Tony serves on the leadership team of West Ridge Church near Atlanta. He’s also a strategist, writer and consultant who helps churches get unstuck and have a bigger impact. For more than 10 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at NewSpring Church and Granger Community Church. Tony used to be in local government for about ten years before he transitioned into ministry. In his last role, he was a city manager where he was responsible for a staff of 150 employees and a $20 million budget. Tony and his wife, Emily, reside near Atlanta, Georgia with their four children–Kayla, Jacob, Abby and Brooke. You can follow Tony’s writing on a variety of topics including his disdain for country music at tonymorganlive.com.

1. Why is hiring the right people so difficult?

Tony – As pastors, we don’t hire that often and therefore we aren’t highly practiced at it. So, for many, that means not being very good at it. Further, our wiring as pastors tends to cause us to see the best in people and the good in general. That’s good, but we also need a discerning eye in order to assess the right skills for the right job, and be able to quickly spot those who are not the right fit.

William – People are afraid to make a mistake, and fear is a bad ingredient in the hiring process. For those I’ve met who are not afraid, they often rush into it and hire someone they know and feel comfortable with rather than doing a thorough search. In contrast, when you do a comprehensive job interviewing several top candidates your chances of making a good decision increase exponentially.

2. What are the costs and impacts of hiring the wrong person?

Tony – When you choose new staff members poorly you are often choosing to cause good people to leave your team. Maybe not right away, but the good ones will not stay if you begin to hire low-performance players onto your team. Hiring the wrong person causes loss of momentum. It’s destabilizing to the team, and you can easily lose 12-18 months of what could have been a highly productive season.

William – I recently read a study from the corporate world that said you lose a minimum of ten times the salary that you pay the person when you make a bad hire and need to fire them. I think it’s more in the church. The relational, political, and vision loss is so great that the total cost is nearly incalculable, especially the higher the level of responsibility. It’s almost better not to hire than to hire wrong.

3. What are the qualities you look for in sharp ministry leaders?

Tony – Off the top, I want to see a leadership gift, ability to build teams, and shared vision and values of the organization. Let me give you a fuller answer by directing you to a blog post that you might find helpful on this question. tonymorganlive.com

William – First, I believe this is much more art than science, so it really depends on what the church needs more than a set list of characteristics. I consider hiring as important as an organ transplant. Using this metaphor, nearly half of what I do is finding the right donor list, but more than half is making sure I find the right tissue match. If I don’t, the body will reject it. That said, in general, I like to see spiritual agility, loyalty to the mission and leadership, and their past performance really matters to me. That is the best indicator of what they will do in the future.

4. Describe a big hiring mistake you have made as a pastor in the local church.

Tony – I had a situation where I was hiring someone for a director level position in a specialized role. His resume said he was exactly what we needed. But some red flags came up during the interviews. He said he was a detailed and systems guy – which the job required. All other indicators, however, including his profile testing, said he was much more of a people person. The mistake I made was that I did not pay attention to my gut. I didn’t listen to the Holy Spirit promptings, the assessments, and what I was intuitively picking up in the interviews.

William – Well, I’ve made the classic mistakes. I’ve hired too fast and fired too slow. But one that comes to mind is that I hired three guys right out of seminary at the same time. They were my dream team, or that was my dream. They were sharp, but highly inexperienced. They were talented, but I didn’t realize how much training they would require and I didn’t have the margin to give it to them. I wasn’t able to carry out that responsibility and that was a big mistake.

5. Do you recommend talking about salary up front, or deeper into the process?

Tony – For me, the issue is about being called, and the salary factor comes in later. It’s about the right fit and whether or not God wants them on the team. If it’s a fit, I might consider adjusting the compensation, if we can, in order to get the right person. But it raises a red flag if the person is too interested in the financial package too soon.

William – It depends on the situation, but in general, I agree with Tony. I want to know if they are called, rather than in it for the money. On occasion, however, there are circumstances that call for discussing salary up front. For example, if a large gap is anticipated between what we offer and what they expect – we might at least address that in general up front, but then do real details later.

6. You both are pastors, but also serve as part of a search firm. In what ways does your company help us hire the right people?

William and Tony – The first one is time. Most pastors we talk to just don’t have the time to do what it takes to hire well. The second is that we are in touch with a broader base of people to choose from. One more benefit is that we’re good at it. We have much more time at bat. We are practiced, so we have developed some skills that most church leaders haven’t had time to cultivate. We help you avoid costly mistakes.

Thanks to both Tony and William. This is such an important topic! Hiring smart is the first step toward building great church staff teams!!

As a side note; we have used VanderbloemenSearch here at South Hills and have love the results. I highly recommend them!

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”  – Larry Bossidy

Dream Again

Dream again

Your Never Too Young or Too Old

Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak frequently on the topic of  “Dream Again.” In these talks I remind people that no dream is too big or too small. I also tell people that, “you are never too young or too old to pursue your dreams.” I have sighted such people as Joan of Arc, Bill Gates and Mark  Zuckerberg on the “too young” side of the spectrum and Harlan (Colonel) Sanders, Mary Kay and Julia Child on the “too old” side of the spectrum.

A couple weeks ago this concept was brought to life in a very real way. I was a guest speaker a great church, that is about two hours from my home church. After speaking on “Dream Again” many people approached me after each service to tell me about their dreams (either unfulfilled or fulfilled). One particular gentlemen really stood out to me.  This gentleman was in his 60’s and spoke with a profuse stutter.  It took him at least three times as long to tell his story as a non-stuttering person would have. His story was this… He had always wanted to sing in the choir because when he sings he doesn’t stutter. He had, had this dream his whole life. he had hung on to it and not let anyone take it from him.  Well last year he was invited to join the church choir, and recently he had the privilege of singing a solo.

As he told his story his face told the story of profound joy. The joy of a passion realized, and a dream fulfilled. What dreams are laying dormant in you? What dreams are you still chasing?  I encourage you to keep going; keep chasing that thing that God has placed in your heart. I encourage you to DREAM AGAIN!

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“For of All Sad Words of Tongue and Pen, the Saddest are These, It Might Have Been…..” – John Greenleaf Whittier

Bill Gates and the power of Vision

Bill Gates Vision

Bill Gates is a man of Vision

Vision is Powerful! This excerpt from my new book, Handshake, highlights the life of Bill Gate and his incredible Vision. He is a man with a highly focused,with a constant vision and an adaptable strategy… What are your thoughts about vision?

Bill Gates and the Choice of Vision

Over the past several years computers have taken the world by storm.  Business people, parents, students and children are using them.  We use them to store information, write letters, keep track of finances, design graphics and send information.  They started out filling entire rooms, but now some can literally fit in the palm of your hand.  And when you think of computers you most likely think of one individual, Bill Gates…

…With a reported fortune of $54 billion, Gates retained the top spot in 2001 Forbes magazine survey of the 400 wealthiest Americans. In 1994, he married Melinda French, a Microsoft employee, and they now reside in a 40,000 square foot home on Lake Washington.  Taking after his mother, Gates claims that he will give away the majority of his fortune through charitable contributions.  His largest contribution came in August of 1999 when he donated $6 billion to his charitable foundation, the largest donation ever made by a living individual.  Recently, it was reported that if Bill Gates wanted to spend his fortune in the next 40 years, he would have to spend $2.74 million every day.  (I sure wish I could help him!)

Bill Gates is a man with vision and the entire world has benefited.  “It is the idea (vision) that unites people in the common effort, not the charisma of the leader,” writes Robert Greenleaf in The Leadership Crisis.  These words could not be truer for Bill Gates.  He is not a charismatic leader but his vision is big and people follow it.

In this chapter you will learn how to create a plan for your vision

Step 1 – Dream without reservation
Step 2 – Put your dreams/vision in writing
Step 3 – Make a plan for your dream/vision
Step 4 – Be committed to do whatever it takes

Your will also learn the step-by step instructions for creating your own personal vision.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“There is something magical about vision.” – Anthony Robbins

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)

Neglected Church

Neglected church

A neglected church disappears

What happens when we stop actively pursuing the kingdom of God?  What happens when we put blinders on, so that we only see our own small life or only the lives of those already in our church? What happens when we no longer see the needs of the world around us? What happens when we no longer care enough about the billions of people who are waiting to hear about Jesus enough to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT? We are the church. The people who attend our church building each week are only one small part of THE CHURCH! Recently, I came across an article by Craig Brian Larson from PreachingToday.com. It pointedly shows that what is neglected fades away.

Church Disappears One Brick at a Time

Orthodox Church officials in Russia discovered in 2008 that one of their church buildings had disappeared. Poof—gone! The 200-year-old building northeast of Moscow had gone unused for a decade, but the Orthodox Church, which was experiencing growth, was considering reopening the church building, and that’s when they discovered their building wasn’t there.

They had to get to the bottom of this. After investigating the matter, the church officials did not blame aliens from outer space for the missing structure. Rather, they said the perpetrators were villagers from a nearby town, whom they said had taken and sold bricks from the building to a businessman. For each brick, the thieves received one ruble (about 4 cents).

This two-story church facility did not go from being a building to not being a building in one bulldozing stroke. Rather, the bricks were apparently chiseled out one by one by lots of people. In the same way, some churches—built not of bricks but of “living stones,” that is of Christians—are not reduced in one fatal stroke but rather by Christians one by one choosing not to be involved. Each decision means one less living stone. In the end, the church, intended by God to be the display of Christ’s glory, is chiseled away. Conversely, each person who gets involved helps to build a holy temple in the Lord made up of living bricks, where Christ is glorified.

When we choose not to grow we decay. When we do not reach out we shrink in. Choose to care. Choose to grow. The church is not a building; the church is people. People need to hear how much God loves them, and in sharing God’s love God’s church will grow.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“So I rebuked the officials and asked them, ‘”Why is the house of God neglected?”‘ . – Nehemiah 13:11a

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” – Luke 11:42

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

Embracing the Valleys

down in a valley

Choose to trust in the Valley

Have you ever felt as if you were stuck in mud or worse yet, quick sand. I know I have felt that way many times in my life.  Sometimes, processing the emotion tied to these events in our life is challenging. As a pastor I am allowed to feel down,is it ok for others to see this? I say yes and yes. Does that mean when you’re feeling down or stuck you walk around looking like the world is at an end? No. But it does mean that it is alright to let others know that you are human.  On two separate occasions, I came across these two articles. I feel that they tie together beautifully. The first article is by Jud Wilhite and the second is by Bob Gass.

DEPRESSION PRECEDES BREAKTHROUGH

C. H. Spurgeon is one of my favorite dead-guy pastors. He wrote and led in the 19th Century and wrestled with depression most of his life.
I love this insight from him: “This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison.”
Have you ever thought that your depression or struggle could be preparing you for something greater?

– Jud Wilhite

Refuse to Quit

“In 1902, a 28-year-old aspiriring poet received a rejection slip from the editor of the prestigeous “Atlantic Monthly”. Returned with a batch of poems he submitted was a curt note: “Not one worth publishing.”  That poet’s name was Robert Frost.

In 1905, the University of Berne turned down a dissertation by a young Ph.D., calling it “fanciful and irrelevant.”  The name of that physics student was Albert Einstein.

In 1894, a 16-year-old boy found this note from his speech teacher in Harrow, England, attached to his report:”Hopeless…seems incapable of progress.” That boy’s name was Winston Churchhill.

There’s a message here for you. Even when others offer you no hope or encouragement, refuse to quit! Listen to the words of Jacob, who led King David’s army: “Be strong and let us fight bravely…The Lord will do what is good in his sight,” (2 Samuel 10:12 NIV). Jacob knew that as long as you stay on the battlefield, God can give you victory. But if you quit, what more can He do for you?

Never give up when you know you’re right! Believe that all things work together for good if you just persevere. Don’t let the odds discourage you; God’s bigger that all of them! Refuse to let anyone intimidate you, or deter you from your goals! Fight and overcome every limitation! Remember, every winner – every one of them – faced defeat and adversity; and you’re no different.

-Bob Gass

We all get discouraged at times. We may feel blue, down, depressed. Don’t run from it,or ignore it. Embrace it. Let God do His work in you, and your life.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. – Psalm 42:11 (NIV)