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How is a guy supposed to pray? Joel Hunter offers five prayers that God will always answer (in a recent post at MinistryToday): 1:”Lord, get me out of this temptation!” Believe it or not, when we earnestly pray this prayer, we have to climb over God’s impediments to sin! 2: “Lord, amaze me with a glimpse of the supernatural.” As shallow as this sounds, this isn’t the same as a generation always looking for signs. This prayer is a request to see God’s hand in our lives and appreciate His nearness. He loves to reveal Himself above all rational explanation, but we do not usually ask or look. 3:”Lord, show me better ways to love and serve.” Most guys are bored with their own routines and are frustrated with their own lack of creativity. Why not ask God to break you out of your rut?  A word of caution: If you pray this prayer, you will discover that people are yelling at you for a reason. It is God’s ventriloquism trying to get you to see a new perspective. 4: “Lord, use me for Your purpose in this situation.” The great adequacy of God is that He can use us when we do not know what to say or do or even think! Many times we are reluctant to enter into a potential place of ministry because we think we surely would mess it up. 5: “Lord, glorify Your name.” There are many times when I have no idea what God wants me to pray. I can see the good and bad in each alternative. via Joel Hunter: 5 Prayers God Always Answers. Anything you’d add to the list?
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At Mars Hill Church they have what they call a preacher’s “Qualifying Day”.  This year they have about 50 elders at Mars Hill, and about that many more in training. So they thought it would be fun to give them all a different text to preach a week ahead of time, then have a ‘preach off’ of sorts… They’ll show up to preach and be evaluated. Well… only 3 will preach in the first round (date) of competition. Mark Driscoll wrote on his blog: This will be fun…for some of us. For our Mars Hill version of American Idol for preachers, I’ll play the part of Simon Cowell, minus the deep v-neck and British accent. Joining me on the judging panel will be Dr. Justin Holcomb who runsResurgence, Pastor Scott Thomas who runs Acts 29, and Pastor Dave Bruskas, the executive elder who oversees all our churches. In anticipation of this event, I made a list of 16 things that I’m looking for in a preacher or teacher’s sermon: 1.    Tell me about Jesus. Connect it all to Jesus. If you don’t mention Jesus a lot, you need to do something other than preach. And tell me that Jesus is a person, not just an idea. Help me to not only know him but to also like him. 2.    Have one big idea. Hang all your other ideas on the one big idea. Otherwise, you will lose me or bore me. 3.    Get my attention in the first 30 seconds without being gimmicky. Get to work. Don’t “blah blah blah” around, chitchat, or do announcements. That will make me start checking my phone. Get my attention, and let’s get to work. 4.    Bring me along theologically and emotionally. Preaching is not a commentary. Commentaries are boring for even nerds to read. Your job is to do the nerd work and bring it to life. Raise your voice, grab my affections, and bring the living Word. 5.    Make me like you, trust you, and respect you so that I can’t dismiss you. If you want me to follow you, you have to get me to that point. 6.    Avoid Christian jargon and explain your terms. The average person has no idea what fellowship means, or even God for that matter. So, tell us what you’re talking about and don’t assume we have your vocabulary. 7.    Don’t have points as much as a direction and destination. Take me somewhere. Take me to a place of conviction, compassion, conversion, etc. 8.    Don’t show me how smart you are, because it makes me feel dumb. I assume you’re smart since you’re standing up talking and we’re all sitting down listening. If you quote words in some language I don’t know, or quote dead guys to show you’re a genius, that makes me feel dumb, which doesn’t serve me well. Don’t come off like that kid in school that the rest of us wanted to give a wedgie to every time they raised their hand. 9.    Invite lost people to salvation. Some people in the seats aren’t Christians. So, tell them how to become one. Talk about sin, Jesus, and repentance. At some point in every sermon just do that. If you do, people will bring lost friends. Don’t be a coward. 10.  Whether it feels like a wedding or a funeral, be emotionally engaging and compelling. Some sermons are a funeral—convicting, deep, hard hitting, and life shattering. Other sermons are a wedding—exciting, compelling, encouraging, and motivating. Pick an emotional path. Have an emotional trajectory to the sermon, not just a theological point. If you pass the audition and get to preach publicly, have the entire service flow emotionally. If we do wedding songs after a funeral sermon, I’m emotionally confused. Likewise, if we’re singing melancholy hymns after a big motivational sermon, I’m also emotionally confused. So, you and the guy in skinny jeans with the guitar have got to get this figured out together. You can find the last 6 here: 16 Things I look for in a Preacher | Pastor Mark. Thoughts?

The church has enjoyed ‘tax-exempt’ status in America for many years… but that doesn’t mean this will continue forever. In fact, this article claims that the US Government could make $71 Billion a year just by stopping this practice.  (Actually, I bet it’s much more). I think the day is coming that, at some point, the door will at least be opened to closing some of the tax benefits churches receive. My guess is that the first to go will be the clergy housing allowance. Anyway… read this from Derek Beres and let me know what you think… Derek writes: While the desire to tax churches is not new, it seems as far from reality as possible at this moment. As has been commented, no atheist could possibly hope to win an election in today’s political climate—a freethinking man like Robert Ingersoll would have no influence with the majority of our electorate. Our cultural dependency on the necessity of faith is affecting our society: According to a University of Tampa study, not taxing churches is taking an estimated $71 billion from our economy every year, and this fact remains largely unquestioned. The general argument over why churches do not pay taxes goes like this: If there is a separation of church and state, then the state (or fed) has no right to collect money from the church. In exchange, churches cannot use their clout to influence politics. While this would seem to make for cozy bedfellows, it’s impossible to believe that none of the 335,000 congregations in the United States are using their resources for political purposes, especially when just last week the Kansas governor called for a ‘Day of Salvation’ in his state. Churches not paying property and federal income taxes (along with a host of others, including reduced rates on for-profit properties and parsonage subsidies) is filed into that part of our brain marked ‘always been.’ Never mind the conundrum that the most religious are often the most patriotic—what could be less patriotic than not paying your fair share for the good of the country, especially when church structures and those who work for them use the same public utilities as the rest of us? As noted in the Tampa study, churches fall into the category of ‘charitable’ entities. This is often a stretch. The researchers calculated the Mormon church, for example, spends roughly .7% of its annual income on charity. Their study of 271 congregations found an average of 71% of revenues going to ‘operating expenses,’ while help to the poor is somewhere within the remaining 29%. Compare this to the American Red Cross, which uses 92.1% of revenues for physical assistance and just 7.9% on operating expenses. The authors also note that Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years. // Read more via How To Make $71 Billion A Year: Tax the Churches | 21st Century Spirituality | Big Think. Do you think any of the tax advantages the church has enjoyed will go away any time soon? Do you think the housing allowance will continue to be a benefit for pastors, or will that go away soon? What impact would taxing the church have in YOUR congregation? Todd

John Piper talks about some of the biggest risks he has taken in ministry: I took a risk in hiring a minister for students. The church consisted of 300 gray heads when I came—virtually no students at first. But across the street were 55,000 students at the University of Minnesota. The less visionary folks said, “Students are here today and gone tomorrow—bad investment.” I said, “What a way to spread!” We called Tom Steller. Before long, the student ministry on Sunday morning was half as big as the rest of us. Tom is still with me at Bethlehem. I took a risk less than two years into my ministry by proposing that the Church Covenant be amended to remove the requirement of teetotalism for membership. I’m a teetotaler. But to me, this came so close to Galatianism (the idea that, to be a complete Christian, you need circumcision) that I staked my ministry on it. Some of my supporters were shocked, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union chapter said the church had called a liberal who would take us down the road to unbelief. It passed, but barely. I’m still here and have not heard the charge of liberal in a long time. Read more via On stereotypes, risks, and Jesus: Driscoll interviews Piper What is the biggest risk YOU’VE ever taken in ministry? 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

Dan Reiland writes: Money follows vision. That’s true, but oh, if it were only that simple. There is so much more to it! There are many churches where there is vision, and yet the financial resources do not show up let alone keep up. So what separates the vision in a leader’s heart, from a vision that gets traction and takes off, and one that never seems to travel far from the lips of the leader? First, I think the primary leader, (the senior pastor), the key staff and church board members must have a deep and abiding sense of confidence in the vision. It’s not as if they don’t need God, in fact it’s just the opposite. They know God is with them. Further, it’s not as if God is obligated to grant them favor, but there is such an authentic dependence upon God that He blesses that humble confidence. Second, the vision is clear. People get it. The congregation believes it and buys in. They see how they can participate and they want to! These churches aren’t perfect and they are not all big churches, but they have a sense of where they are going and they dig in and go for it. They risk and strive for progress. They teach stewardship as an issue of spiritual maturity not just money. I believe that you need to start with the idea that you have enough. I know that might seem like “pie in the sky” if your actual income is lower than your projected expenses. This always causes stress and pressure. But, I’ll say it again, you need to view what you have as enough, because that is what you have!  You may be required to make major adjustments, but we all do in different seasons. When you believe “I don’t have enough,” you begin to shortchange your vision and what God can do.  I will admit, things can get tough, but you have enough. Let’s start there. How you view the above thought and how you lead in organizational finances reflects your personal theology. (And in part your faith.) The resources of your church are entrusted to you in order to maximize kingdom return.  You are a steward of God’s money. You have a responsibility to maximize the return… Giving church resources outside the church is strong. This is highly encouraging because any church can do it!  Simply put — Give yourselves away. This is not about how much money you have, it’s about your heart and values. God honors even the most modest of giving into your community, and I think He is pleased with generous giving. I’m simply talking about setting aside monies for compassion projects, justice issues, mercy endeavors, etc. The idea is to give to those in need, especially those who may never be able to come to your church, or do anything for you in return. Of course we all want to share the gospel whenever possible, and it’s wonderful if they can come to your church, but your motivation, in this case, is to help those in need, not to grow your church. God has a way of honoring that kind of heart and investment. The Leadership replaces fear with hope. In the bleakest and most difficult of times, there is hope. As a leader it’s important that you genuinely believe that. If you do not, you will never lift your people to a greater place. We know this is true when it comes to sin and salvation. Grace is our great hope. There is no sin that grace cannot conquer! By our faith in Jesus, His blood covers our transgression. Grace can deliver you from the darkest place to light (I John 4:5-7) and freedom in Christ. // Read more here:  Challenging Economic Times

Brian Croft offers these three things that you really shouldn’t neglect as a pastor… but if you’re like most, you probably are more than you should: 1)  Lack of sleep.  As wise and discerning as many pastors are, it is amazing the amount of us who think we can function at a high level getting 1-2 hours of sleep less each night than we really need.  There can be a sinful pride at work as we share “4-5 hours of sleep and I’m good.”  All the while, we are grumpy by 6 pm, we are getting sick on a regular basis, and regularly give our families the leftovers in the evenings.  Be honest about how much sleep you really need, then do what you must to get your rest.  I need 8 hours a night.  There, I’ll own it.  How about you? 2)  Lack of exercise.  This becomes a most noticeable area of neglect when pastors gain a bunch of unnecessary weight.  Yet, regular exercise is not solely for weight management.  Exercise is one of the best natural relievers of stress that exists.  It raises your energy level and is essential for your overall health.  It is amazing how crummy anyone will feel (I know I would) if they ate whatever they desired and rarely exercised.  Because of the level of stress in the typical pastor’s life, this becomes that much more of an essential aspect of the pastor’s life and harmful when neglected. 3)  Lack of spiritual attention to his own’s soul.  Pastors spend so much time having to study for that next sermon, or Bible study.  There is that devotion you must write for the church newsletter, or an article for some journal.  So much of our study and reading time is spent on the tasks of our calling.  Obviously, sermon preparation and thinking through a theological implication for this counseling situation is spiritually fruitful and feeds our souls with the word. // Read more here… Well… how are you doing? Todd

From Managing Your Church: Many churches look forward to a year-end giving bump to help make up for a budget shortfall. In the annual State of the Plate survey we co-sponsor, we know churches consistently count on December to boost total giving figures for the year, and in uncertain economic times, this can present challenges. For instance, among 1,500 churches who responded to the 2011 State of the Plate, nearly a third said year-end giving in 2010 missed expectations. An end-of-year giving project can help maximize a bump up. It also can encourage long-term giving to avoid an overdependence on future Decembers. “When it comes to generosity, we tend to leave story behind and rely on other motivations such as tradition, ‘ought to,’ and unhealthy manipulation,” says Brad Leeper, author of the eBook, So Much More, and principal of “generosity development” firm Generis. By sharing stories of God’s mission and personal narratives of giving, church staffs can encourage their congregations to consider the place of regular generosity in their own stories. Here are four things to keep in mind as you plot the story of your end-of-year giving project: 1) Communicate your project The end of the year is a strategic time to encourage your congregation to give. Many in your congregation may receive a year-end bonus. Because of this, and for tax reasons, people often make charitable donations near the end of the year. But these donors must choose from an ever-increasing number of charitable organizations and mission opportunities asking for money.
2) Strategically announce and advertise your project When you first announce the project, ensure that your congregation understands what it is giving toward and why it fits with the mission and vision of the church’s ministry. People want to see their community’s values realized. Again, sharing stories as a part of your communication is important. 3) Celebrate your project To show your gratitude, send a short, personal note to each giver. A hand-written note means much more than a typed letter or e-mail, especially for first-time givers. McBroom says, “People will open a hand-written letter before an official-printed envelope every time. Five compelling, hand-written sentences are sure to be read.” Although it may be time-intensive, the pastor should write this note, not a staff member. Use first names, and send it as soon as possible after receiving a gift. If your church policy states that you should not know about a person’s giving, include the line, “While I am not aware of the amount, your gift is very generous.”
4) Cultivate the long-term benefits of your project Your project can increase long-term giving by creating a culture of generosity. One goal of your project should be to create first-time givers. The year-end project provides an excellent on-ramp for these first gifts because it celebrates the church’s communal impact. During the rest of the year, a new member may be reluctant to give in solitude because the effect may not be clear. But the project allows them to join their Christian community in a common goal. A second gift comes easier after the first is made. // read more here…

That’s the title of an op-ed in the Montreal Gazette over the weekend.  Jillian Page writes: Just how relevant  are Christian views — beyond the golden rules common to all religions  — in today’s Western world. It seems to me that many, many people have moved on, or evolved, in their spirituality to the point that they no longer adhere to Bible-thumping church beliefs they view as exclusionary. They no longer fear the “wrath” of God; they don’t see God as a deity, but more as a loving cosmic Energy that fills the heavens and the Earth. They do not or may not believe the Bible is the word of God at all, but is instead the views of men claiming to speak for God, but who were, in fact, speaking for themselves. They may see the Bible as simply one more spiritual text, and they put it on the shelves in their libraries beside other such texts as the Bhagavad’Gita (a beautiful book). We know that it is next to impossible to convince some Christians that any book other than the Bible has  spiritual relevance, and that any views besides their own have merit. But perhaps that very narrow-mindedness and exclusionary behaviour by those Christians is what is driving so many people away from their churches. After all, even the master Jesus said you can judge a tree by its fruits. So, when those fruits are bitter, people stop eating. It’s Karma 101. I think we are seeing a shift away from the fundamentalist Christianity of old. And those Christian institutions clinging to the old school of thought that espouses its Bible-thumping views of “God’s boundaries” are facing extinction. Not Christianity as a whole, mind you. Many Christian institutions have moved forward. One only needs to read The Heartland Proclamation to see that. But will the rest of Christianity move forward, too?
 Your thoughts?

… featuring my friend Mark DeYmaz: The number of multicultural churches — those in which at least one in five people is from a different ethnic group — is still relatively tiny. Even within diverse denominations such as the Assemblies of God, where about a third of the churches have minority congregations, or the Southern Baptists, where 20% of churches have minority congregations, only a small percentage meet that one-in-five criteria. Mark DeYmaz, pastor of Mosaic Church, a diverse non-denominational church based in Little Rock, says he believes the number is going to grow. DeYmaz said his congregation of 600 is about 40% white, 33% African-American, 15% Hispanic, with the rest from a variety of backgrounds. When Mosaic opened in 2001, DeYmaz said he knew of few diverse churches. Now he knows of several hundred. “When we get to heaven, the kingdom of God isn’t going to be segregated,” he said. “So why should the local church be segregated?” Efrem Smith, author of The Post-Black and Post-White Church, agrees. Smith, who founded a multiracial church of 1,000 in Minneapolis called Sanctuary Covenant Church, said the election of President Obama and the success of such African Americans as Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey are signs that America is ready for multiracial churches. “You saw black people who weren’t just leaders of other black people,” he said. “They are leaders of all people.” You can read more here…