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According to the Christian Post: Members of a Fla. multi-campus church have raised over $600,000 over the span of 48 hours for the sake of charity. Miami-Dade County-based Christ Fellowship Church raised the large sum during a two-day charity drive that began on Saturday, Dec. 15 and concluded Sunday, Dec. 16. Aimee Artiles, spokeswoman for Christ Fellowship, told The Christian Post that while this was not the first time the church had done a charity like this, the results were unprecedented. “In October, we decided on $337,000 and to challenge our church to raise that amount to fund some opportunities with a nonprofit affiliated with our church, Caring for Miami, and to continue our work with the team we have in place in India,” said Artiles. “This particular Christmas offering was not our first. However, it has been our biggest so far. We challenged our church to raise $337,000 in one weekend, and ended up almost doubling that goal and raising $602,000.” Artiles also told CP about the places where the large sum of money would be going to. “Caring for Miami currently serves the spiritual, physical and mental needs of the hurting and under-resourced in Miami,” said Artiles. // Read more here… 
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The response has been wide and varied in the religious community about the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Here are some of the responses I was able to find on the internet this morning: Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral:
The Christian community, indeed, the entire American faith community, can no longer tolerate this persisting and escalating gun violence against our people. Enough is enough,” said Hall, who is the dean of the cathedral… The best way in my thinking to mourn the Sandy Hook shooting is to mobilize the faith community for gun control.”
Mike Huckabee:
When we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools have become a place for carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability?
Max Lucado:
Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas.  But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty.  Dark with violence. Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene. Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger. This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.
Evangelist Ray Comfort hopes people will watch his new internet movie to find the answer:
‘Genius’ points to what every murderer has in common, something the ‘experts’ either don’t recognize or avoid talking about. But it’s there… Something tragic is happening in our country, and most people don’t know what it is. Those who want to understand why these tragedies are occurring–and are likely to continue to occur–should watch the free movie.
John Piper:
…the murders of Newtown are a warning to me — and you. Not a warning to see our schools as defenseless, but to see our souls as depraved. To see our need for a Savior. To humble ourselves in repentance for the God-diminishing bitterness of our hearts. To turn to Christ in desperate need, and to treasure his forgiveness, his transforming, and his friendship.
Brady Boyd (Pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, site of a deadly shooting a few years back):
I am a gun owner and have been all my life, but I realize it is too easy for some disturbed people to buy them in our sporting good stores. If there can be helpful conversations between the mental health community and our legislators resulting in laws that could eliminate this from our society, then count me in for support… Let’s have these difficult conversations, starting in our homes and across the table from our friends, but let’s make sure we are tackling the root of the issue and not just the fruit.
Albert Mohler:
The Christian must affirm the grace of moral restraint, knowing that the real question is not why some isolated persons commit such crimes, but why such massacres are not more common. We must be thankful for the restraint of the law, operating on the human conscience. Such a crime serves to warn us that putting a curve in the law will inevitably produce a curve in the conscience. We must be thankful for the restraining grace of God that limits human evil and, rightly understood, keeps us all from killing each other.
Greg Laurie:
“The experts will opine on why this happened. All I can say is this was pure evil. The heartlessness and wickedness of this man that did the shooting is really unimaginable…I know from personal experience that the pain of losing a child is a fate worse than death for a parent… At times like this we must reflect on the essential message of Christmas which is Immanuel has come. Immanuel means God is with us.”
How has this story affected you and your church? Did you take time out of your services yesterday to deal with this story? Is your church taking any additional steps to monitor security or reach out to the people affected by this tragedy? I’d love to hear your story… Todd  

OK… well you knew it had to happen. Last month we told you about the new Theologian Trading Cards that were coming out just in time for Christmas. Well now, you have a chance to win a SIGNED N. T. Wright card. What would the value of that be? Great question. I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to put my signed D. L. Moody card on eBay after the first of the year.  I’m hoping I can make a couple of mortgage payments from the sale. Todd

On today’s Breaktime!, check out Long Hollow Baptist Church‘s Christmas promos for their Christmas outreach program this year. For those of you who want to pick it apart, go somewhere else. The rest of us will enjoy watching, and think of how much fun these people had putting these videos together.  I would SO go to the Christmas program at Long Hollow.  And I’m praying that this outreach is a tremendous success for the people that don’t know Jesus in and around Nashville. Have something fun you think I should share in a future Breaktime!?  Send it to me now! You can check out other Breaktime! fun… just choose the Breaktime category to the right –> Todd

Here is a great example of a testimonial that your church should consider doing this Christmas season. We all know that people are many times more accepting of invitations to church during the holiday season.  This video from is a great example of the difference an invitation can make, but also can serve as a great motivator for your people to invest in others with a simple invitation. Who do you have in your church that could make a compelling video like this? Think about it, and act on it! Todd

This from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Last Sunday, the Rev. Travis Smith paced First Baptist Church’s sanctuary, decorated for the holidays with poinsettias and a Christmas tree. He addressed his congregation, speaking to them about forgiveness. Smith read verses from the Gospel of Matthew that follow the Lord’s Prayer: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” he said. Since Smith’s arrest in October on sexual abuse and statutory rape charges, which follow similar allegations from 2010, forgiveness from his congregation has become critical to his survival as its pastor. It is this group of about 100 souls who will decide Smith’s future in the Southern Baptist Convention. In any denomination, Christians confronted with the shocking news that their often-beloved pastor has been accused of sexual misconduct, many congregations circle the wagons, some experts say. “When a church rallies around its pastor, there’s disbelief that someone they trust could do something like this,” said Diana Garland, dean of the school of social work at Baylor University. “It often feels so much safer to blame the victims for causing his downfall, rather than accept that the power of a religious leader has been abused.” But what happens when those circling the wagons around their pastor are also those who have to make the ultimate decision about his fate — his career, his paycheck, his reputation? A deacon at First Baptist Church of Stover said that at its last monthly business meeting no one from the congregation even put forward a motion to dismiss Smith, the first step in a longer process to remove the pastor. “These are old charges, and if they’re true, why weren’t they brought up when they occurred?” said Phil Marriott. “We’ll wait for the court system to address them and let justice take its course.”
I’ve seen this happen many times.  When confronted with charges against a pastor, some churches are just not in a place to accept, or at the very least, investigate the charges.
That leads to the ‘circling of the wagons’ effect the writer describes.
It’s a tough situation.  On one side, ANYONE can make an accusation (and scripture even puts it down that if it is an elder, there really needs to be more than one accuser to help substantiate claims).  But at the same time, these allegations are very serious, and need to be investigated.  Rape, for instance, is a pretty stinkin’ serious charge; and to circle the wagon and not even discuss the situation is horrible.
If you were on the board at this church, how would you respond right now to this situation?
Leave a comment below and tell me what YOU think…

It’s time for this week’s installment of The Filter with Matt Steen and myself. What are we trying to prove?  Nothing, really… it’s just two normal guys talking about ‘churchy’ stuff… the things that interest us in the church and ministry leadership world. We hope that you will be challenged. We think you’ll probably disagree with us (at least once each week). But if love  Jesus, and the church, we think you just might like The Filter. Just sayin’.  Here’s this week’s episode for your viewing pleasure: SHOW NOTES: Why we need to let our online memories go (0:01) Schullers lose in big-time in court… still get $615,625 (4:05) Pat Robertson admits he missed God’s voice on the election… (6:10) Is John MacArthur going multisite? (12:25) When America’s Pastor Goes Gangham Style (15:19) Rick Warren on gay marriage (19:19) The Cheering Stops for Fireman Ed (24:50) The Annual Christmas vs Holiday Tree Debate (29:55) My Take: #GivingTuesday creates better Christmas narrative than Black Friday (33:20) True or False: If you’re not growing, something’s wrong (36:55) What would happen if North Point Church exploded (literally)? (42:50)

Mark Brooks from the Charis Group finds that there are some lessons that the church can learn about Black Friday, particularly in the area of generosity and how our people are thinking these days: Lesson #1 – The easier you make it for people to give the more likely they will be to give.  Every Sunday the typical church passes a plate or bucket asking for people to donate.  Yet most never carry a checkbook and have very little cash on their person.  So, IF they give the amount will be only a few dollars rather than a significant gift.  Our portal for collecting the offering is out dated. Lesson #2 – You must offer people multiple options to give.  Retailers know that some like to shop the stores and handle the merchandise while others like to shop online.  A smart retailer never puts all his eggs in one basket.  Yet only 14% of American churches offer online giving.  Clearly in most churches you only have one option to give and that is on Sunday morning when the collection plate is passed.  See above. Lesson #3 – People want convenience.  This past Thanksgiving season retailers began their sales the night of Thanksgiving.  Many also allowed shoppers to connect online early on the morning of Black Friday thus avoiding lines.  Retailers know that people want convenience so their online stores are literally open 24/7.  People at your church will respond if you make giving convenient for them.  An app for instance allows your people to give online wherever they are even if they are at grandma’s house on Sunday.  Make your giving convenient and you will see an increase in giving. Lesson #4 – Retailers work at driving shoppers to their stores and sites.  My local paper on the day before Thanksgiving was huge.  However there was not much news it was all advertisements for Black Friday!  My email box was filled this past week with various offers from Amazon to my favorite running store pumping deals and sales towards me.  Retailers know it is not enough to have the tools for sales unless you drive people to those tools.  Many churches offer online giving but then let it set without ever driving people to that site.  You have to work your giving tool in order for your giving tool to work! The National Retail Federation is predicting that sales this holiday season will rise 4.1% from 2011 sales.  If NRF’s estimate is correct, holiday sales this year would be $586.1 billion.  Most of that money will be on wasted stuff.  How many of your Christmas gifts are you still using from last year?  Can you even remember what you got or what you bought?  Wasted dollars.  Consider that the medium gift to a church in a whole calendar year is only $200. // Read more of Mark’s great thoughts here… What do YOU think?  

Eugene Mason has some thoughts and tips: What if you were faced with a situation where you had to cut your church budget significantly? Where would you start? How would you go about deciding what (and who!) could stay, and what you could do without? This may become a reality within the current recession in North America. A church I served faced this situation in 2006. Our Senior Pastor retired, and during the search for our next senior staff and church leader, nearly 20% of our attenders moved on. This resulted in a corresponding decline in giving and attendance. Now, this is quite natural and even predictable in our situation–when polling other churches who went through a similar transition we found our numbers to be about average. Our Senior Pastor was with us for 15 years, and long-tenure leaders leaving tends to result in difficult transitions. In our case, we had to trim a $6.5 million budget to $5.5 million–a 15% reduction in spending, year-over-year. To make matters more difficult, many fixed-cost items like insurance, healthcare and utilities rose, and we could not cut our debt payments. So we entered the budget process with nearly $500,000 more in fixed expenses we had to compensate for even if we did not cut the budget at all. In total we had to find $1.5 million in spending we were forced to do without. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fun, but here’s what we learned. Be realistic, but optimistic. One approach to our situation would be to just “trust God” for that $1 million and not cut anything. And we honestly considered that option–after all, God can do whatever He pleases, and He has promised to provide our every need. At the same time, we knew we had to be realistic about where we were. You cannot lose 20% of your average attendance and not have that affect your giving. We had some track-recording to lean on–giving was down significantly in the months following the Pastor’s retirement, and that was an indicator that adjustments would be required. We felt a 15% cut, $1 million, still left us with a challenging but attainable budget goal. In the end, our desire was not to spend beyond what we took in–that’s realistic. But we also planned some “wish list” budget items in case God blessed beyond our Budget–that’s optimistic. It’s okay to encourage blue-sky thinking, but face it, we live in a world that is partly-cloudy most of the time. Cut what you can before touching personnel. Bonuses, pay increases, ministry budgets and flexible expenses should be cut first. Capital spending should be reduced. If the budget adjustments must result in loss of personnel, it’s crazy to leave in money for new Christmas decorations at the expense of a person’s livelihood. Personnel should be the last cut on the list, because when you make those cuts, they’re going to leave wounds. Before getting to staff cuts, we pored over every line item, reducing each where we could. I know some leaders may disagree here, as personnel is the highest-cost item in most budgets. But remember, the church is not like a for-profit company. The church is, first and foremost, people. So we want to put people first versus other priorities in any plan to reduce expenses. Be in line with your vision. The mission of our church did not change as a result of a budget cut, so any cuts had to be in line with our church’s overall ministry role. This actually made the cuts easier to make, because we had a firm foundational statement on which to weigh these decisions. Remember, in a budget cut you are trimming expenses, not ministry. For us it meant refocusing on core areas of service that were closely aligned with scripture, and trimming expenses in areas that were more peripheral. It doesn’t make it any easier to explain to ministry leaders why a specific area of ministry is not considered “core,” but the reasoning holds up in light of the Budget situation that is being managed. Treat personnel cuts with dignity. In our case, a $1 million budget adjustment meant cutting 15 full- and part-time staff positions. Even after cuts in other areas, we were forced to trim personnel. We began with our intern program and part-time helpers, then moved on to full-time positions. Most cuts were based on seniority and the ability of other areas to absorb some of the workload. Frankly, there is no way to make these kinds of decisions without affecting emotionally those in the affected area of ministry and lowering overall staff morale. //read more here Have you ever had to make huge budget cuts?  Maybe you’re going through that right now for 2013.  How did you do it? Todd

Geoff Surratt writes: The idea of numerical growth being the major measure of success is deeply baked into  our culture. Outreach Magazine’s list of the 100 largest and fastest growing churches is  by far its biggest selling issue. Twitter lights up every Easter and Christmas as the sem-ilost return to the fold, and we report our new record attendance. We add measurement on  measurement to create the perfect metric. Its nickels and noses, its small group  attendance, its number of volunteers, it number of missional communities. We are  looking for the Nirvana of Numbers that will finally tell us that we are doing a good job,  or at least that we’re doing a better job than the guy down the street. The sad thing is that  there is no end to the race. A pastor of a church of 20,000 told me that the real goal was  30,000. Once they arrived on that mountaintop they could then turn their attention to  other things. Pastors, however, are not just in it for the numbers. The bottom-line for almost every  pastor I know is Kingdom impact. He isn’t as concerned about making a list (as nice as  that might be) as he is in knowing that he had made a difference. All of the numbers are  just a way to figure out if the blood, sweat and tears that he has sacrificed in ministry  have been worth it. The sad truth is that for many pastors who are entering their sixties they don’t know that it has. Their churches have stopped growing and may even be  beginning to decline. The thrill of the next goal, the next barrier is past and they are  asking, “Is this all there is? I’ve played the numbers game, now what?” I believe we need a major paradigm shift. If we continue to measure the same things, to build our churches with the same goals, we’re going to continue to get the same  disappointing results. We need to acknowledge that every church has a lifecycle of increase and decline. There are seasons of growth, seasons of maturing, seasons of reproduction and seasons of decline. We need to stop emphasizing the tree and begin looking at the orchard. To borrow a phrase from Steven Covey we need to begin with the end in mind. Read more here…