The Purpose of the Church Is…?

DSCF0151

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said that we are to “therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” He did not say to go and make church members.  He did not say to go and make believers.  He was very specific in telling His disciples then, and us today, that we are to make disciples of Him!  A disciple is someone who adheres to the teachings of another and spreads His teachings to others as well.  The Christian church was created to make disciples of everyone, and everything it does should help achieve this goal.

Discipleship, however, entails two distinct aspects.  First, we must share the good news of Jesus and what He has done for all mankind.  This is the essence of Acts 1:8 where we are called to “be His witnesses, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  In other words, to go to all nations or people groups and be a witness for Christ, and encourage them to put their faith in Christ as well.  But that is only one aspect of this calling.  Second, we are also called to make disciples, or followers, of Jesus Christ.  We are to do this by “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” as Jesus says in Matthew 28:20. Our job is not complete if we only make believers in Christ and not followers of Christ. And we have failed miserably if all we do is make church members.

So the goal or mission of every Christian church, and indeed every Christian ministry, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and every activity of the church or ministry should involve discipleship.  If it does not, it should be eliminated and replaced with one that does.  Too often churches have activities that do not include discipleship as an element so that they become nothing more than  service providers or a gathering place for sinners to commiserate.  I do not believe that this is what God intended the church to be.  God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) He wants the church to not only proclaim the gospel, but train and equip all believers to also be followers of Christ.  We need to begin to see the church as a training center, to equip Believers with the truth and send them out to spread the gospel and equip others.   This is what the first disciples of Jesus did and what we are called to do today for Christ!

This is a big challenge for the church, because so many Christians have become comfortable in simply attending church and not being the church.  We are seeing the erosion of Christianity in our American culture today, and I believe it is because many churches have not been focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ, but rather have focused on attracting church attenders and marketing to their consumer choices.  This is evident from surveys that show that around 75% of Americans say they are Christian but only 20% attend church regularly and even fewer are involved in church outreach. The Bible says in Romans 10:17 that “consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.”  In other words, we should not be trying to attract people to church through our own ploys or a slick marketing strategy, but rather to invite people to church to hear the Word and the Truth! All we need to do is proclaim and teach the Word and let God draw the hearers unto Himself!

The purpose of the church is… Discipleship! It is time for churches and ministries to get back to the basics and return to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ through all of their activities and functions!

Mozambique Christian Development

I was recently in the city of Angonia, Mozambique training 90 pastors and church leaders on our Management For Church Leaders training course.  While there, I was invited by the Mayor of the city, Hermando Julio, to come to his office for a visit one morning.  I was not sure what the purpose was of this meeting, other than to meet him.  When I arrived with our host pastor in Angonia and my Malawi training partner, we were shown to his office where I was “officially” welcomed to both Angonia and Mozambique.  Not only was he aware of my coming he was also very supportive of the reason why I was there – to train pastors and church leaders about leadership and management of the church.  He told me that he also canceled several important meetings to just to meet with me. Our meeting also began with prayer!!

Mayor Julio began his comments by telling me that I was free to go anywhere in  his city and feel safe and welcomed.  You see, Mozambique had gone through 30 years of civil war that ended in the mid-1990’s, and he wanted to assure me that their city and nation were fine now.  He also encouraged me to see the various sites of his city.  He then quoted Scripture to me – 2 Timothy 2:2 – which says that we should train others the things that we have been trained, and thanked me for the very thing I was there to do!  He went on to say that in order for Mozambique to develop properly they need a foundation based on the Bible and Christian values.  Wow!  How refreshing to hear that!  Not only do they need to grow economically, but they also recognize their need to have the peace and love of Jesus Christ in their nation, and to work with the church to develop properly.   How I wish our nation would do the same!

So I will pray for Angonia and Mozambique, and that the Lord will honor their turning to Him for their future.  It reminds me of 2 Chronicles 7:14, which says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn away from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  I know if they continue to honor and seek God, He will answer their prayer and heal and restore their nation. 

Below is a photo of me with Mayor Julio (left), Pastor Stephano (my Malawi partner), Pastor Laos (our Angonia host), Martin (Stephano’s assistant) and the Director of Development for Angonia.

 Barry with Angonia Mayor

If I Were a Pastor…

Pastor PreachingI have been training pastors and church leaders now for 12 years on  leadership and management, focusing on teaching them Biblical principles and giving them practical tools to help them lead & manage their churches more effectively.  I have 25+ years of experience as a leader and manager in business, in church, and in my own ministry, but yet I have never been pastor of a church.  This often makes it very difficult for me to relate directly to what pastors go through and deal with on a day to day basis because I have never been in their shoes, so to speak.  And it also makes me a little uncomfortable giving advice and counsel to pastors when I have not had any direct experience in that position.  So I often ask myself, “what qualifies me to teach pastors?”

Every time I begin to feel that way, the Lord will remind me of the 3 qualifications that I possess for this ministry work.  First, God Himself called me to this ministry.  This was not my idea nor my intent.  God used a pastor in the Philippines who needed help to ask me to share my experience from the business world with his pastors and church leaders.  As I responded to that invitation in obedience to the Lord, God then began to show me that there were others who needed this training as well.  He gave me a Vision for this ministry and has also led foreign partners and contacts to me who desire this training, and thus the ministry grew.  Second, God had prepared me for this ministry.  Prior to being called to this work, God had given me business and church leadership roles for more than 25 years. He was giving me experience in leading and managing people and resources.  He had also led me into His Word so that I could learn His principles and concepts and not my own. Third, God has affirmed my calling to this ministry through the testimonies of participants and the enthusiasm for this training from our foreign partners.  This was never about me or my experience, but rather about teaching God’s Word as it relates to leadership and management of His church.  I do not try to tell pastors how to run their church, but instead focus on teaching Biblical principles they can use & apply to their church situation to help them lead and manage the flock the Lord has given to them.  I do not give them some pre-packaged program guaranteed to ignite their ministry, but rather the Biblical fundamentals that will result in a growing church.  I simply remind them of what God’s Word says and encourage them to put those principles into action (“faith without action , is dead”James 2:17).

However, I have often thought about what I would do if I were the pastor of a church.  What are the things that I would focus on and implement?  Like any good sports coach, I believe that learning & practicing the fundamentals is very important.  Practice does not make perfect, but rather it makes permanent.  But a coach must also have a goal for the team and a strategy of how to achieve it, and he must know his players abilities and how to encourage & develop them.  So as a pastor, first I would  focus on encouraging the fundamentals of daily Bible reading and prayer, participation in ministry, and being a witness for Christ through missions for every member of my church without exception.  These are the basics that support all endeavors of the church. Second, I would  develop a vision or goal for the church to work towards as well as a clear and simple strategy to achieve that goal.  I would want all church members to know where we are going and how we plan to get there. Third, I would also look for ways to develop the faith and participation of every church member in the ministry & vision of the church.  The church is not a building but rather the whole Body of Christ working together for God’s glory!  These are what I believe to be the fundamentals of church leadership and management.  They do not require an MDiv or a PHD in  Theology to implement either.  Any church leader can do these basic things.

For many years I worked as a business consultant.  And in that role I often went to companies and after assessing their problems simply advised them to do the things they already knew how to do but were failing to do.  The same can be said of churches.  Sometimes churches get so busy trying to be the best they forgot to do the basic things that will make them the best.  And for pastors and church leaders the basic thing is still to “go and make disciples” of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19), and to teach them to be a “doer of the Word” (James 1:22).

 

What Will You Stand For?

MC900196562There is an old saying that says, “if you stand for nothing you will fall for anything.”  In our culture today of political correctness and relative truth, very few people seem to be willing to take a stand for their beliefs, especially if it runs counter to conventional thought.  That’s why most politicians are careful not to take definitive positions on issues until they know how it resonates with the voting public.  And if one does speak out on their beliefs, often they are immediately chastised by the media or harassed by those who take an opposing viewpoint.  We seem to now live in a country where freedom of speech is apparently not so free.  While we can still speak freely in public (for the most part) we must also be ready to endure the consequences.  It is not easy to take stand today, and it is becoming much more difficult to take a Christian stand or to take a stand for the truth of the Bible.  Yet the Bible commands us to  “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  Today, Biblical truth is often not very well accepted in our culture, and to take a stand for Biblical truth is often met with criticism, intimidation or even outright harassment.

So it seems to me that there are few people today willing to take a stand for Biblical truth in our society.  But is that really any different than it was 2000 years ago when the first disciples went out to proclaim the gospel and the truth about God incarnate in Jesus Christ?  The first disciples were all persecuted and eventually killed for their faith in Jesus Christ and public statements about Him and His truth.  The Bible even says in 1 Peter 4:12 “that we should not be surprised at the painful trials we are suffering” and then in 1 Peter 4:14 that “if you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed.”  As a matter of fact, we are called to share in Christ’s suffering if we truly are to follow Him.  2 Timothy 3:12 says “in fact, everyone who wants to lead a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”   So if we are not being persecuted then perhaps we are not taking a stand for Jesus or Biblical truth in our culture.

So the question every Christian must ask themselves is this:  Am I willing to stand for Biblical Truth?  If not, then we are not being obedient to God’s Word.  If we are, then we must be ready to accept the consequences of public ridicule and scorn like the first disciples.  We must also be armed with that truth so we can articulate it clearly and confidently.  And we must do it all in love, and with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).  It will not be easy.  But if we are faithful to God’s Word, He says we will be blessed. 

If we want to see our culture change and turn to the Lord, then we are the ones who must take a stand today for Biblical Truth.  We must take that stand in the public arenas, in schools, on Facebook & Twitter, in our places of employment, in our communities, and in our neighborhoods. We must continue to speak the Truth in love and let the Holy Spirit lead others to accept His truth. And we must be willing to endure the consequences knowing that in doing so we will unltimately be blessed.  If we Christians fail to do this we will continue to see our culture move further away from God and His truth.

I pledge to take a stand for Biblical Truth in our culture.  Who is with me?  If all Christians unite together, we can change the culture!

Barry Voss

The Pain & The Joy

FaithLife Ministries lost a devoted board member and training partner, as well as a personal friend, with the passing into eternity of Daryl Hoh on January 9th, 2013.   Daryl was 74 and brought with him a mission heart and a love for the Lord that made this ministry better.  He was a gifted teacher and a wise counselor, not to mention a great travel partner.  He was also planning to go with me on 2 mission trips this year and was looking forward to the opportunity to serve God and train pastors and church leaders abroad once again.  While we mourn his loss to us and to this ministry, and feel the Pain of his absence, we rejoice that he is now with his Savior and experiencing the indescribable Joy of eternal life with God!!  What a blessing Daryl was to those who knew him, and what a blessing he was to this ministry.  He will be deeply missed! 

Here is a photo of us taken in Somoto, Nicaragua in September of 2009 with our host Bill Norling and partner David Quispirroca:

Nicaragua 085

 

Please pray for his wife, Karen, and for his family at this unexpected loss.

New Year Visions & Plans

MR900055285As we begin another new year, we are often led to think about the future and to set goals for ourselves and our ministries.  And it all starts with a vision of what could be.  A vision is simply a look into the future and seeing something that does not exist today.  It might be a new church building, a new church plant, taking your ministry to a new nation, or something else that is a tangible and measurable goal.  As Christ followers we must get that vision from God, who “makes all things possible.”  If we try to develop a vision apart from God it will fail (“Apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5). So the first thing we must do is ask God what He would have us accomplish for Him this year.  That then becomes our vision (goal) and what God would have us work towards.

Once we know the vision we must then develop a plan of how to achieve that goal.  Robert Schuller, a famous author and pastor, once said, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Without a plan a ministry is unlikely to achieve its goal because it will either waste resources or use them in a haphazard or ineffective way. A plan is not just a list of tasks that will ultimately produce the goal, but rather a strategy of how we can acquire, use,  and deploy the resources that God gives us that will best lead us to our goal.  Those resources are prayer, people, time, money, equipment, and facilitites.  And because the world around us is changing all the time, a plan must also change in order to adapt to a changing reality.  As every football coach knows, you start out with a game plan but when you are down by 28 points at halftime, you have to come up with a new plan/strategy if you want to win the game.  If we seek God’s input into our plan, He will guide us and help us develop the best strategic plan.  But we must also continually seek His counsel so we know when & how to change it when needed.

So, have you asked God what He wants you to accomplish for Him this year?  Are you willing to accept His vision for you or your ministry?  Do you have a plan or strategy of how to accomplish it?  If not, then I would strongly suggest you ask God today and seek His vision for you in 2013.  And God will respond, because He says in Matthew 7:8, “for everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  

Have a blessed and successful 2013 serving the Lord!!

 

Partner Training in Sierra Leone

Our vision is to see our training reach 100 nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But we also desire to see our foreign partners conduct the training on our behalf to help us reach this goal. Recently, our Management For Church Leaders™ (MCL) training has reached a nation where we have not been ourselves. We have a new partner in Sierra Leone, Bishop Samuel Bobor of Freedom in Christ Mission International. He was unable to attend our September training in nearby Liberia and so I sent him a copy of our MCL training manual and Trainer’s Guide last month. This past week, he used our material to train 100 pastors and leaders at a conference in Freetown! And I have never met Samuel in person, only through email.  What a blessing this is!!

Bishop Bobor wrote the following to me; “The conference was held in my church and members of other churches came together with their pastors and so it was 100 that attended the conference. The conference was full and people were blessed with the teaching! We thank God for those wonderful teachings.”  Below is a photo from the conference:

We thank God for partners like Samuel, who are willing to take our material and teach it to others!  Sierra Leone is now the 27th nation that our training has reached, and we look forward to reaching more nations in the future through our partners.  God-willing, I look forward to meeting Samuel one day and training in person in Sierra Leone.

To God alone be the glory!!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Miss the Blessing!

John Lennon once wrote a song called Beautiful Boy with the line that “life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”  Many times in our lives we get so busy with life that we miss the the joy and blessing of what we are experiencing at the time.  In this season of holiday parties, gift shopping, and family traditions, we too often lose sight of the blessing of Christmas.

When Mary was visited by shepherds after the birth of Jesus, and they told her what had been told to them about her child, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19).  These are two words we don’t hear very often except at Christmas – treasured and pondered.  God had just stepped into humanity and became a man.  Mary treasured and valued her child, and thought deeply about who He truly was.  Have you treasured Jesus and pondered His humanity? 

This is the blessing of Christmas that too many people miss today.  The fact that our God became like one of us, so that He might demonstrate His love for us, is so unbelievable that we don’t take the time to treasure and ponder what this means.  This single event changed the course of the entire world, and impacts every life.  This is no trivial matter that we should gloss over quickly.  But rather we should take the time to really contemplate this reality and what it means to each of us.

So I pray that this Christmas we all will take the time to treasure and ponder the Christ Child, like Mary did, and to seek Him like the wisemen did.  For nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 9:39)  This is the Blessing of Christmas!

Leaders Develop People!

The church is about people—their relationship to God and to one another.  God’s ministry is accomplished through people, and the Bible says that all Believers are the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).  A leader who is responsible for others must therefore develop them to their full potential.  This is true of any leader, whether in business or any other organization.  In the church we call this discipleship, and a leader must help his or her followers to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives  But it is also practical ministry management. The Church leader has 3 main responsibilities with respect to developing people.  First, their primary purpose is to make disciples.  This is the Great Commission and the sole purpose of the church.  Second, the church leader must train and equip others for ministry.  All Believers are ministers for Christ.  I like the way Paul says it when he says that “we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:20).  As ambassadors we are all representatives for Jesus Christ to the non-believing world. We are all called to be ministers of the gospel.  No one gets a free pass on this one. And third, church leaders are to develop other leaders.  In order for the church to grow or multiply, more leaders are needed.  Pastors cannot do all of the ministry work themselves, nor should they.  Church leaders should also be concerned about the future and should always be developing others to take their place. The Apostle Paul’s development of Timothy is a great example of this.  Being an effective developer of people is key for any church leader.

 

From Mission Trip Tragedy to Triumph!

I recently had an experience in Liberia in September that was perhaps inevitable for a missionary who often goes to countries and meets his host for the first time.  In this case, I had met my host on several occasions, twice in Africa and once in the USA.  I was partnering with him to bring our training to Monrovia and he was arranging the conference and recruiting pastors and church leaders to attend.  Everything was normal as far as coordinating a mission trip of this kind, which I have done for over 10 years now.  I had also sent my host $800 to help with the conference costs. 

When I arrrived in Monrovia, I was dropped off at my hotel and was told he would be back to pick me up for lunch and visit the city.  When he did not return as planned I became worried that an accident had befallen him.  However, after 2 days of no contact I realized that I had been scammed.  He had abandoned me at my hotel, took the money, turned off his cell phone, and disappeared.  I don’t think I have ever felt so alone & discouraged, to be in a foreign country with no one to help me that I knew.  The money was not important to me.  I was more concerned about coming all this way from Atlanta to Liberia and not having the opportunity to train church leaders and do what God has called me to do.

So I began to pray to the Lord for what I should do, and he reminded me that I knew another pastor in Liberia, which I had forgotten about.  His name was Moses, appropriately enough.  I was able to find his cell phone number and called him.  His church was 5 minutes from my hotel and he came by immediately. As I began to share my story of what happened and how I really wanted to do some training in Liberia, he said I could come to his church and train his handful of leaders.  I said that was great and was so excited to have the opportunity to minister there.  He said he would also make some calls and see if he could get a few others to come as well.  That night he called me back and said he thought that perhaps 10-15 pastors and church leaders would come for a 3 day conference.  I was ecstatic! 

The next morning, he picked me up at my hotel and when we got to the church, there were 35 pastors and leaders who came to be trained!!  All of them came with less than 12 hours notice and several came from 4-5 hours away!  I was overjoyed and also a little overcome with emotion at what God had done!  God was the one who turned this tragedy into a triumph for His glory!!  No matter what I plan, I know that God is in control and will arrange things according to His plans and not mine.  I am reminded of Proverbs 19:21, that says, “many are the plans in a man’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  I pray that this does not happen again to me, or anyone else.  But if it does, I know that God is there to bring about His Plan and His Will.  To God alone be the glory!!

Here is a photo of me with Pastor Moses: