Don’t Be Like The Church Down the Road

In my nursing career there was question that would often come up in meetings that used to drive me crazy.  It seemed like anytime we were discussing how to address an issue someone would ask:

“What are others doing about this?”

This same question often comes up in the church as well. In fact there is a common temptation/tendency in ministry to look at other ministries and want to be like them. Maybe to wish you had what they had, or that you could do what they do. When we are faced with a problem in our ministry or we have an idea that we are not quite sure how to address we look to see what others are doing.

Who cares what others are doing? When this question would come up in meetings at the hospital I would have to fight the urge to jump and scream this. You see, I believed that the combined intelligence and experience in those meetings was enough to solve the problem, without constantly looking at what others were doing. If we are only ever willing to do what others are already doing then we will only ever be as good as the people we copy; we can never be better than them. This is not good enough for me. I want to do as good as I can do, not only as good as someone else can do.

Where’s the Holy Spirit? I know that this may seem like the super spiritual answer, but what happened to the inspiration and influence of the Holy Spirit? Are we not created in the image of the Creator? Are YOU not created by, in the image of, and inspired by the same God that the church down the road is? If so, then who should you go to when you need ideas or inspiration?

BUT, there is value in LEARNING from other churches. Ok, now comes the part where I sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth. There are things that we can learn from other churches. What we SHOULDN’T do is try to directly copy what other churches are doing. What we SHOULD do is look for the principles within what they are doing that can be transferred to your ministry. Don’t copy them, but ask:
Why is this thing working for them?
Are there pieces of this that might work in my context, as they are?
Are there pieces of this that could be adapted to work in my context?

Your church is different. For that matter you are different. Your community is different. The culture within your church is different. Your kids are different. Your team is different. Basically everything about your ministry is different. SO… why would you try to copy what someone else is doing without any changes?

So what? So, were do we go from here? Well continue to look at and learn from other churches BUT, seek your own inspiration. Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Have the best ministry YOU can have based on your gifting and on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Trust me, if you do this the result will be WAY better than if you simply try to copy what someone else is doing.

Matt Norman

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One Size Fits All

One size fits all. This phrase has become quite a source of aggravation for me, at least when it comes to buying hats. You see I have an unusually large head. So big, in fact, that it caused me a bit of trouble when I played little league baseball. When buying uniforms for a little league baseball team you get a dozen or so small, child sized hats for the kids and 3 or 4 bigger ones for the coaches. Well, my head was so big that I had to wear the coaches hat. Yep, true story. As you can imagine, my head is even bigger now. I can pretty much assure you that any hat that says, “one size fits all” will not fit me. If it doesn’t come in specific sizes, then it is very unlikely to fit my head.

One size fits all ministries.  Ministry leaders are passionate about their ministries. They are passionate about the work that they see God doing in and through the ministries that they lead. This is a good thing. There is no work more worthy of passion. There is no work more rewarding or fulfilling. BUT, the mistake that many make is in assuming that the way they do ministry is THE ONLY WAY TO DO MINISTRY or at least the RIGHT WAY. If God has convicted them with something then they think everyone should be convicted with that same thing. If something has worked for them they think that everyone should do that thing. If they enjoy/like/prefer a certain way of doing things, then they think that everyone should. This simply isn’t true.

Paul wrote many letters. Paul wrote different letters to different churches. Why? Because these churches each had unique culture within their church and community. They had unique gifting within their body. They faced unique issues within their body and community. If there were one right way to do church Paul would have simply written one letter and had some scribes copy it and send it to all of the churches he ministered to. BUT, there wasn’t one right way to do church then and there isn’t today.

It’s hard enough being me, please don’t ask me to be you. God has made you wonderfully unique. The ministry you lead is reflection of this uniqueness. But, God also made me wonderfully unique. Instead of thinking that my ministry should look more like yours, lets celebrate our uniqueness and the wonderful Creator who made us this way.

“But this thing really works.” The Bible refers to the church as ONE BODY. It doesn’t talk about a bunch of little bodies. For this reason I think there is great value in learning from one another. If there is a ministry that is really reaching people with the gospel, or growing great disciples, or has great environments where kids are truly worshipping, then we need to look at what their doing. We need to take careful notes. BUT, we don’t need to copy them. God didn’t call you to be them, He called you to be you. If He wanted to you be them He would have made you them. What we need to look for when we study these other ministries is PRINCIPLES. Principles can cross denominational lines. Principles can be applied regardless of size. Principles take personality and individual gifting out of the mix. Principles allow you to take what you learn from one church and adapt it to work at yours.

You have your calling, I have mine. Ephesians 4:11 talks of the unique calling that God gives to different people. It would be wrong for the one called to be an apostle to think that everyone should be an apostle. It would be wrong for the one called to be a prophet to think that everyone should be a prophet. It would be wrong for the one called to be an evangelist or a pastor/teacher to think that everyone should be the same. This verse demonstrates the unique calling that God places on each of us. In the same way God gives us each unique burdens within the ministries and communities we serve. It would be wrong to think that the burden that God has given me should be your burden as well. Likewise, your God given burden is yours and not mine.

One body, many people. We are one body, but we are a body filled with many unique people. remember this before you talk down on someone who does things differently than you do them. The question for their ministry should be the same as it is for your, “Is this working?” If the answer is yes, then it doesn’t matter if your church does Sunday School or large group small group. It doesn’t matter if your church does a fall festival/Halloween alternative or not. “Is it working?” If it is, then praise God. If it is not, then we all need to take time to evaluate what we are doing and why. Just cause it worked, or didn’t work, in your church doesn’t guarantee that it will work or not in mine.

Celebrate the results, not the methods. At the end of the day the goal is to make disciples. That is what Jesus commissioned us to do. If souls are being saves, let’s celebrate. If people are growing spiritually, let’s celebrate. The methods are important, but they are far less important than the results. Let’s celebrate the results and stop focusing so much on the methods.

Matt Norman

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You Are Here.

You-Are-Here-Sign2You ever seen one of those maps at the mall or maybe an amusement part. They show a map of the entire mall or park, or at least the section you are in. There is usually a big area pointing to where you are with a big red dot indicating your exact location. Then there are the words “You are HERE” emblazoned nearby. The point of these maps is to help you determine where you are and to find out where you want to go next.

What if the map didn’t help you find out where you were to go next?

Faith can sometimes feel like that. Your looking at a map of your life/ministry/family and all you see is a big red dot proclaiming “YOU ARE HERE!” You desperately what to know what is next, but all you can see is this map telling you where you are.

I already know where I am!!

Maybe you don’t actually scream this, but somewhere inside you are screaming that you already know where you are. I have actually stood next to the lake at my last church and yelled at God nearly demanding to know what came next. Over and over again all I would get was “YOU ARE HERE.”

Abide a while. Acts 1:4 tells us of Jesus telling the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Father’s promise. They were having a YOU ARE HERE moment. We know this because they asked Jesus in verse 6, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time.” In other words, what comes next? What’s the next step? Where do we go from here? But, Jesus responds, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” In other words:

That’s for the Father to worry about.

Let me ask you some questions:

  • Did God bring you to where you are?
  • Do you believe that HE has a plan?
  • Do you trust His plan?
  • Would you rather live by His plan than by YOURS?

If the answer to all of these is yes, then YOU ARE HERE is all you need to know. God spoke this to me just this morning. As I sat in my quiet time I closed my eyes, laid my head back and tried to shut out all distractions. I was determined to hear from God. So, as I sat in this posture of listening, I asked God, “What’s the next step.” Immediately, almost if I heard Him speaking I heard Him say, “Don’t worry about the next step.”

It’s not our place to worry about the next step.

The Bible promises to be “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” The type of light that this passage talks about is only enough to see just a short distance in front of you. It is not enough light to see the entire path, but that is what we often want. If God has brought you to where you are, then you need to take some time to consider why you are here. Why did God bring you to where you are. I can almost guarantee that it wasn’t to simply start looking for the next step.

God will tell you what is next.

God has a plan and He will work his plan. His desire is to work WITH you. He doesn’t need you, but He has chosen you. But, if you are to hear what He is saying, to hear what the next step is and when to take it, YOU HAVE TO BE LISTENING. All to often we listen for God when we are ready to move on to the next thing, or when we want Him to bless OUR plans. If we want to regularly hear from God, then we must be regularly listening. We MUST set up a regular (preferably daily) time to listen to God. Don’t simply read the Bible. Don’t spend the whole time throwing your requests at Him. These things are good, but take some time to simply listen, to be still and know that He is GOD.

Matt Norman

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Book Review: Treasury of Bible Stories by Kelly Pulley

As a parent and children’s minister I am constantly looking for new resources for my children, both in my home and in my church. Today I want to look at a great new Bible Story book for preschoolers.

Treasury of Bible Stories by Kelly Pulley.

The first potential question that comes to mind in regards to this book is, “do we really need another Bible stories book?” This is somewhat of a valid question. After all there are already many great Bible story books on the market. However, I think with each generation there needs to be free influx of great resources. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the resources already out there, but it is always nice to have fresh, creative ways of teaching the next generation about Jesus.

What this book is NOT. As with all Bible story books, this is not a theology lesson for preschoolers. This book does not appear to be designed to teach Biblical values. But, at the end of the day, when dealing with Preschoolers are we really looking to teach them theology? I don’t think so. Certainly we want to begin to teach them the foundations of our faith. We need to begin to teach them Biblical values on a level that is appropriate and that they can understand. In general, we are not trying to teach them any deep theology. That doesn’t come till first grade. (LOL)

What this book IS. This book is a fun way to build familiarity with Biblical events in young children. The art work is done in a somewhat whimsical style that I can appreciate and I think kids will love. The stories are told in “rhythmical rhymes” as proclaimed on the cover of the book. These rhymes have an almost Seussical feel to them. But, despite the whimsical style of the art work and the writing I think they manage to do it without any disrespect to the original texts. While this book is not a collection of Sunday School lessons. I do think that with just a little work one could use these stories as a jumping off point to teaching older preschoolers the Biblical values and principles that are represented in these Bible Passages

What I like about this book. As I have said before I like the art work and the poetic telling of the stories. The almost Seuss like rhymes are fun and, I think, will be something kids will enjoy. Almost makes me wish I could play a lute. I could see me as a traveling bard going about the country side, stopping in small villages and towns and sharing these magical tales through song… Ok, maybe that is a stretch. But, the rhythm and rhyme of these stories do almost lend themselves to being sung as much as spoken.

I also like the fact that at the beginning of each story they list the Bible passage that the story is found in. This allows for anyone reading the book to easily find the original Scripture and use that to learn or teach from. This is very helpful as many may not readily know where to find these passages.

What I don’t like about this book. Really there is not much I don’t like about it. I tend to shy away from referring to the historical events of the Bible as “stories”. I think that the over use of this word in children’s ministry has led some kids to doubt that these events even happened. BUT, we’re talking about preschoolers here. I think that use of a book like this can be great for preschoolers so long as we do what we can to help them understand as they get a little older that these things ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

My recommendation. Buy the book. Use it with your own kids. Use it with the preschoolers at church. Use it in the community at a community story time. However you decide to use this book I do think that will make a valuable addition to anyones library.

Matt Norman

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How DARE You!

How DARE You!

That is often my response when something doesn’t go my way, or when someone says something in disagreement with my views. Certainly I never actually say that and I can’t say that I am actually thinking exactly that, but as I think about it I can tell you that my reaction to such things proves that deep down inside this is what I am feeling.

Because I said SO! This is often the response when my kids ask WHY when I tell them to do something. Now there is some truth in saying that because I am their father and I have told them, then that is all the reason they need. After all, for our children we are their greatest earthly authority. How they learn to respond to us can reflect how they respond to God in the future. For this reason it is important that they learn to obey. But, how we respond to them can also reflect how they think about God in the future. Our kids learn a lot about our Heavenly Father from their earthly Fathers. When we lash out in anger, they can come to believe that God is the same. But, for me the true heart of the issue is m own pride. When I lash out at my children what I am responding to is the thing INSIDE ME that says, HOW DARE YOU question me. Or HOW DARE YOU talk back to me.

You should just submit to me. I am ashamed to admit that I often respond to my wife in the same way. We have both grown and those moments are far fewer than they once were, but they still happen. In that moment I am certainly not thinking that she should just be submissive like the Bible instructs her and I would never say it to her. The truth is that very thought is not true to what the Bible says about this. What I am thinking is HOW DARE YOU talk to me that way. HOW DARE YOU question me. HOW DARE YOU not go along with what I want to do. These are not attractive thoughts and certainly not thoughts that I am proud of, but it is clear that in these moments these are the deep seated feelings that I am responding to.

Do you know who I am? One of my biggest struggles in life is with pride. My pride leads me to respond poorly in a variety of situations. While I am not actively thinking or saying this, my reactions tend to say, DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? or DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH? I can not remember any instance when I was actually thinking these things, but my reactions show that this is what I am feeling, even if not actually thinking it.

So, who am I. While my pride gives me an over-inflated view of who I am, the truth is that I am nothing. I am a broken person. I am a sinner. I am unworthy of being followed, obey, or submitted to. I have not value in and of myself. For this reason HOW DARE I respond in this way. HOW DARE I think myself higher or greater than the person I am lashing out at. HOW DARE I act in anything but love and grace. After all, that’s how God responds to me.

So, who am I REALLY? The things I have said about myself in the last paragraph are completely true. BUT, they leave of some very important truths. I am created IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. For this reason I have value. I AM LOVED BY THE CREATOR of the universe. For this reason I have value. I AM FORGIVEN by the Son of God. For this reason I have value. I AM CLOTHED IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS of Jesus Christ. For this reason I have value. BUT, what I can never begin to believe is that this value is of my own earning. I can never begin to believe that the value that I have received from God elevates me above any others.

How dare I! In the midst of my sin, God loved me. Even as I continue to stumble and sin, God loves me. When I respond badly to someone, God loves me. God ALWAYS responds to me with love and grace, far beyond what I could even begin to deserve. If God, who is perfect would respond to me that way, then HOW DARE I respond in any other way.

Think about it. As with much of what I write on here, this post is as much for me as for anything else. But, I encourage you to think about these things. Think about how you respond to your kids, your spouse, to other people. Think about how God has responded to you. Keep these things in mind and let them begin to change the way you talk to and treat people around you.

Matt Norman

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