General Assembly
of the Church of God
in Michigan

"equipping local congregations
to extend the Kingdom of God"

June 17, 2019

On Nursing Homes and Little Children

Dr. William Jones, State Pastor, Church of God in Michigan

Do you enjoy nursing home ministry? Not many do! I recall singing the old...old hymns because the people in the home knew them. I remember trying to sing some new upbeat chorus and everyone there just stared at me. I think one old man may have spit. I recall the smell, the nice nurses, and some residents who could no longer even lift up their head. I always wondered what to preach or teach since my audience usually was asleep or yelling something I could not understand. I even had a few of the lady octogenarians ask me if I were married...I was quite a looker when I was young. But confessionally; going to the nursing home was not an easy thing.

One day I asked my daughter, Jaela, if she would go with me. She was five or six years old and she loved older people, largely because she was loved on by the senior adults of my congregation. I was amazed at how the residents warmed up to her. Most of them were grand...great grand...even great great grandparents and having my daughter speak to them or let them touch her hair; even some got hugs, seemed to make their day. Jaela loved going because it was like she had a room full of grandpas and grandmas all to herself. She was a big hit and so was I for bringing her.

Do you have regular nursing home responsibilities? Do you have a few kids in the church that love older people? You might consider taking one or two and just ask them to speak with or if they are comfortable allowing these old folk to give them a hug or touch their hair. Children can bring real life to seniors who by many have been long forgotten.

I write this today because I am closer to the nursing home than I am to prom-night. I am realizing now how much life my grandchildren bring to me. Maybe it is something to think about as we puzzle over what we can do when we have a Nursing Home responsibility.

June 10, 2019

Step Up and Stay in the Box!

Rev. David Perry, Pastor, Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca, Michigan

It is Spring and soon to be Summer – time for baseball! I used to play some in my youth. Played more softball than baseball. But as I get older, this is undisputable=

The older I get, the better I was–

'cause most of the witnesses can’t remember or are gone!

Baseball is about teams with nine on the field and with one at home plate with a bat.

Baseball is about a pitcher throwing the ball and the batter trying to swing and hit the ball with a bat.

Baseball is also about cool uniforms, hot dogs and arguing - lots and lots of arguing...but more about that another time.

In order to win at baseball, you have to step up to the plate with your bat into what’s called the batter’s box, face the opposing pitcher and try to get on base. You might walk, be hit and get on base, or swing and hit and get either a single, double, triple or best of all, -

Da da ta da ta DAAA! A home run!

Sometimes you strike out, sometimes you fly out but you can’t get on base if you don’t step up to the plate. The team that scores the most runs, wins.

Sometimes the pitcher throws what's called a “brushback pitch” or “chin music.” High and inside, threatening to hit you, definitely trying to intimidate you. The brushback pitch allows the pitcher to make the strike zone easier for him and harder for you the batter.

Ministry is like that. Isn't it amazing how confidence and momentum drives us. It is sad how fear and opposition can slow or even stop us.

In the last 34 years here in Michigan, I have seen many of your fellow servant leaders take “brushback pitches” from both the saints and from Satan.

Some of you have backed out of the box. Most of you are staying right in there. To all of us, I want to remind you what I think Jesus, our Manager is saying to us when we get the brushback pitch in life:

~"Step up" – stay in the box!

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 2: 7

They sing this best at West Middlesex- p. 685 “Worship the Lord Hymnal”

1. I mean to go right on until the crown is won;
I mean to fight the fight of faith till life on earth is done.
I’ll nevermore turn back, defeat I shall not know,
For God will give me victory if onward I shall go.

Refrain: I’m going on, I’m going on,
Unto the final triumph, I’m going on;
I’m going on, I’m going on,
Unto the final triumph, I’m going on.

2.Should opposition come, should foes obstruct my way,
Should persecution’s fires be lit, as in the ancient day—
With Jesus by my side, His peace within my soul,
No matter if the battle’s hot, I mean to win the goal.

To my fellow servant leaders – step up and stay in the box!

June 3, 2019

Where do we go from here? Are we ready to generously help LGBTQ people?

More than a few social issues illicit strong and opposing responses in our communities. To no surprise, Church of God congregations are experiencing the stress of our changing times as once accepted standards are now being weighed and measured. We cannot afford to compromise the Truth that is so dear to us, but the way we express it needs to be evaluated for its effectiveness. In particular, how we, the Church of God, respond to those expressing gender, identity, and sexuality preferences in conflict with Biblical orthodoxy, is crucial.

On February 12th, 2019, I attended an Indiana Ministries training event for pastors and church leaders focusing on helping Church of God congregations to more lovingly respond to and care for, those who identify as LGBTQ. The presentation was given by Ty Wyss, founder of Walls Down Ministry. He believes most conservative, evangelical, holiness, churches are unaware of the persons among them that are struggling with "same-sex attraction" (SSA), or any of a number of sexuality/gender identifications. As boundaries continue to be eroded by culture, and people increasingly embrace new identifications as normal, your church will have to be prepared to respond with a new posture that speaks to the heart and the head.

Wyss says,

"The heart of Walls Down is to help the Christian Church keep their focus on Christ's invitation of abundant life, rather than winning a culture war, a political debate, or trying to just change a person's orientation."

This ministry's efforts are in response to the bricks that have been laid in the wall of separation between the gay community and the Church. The bricks in the walls have been set by both entities, effectively limiting our Christian outreach to the very ones who need to experience the grace of the Savior. We can work towards removing those bricks that are impeding communication and blocking opportunity to share the peace and transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Wyss suggested that the Church must put away the fear of "condoning sin" and of heavily focusing on handling the theological question well. It's been believed, if we fail to condemn the sin and don't major on the theological argument, we will be condoning homosexuality. This is a falsity. What we end up doing, according to Wyss, is narrowing the conversation to the point we are no longer being heard. He suggested not leading with our theology, don't feel pressured to answer every question, and practice discernment of when a theology question isn't really theological, but rather seeking affirmation of personhood. Instead, ask questions for understanding. He stated,

"When we clear up the white noise [accusations from the enemy, fear of disappointing God, and pressure from a religious church culture], we're able to do what comes more naturally for people filled with the Holy Spirit - we meet people right where they are and love them closer to Jesus."

Wyss shared with attendees that language also plays a big part in our ability to be in relationship with those who are struggling sexually, with their gender, or spiritually. As generations go, words take on different meanings and we need to know what LGBTQ words actually mean so we can seek to be understood, and to understand. There are words to use, words to avoid, and the need to make room for new phrases. We must avoid shaming with our words. Learning language opens doors.

People take on the identity of the thing they've been shamed for the most. - Wyss

The last challenge he presented to the crowd of pastors and leaders was a question of where are we allowing LGBTQ people to engage in our churches? Are they allowed to serve? to contribute? If not in the church, then where? He suggested there are few things that inhibit the redemptive relationships that are needed to reach LGBTQ people:

  • A church culture that says that everyone who serves is a leader.
  • Most people can hide their issues, LGBTQ people are more seeable.
  • Seeing LGBTQ people as not having much to offer, until they repent.
  • Not seeing LGBTQ people as part of the body of faith until they've surrendered their sexuality.

The work of grace is as much for LGBTQ people as it is for all persons. The church's posture needs to "shift" from one of protection from, to an invitation to the journey of salvation. Included in that journey is being members of God's family through the blood of Jesus, and baptism is a normal next step, along with being discipled.

Scripture tells us the Lord offers His grace, love, and forgiveness to anyone who will receive it by faith. We need to take that posture as well. The church is at a crossroads. We can't ignore a whole community of people. We can't ignore the many who struggle with these issues and are looking for hope and help. We can't ignore that our churches will encounter those who are caught in the throws of sin, for once we ourselves were caught, too.

If you're interested in knowing more, go to www.WallsDown.org, or another affiliated ministry, www.leadthemhome.org. If there's an interest in hearing from Ty Wyss, in Michigan, please let me know at my email address: newhorizonscommunity@yahoo.com.

May 21, 2019

Keep Learning

Dr. William Jones, State Pastor, Church of God in Michigan

I never guessed that when I entered Kindergarten at five years old at Sevastapool Elementary School in Richmond, Indiana, that I was embarking on something that would take up the rest of my life. I was hoping to get to nap time on the rug my mom gave me, not thinking of High School, College, or Graduate School. Now here I am having spent 14 years in formal education after my college degree; still realizing that there is so much I do not know, and realizing that I dare not quit learning.

What do you have to know to be effective in ministry anyway? Isn’t praying enough? Isn’t being filled with the Spirit enough? Isn't reading My Daily Bread enough? Isn’t reading the Weekly Call enough? (Oh! that hurts!). The answer is no!! We all know that our world is changing at break-neck speed. We all feel overwhelmed, confused, saddened at times about the condition of our world. I learned a lot about Theology in Seminary, and I learned about practical theology and ministry during my doctoral training.

Frankly, no one taught me about late-term abortion, or transgender identity, or for that matter racial and ethnic diversity, or social justice. We did not even have computers in college during my days there, much less the internet that introduced me to information overload. At some point I would like to adopt a form of Amish perspective that says I will not live with or look at anything past 1953. But in reality we all know we cannot live that way. God is the God of the past, present, and future. I hear him say: in Isaiah 42:9 "Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them." and in Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”

We dare not quit learning from God, and about our world. He is not surprised by the conditions of our world. He is not fretting over what to do. He is constantly working to bring the helpless, the hopeless, the sick, the discouraged, the overwhelmed to his place of peace, forgiveness, grace, and wholeness. Reaching this world and proclaiming hope has changed since I began ministry in 1975. God has always provided me insights into how to touch my community, and share his love no matter how the world changed. He is still doing it. Jesus died for post-modern, post-Christian America as certainly as he did the people of Palestine, and Asia Minor in ancient days. We must keep up with how to be effective in sharing His message of hope and peace today. Do what it takes to be current and relevant to your world. Take classes, read books, go to conferences. Always be sharpening yourself so that you will be effective no matter what changes may come!

May 13, 2019

Two Hammers: The Problem With Comparisons

Mark O. Wilson is Assistant Professor of Discipleship, Multiplication and Renewal at Southern Wesleyan University

I have a sledgehammer in my shed, and I also have a small finishing hammer. They are both equally important to me.

If I had to choose between the two, I suppose I'd pick the little guy. He's been a real help to me over the years -- but I'd rather not choose at all. Both hammers are my good friends and trusted companions.

Thus, the hammers teach me a valuable lesson; bigger isn't always better! Smaller isn't always better either. The value of the tool is determined by the task ahead.

Driving stakes for a circus tent? Use the sledge! Repairing the living room coffee table? The finishing hammer will do perfectly. My wife, Cathy would not appreciate me using the sledge for that!

This brings me to an important point. Why do we compare ourselves with others? Why do we allow ourselves to feel inferior (or superior) to the people around us? We're all equally important -- though we have different roles and functions in life. We're all a part of the same toolbox! We all belong to the same garage.

It would be silly for the finishing hammer to glance furtively at the sledge and murmur, "I'm so small and insignificant! Compared to that guy, I'm just useless!" Likewise, the sledge could say, "I'm too awkward and clumsy. I wish I wasn't such a klutz and could be more graceful, like the finishing hammer."

Comparison with others is always a dead end street -- leading to inferiority or arrogance.

The importance of the hammer is determined only by the carpenter, not the hammer (or any other tool in the box!)

All the hammers -- both big and little -- are needed to build great cathedrals.

When it all is said and done, it won't matter which hammer was used for which part. Nobody will look at the majestic cathedral and say, "Wow, what a hammer!" Instead they will be inspired to glorify God and say, "What a Carpenter!"

May 6, 2019

Why Waste The Time Writing A Church Planters Blog?

Ralph Moore is thought to be responsible for planting more Churches than anyone else in the world. We are a movement of small churches, so I trust this is encouraging:

A friend asked me why I waste time writing a church planting blog. Good question, Im supposed to be retired but travel at least 13 weeks a year teaching disciplemaking and church multiplication. On top of that I try (often not successfully) to post something new and interesting each week.

The answer is that I believe in the kingdom of God. But, the most important factor is that I believe in the pastors of smaller churches. These guys are my heroesespecially bi-vocational (freelance) pastors. They pay a price that leaders of larger churches do not. And (this is the good part) they are more productive in A. Evangelism. B. Disciplemaking and C. Church planting. For me, supporting churches with fewer than 500 members is not a task, it's my life.

Smaller Churches as the Roots of the Tree

You read that right, these folks are at the root of the tree if mega-churches are the flowers at the top. It was in the early 1980s that George Barna discovered that small churches evangelize best because they are relational. They are relational because they cant afford expensive programs. Big churches think they evangelize, but often glean the results of the smaller churchespeople get saved in one place then discover another that has better childrens programs or more exciting worship you get it.

The relational nature of smaller churches more naturally (though not always) leads to pastors making disciples rather than dumping the Great Commission on a staff member (unrighteous delegation).

Smaller Churches Reproduce more Effectively

The real kick in the pants is the efficiency-vs-effectiveness quotient when it comes to measuring church size against the Great Commission. Big churches are efficient. They touch masses of people with minimal effort. Smaller churches are more demanding of leadershipyou work hard for every relationship. More than 20 percent of new churches come from churches numbering fewer than 100 in attendance. Congregations smaller than 500 people produce a whopping 60plus percent of church plants.

You read that right, more than 60 percent of churches ever planted came from a sending church numbering less than 500 people on their membership roles. This means for all the thousands of people attending megachurches, very few will ever be challenged to plant a church, even a micro-church.

My Three Goals

So, helping smaller churches A. Add members. B. Build disciplemaking continuums. C. Plant churches that will plant churches is worth living for at least I hope you think its worth it because it takes a lot of my time.

Are you shocked that so much is done by the few? Did you think it was the purview of larger congregations to get the Great Commission done? Please do share your thoughts in the comments box below if I have one regret it is that so many read this stuff while so few care to comment (yes, my friend, that was a guilt-trip).

April 29, 2019

How long is too long...How long is too short?

Dr. William Jones, State Pastor, Church of God in Michigan

I taught a class at our 360 Ministry Leadership Conference on taking care of your Pastor. I want to delve into a portion of the conference today. Have you ever heard someone say of a pastor..."he/she stayed too long?" Have you ever heard someone say, "we need a younger pastor...we are really getting old?" As a pastor have you ever wondered when it is time to go? How do you know…what are the signs? Below are startling statistics:

  • 1500 pastors leave their assignments each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention within their local congregation.

In a 1991 Fuller survey we find:

  • 75% of pastors reported a significant stress related crisis at least once a month.
  • 40% of pastors reported a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 85% of pastors reported their great problem is that they are sick and tired of dealing with problem people.

In 2006 Darin Patrick in his Mars Hill Church Survey of Literature recorded:

  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way to make a living.

How do we deal with the whole issue of Churches who want their pastor to leave and pastors who want to leave? Are there any answers?

The question many pastors ask...is it time to leave, how do I know? Let me suggest that a Pastor ought to know before his congregation. If the congregation knows before we do, we have become lazy and not kept our ear to the ground. John Maxwell's axiom is true here. "Anyone who thinks he is leading and has no one following, is simply taking a walk.” Key Question: are my people still following me? On the other hand if your average tenure as a pastor has never reached seven years, you have done the Church a disservice. Kennon Callahan in his book 12 Keys to an Effective Church states: "A pastorate of less than seven years is cost ineffective." Most pastors I know would tell you when you get to the six to ten year tenure in the church that is when some of one's most effective ministry happens! Why? You have gotten to know the community. The people of the community have gotten to know and hopefully trust you. The congregation sees that your ministry is not “fly by night,” but substantial and they will follow. Key Question: Have I stayed long enough to have built trust and cast a vision that people want to follow?

I am now nine months before my retirement as your State Pastor. I have known for almost three years this is the right time. I have had persons ask me why I am not staying longer…my health is reasonably good… the State Ministry is functioning well...! Precisely! I believe I am near completing what God wants me to do here. We need a fresh voice and and new vision. Could I stay and serve? Absolutely! Should I stay and serve? Absolutely not! There is a danger that when our mission is accomplished that we stay because everything is going well, the wheels are well oiled, now I can rest...NO! Key Question: Am I too comfortable?

The call of God is very personal. But some of the key questions above might help us to determine God’s will for our lives. Like Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, we don’t want to stay to short, nor too long, but just right. Key Question: Who can I trust to be open and honest with to help me figure out what I should do?

April 22, 2019

Church of God Convention 2019

Orlando, Florida | June 27-30

Our 2018 regional conventions theme was Receive. Hear. Embrace. This is the imago dei: Who we are created in the image of God. We want to receive, hear, and embrace all that God is, does, and gifts to us. These are personal experiences that we have authentically tasted.

Out of this grows our mission  missio dei  the communitys expression of what we have known and how we will live it out in the world. If we are the body of Christ, then we have the opportunity to GIVE LIFE in Jesus name. Can the aroma and fragrance of our very presence, speech, and action bring life? Jesus is the model and our relationship with him empowers us to experience and share. How did he breathe life? How did he speak life? How did he give life?

April 15, 2019

Why “We Need To Reach the Young People” Might Distract Your Church

by Mike Leake, Senior Pastor, 1st Baptist Church Marionville, Missouri

"If you don't reach young people your church is going to die".

I have heard that sentiment quite frequently when thought leaders (whatever those are) get together and discuss revitalization in local churches. Logically it's absolutely true. If an organization does not perpetuate it will not survive into the next generation. It is right for a church to be concerned if they only have gray heads. But there is an underlying theology within this statement which I believe will lead to death instead of life.

Peel off a layer of that onion and you see what dominates the conversation is self-preservation. It's not unnatural to not want to die. It’s quite normal to not want a beloved organization to die. In fact, God can use a drive for self-preservation for His glory. A church which realizes it is dying is far better than one living in denial. A church which says, "we'll do anything to not die" is in better shape than one which says, "we won't change even if it means death".

But a church cannot stay there. Because a church focused upon it's own survival is a church just waiting to die. The church, just like disciples, is meant to be self-denying for the sake of the kingdom. Doing things which are motivated by self-preservation are opposed to the ethics of God's kingdom. A church might even “turn around” by a good focused mission. But if the foundation is self-preservation instead of kingdom-expansion, don’t be surprised when the good news of Jesus becomes more explicitly secondary.

What about rather than saying, "your church is going to die" we say "your church is going to lose its impact on the community for the sake of Christ's kingdom"? This is getting at the real tragedy behind a church closing its doors. It's not simply that a beloved institution which once gave great memories is now terminated. The real pain is that influence for the kingdom is no longer happening in this sphere.

There does need to be a focus on reaching young people with the gospel of Jesus. (Just as there is a focus on reaching for Christ all those made in God's image). But if you start with self-preservation that focus is only going to go so far. Because what happens when you actually begin reaching "those" people and it changes the dynamic within your beloved institution? That old impulse of self-preservation is going to rear its ugly head.

The key question isn't, "do we want to reach the young people in our community". Rather, the key question is whether or not our hearts are kingdom focused instead of self-preservation focused. That will help with asking the right questions about what our Lord calls our particular local church to do well. A particular local church might not ever be the church which reaches hordes of young people. Or it might. That's up to Jesus. Our job is to be faithful with what we have been given in the place in which God has called us to serve.

Ask kingdom questions. Don't ask self-preserving questions. That changes everything.

Recommended by Rev. Jerry Lyon, Church Health Minister, Church of God in Michigan

April 8, 2019

Why We Need To Hear What People Say About Us

by Caron Loveless

When you hear the same negative comment about you from several sources, it's probably time to stop saying, they just don't get me and time to investigate why you're unable to see how others experience you. Years ago, I was leading a team in our church and things weren't progressing well. I tried all the typical team building exercises I knew to improve the connection but it seemed like people were holding back in our meetings.

Later, I discovered, part of the glitch was some in the group felt intimidated by me. Others thought I didn't value their ideas as much as my own. I was stunned. I honestly saw myself as a warm, inviting leader who gave everyone an equal opportunity to contribute.

When I thought about it, there had been other times similar remarks got back to me:

"She needs things to go her way."
"Her opinions are so strong I'm reluctant to offer mine."
"She can be intense."

My response to these comments went from, "I don't understand. I think I'm a pretty patient and inclusive leader" to "What's their problem? Don't they know it takes decisive leadership to get things done?"

Even as sharp and self-aware as we think we are, other people aren't as invested in us as we are so they can be more objective about how we're coming across. We always want to see ourselves in the best light so we internally block ourselves from believing negative feedback.

So, we resist. We think others are exaggerating or worse- that THEY are the problem. Our first reaction when someone tells us "you can be abrasive" or "you're always in a hurry" or "you always have to be right" or "you take too much credit for things" is to defend ourselves.

Most people have our best interests at heart when they tell us the truth. And we should probably trust their insights about us more than we do.

But, often, it takes a showdown or crisis to pry us open to hearing how we actually come across. It's after we've been let go from our job or lost a friend or exited a marriage that the slap stings enough to wake us up to important issues we refused to see.

No matter how long you've been at it, there's still room to grow.

And even though people love us as we are, all our relationships run smoother, with greater connection and efficiency when we are able to listen with humility to the feedback others have been trying to give us. Honest feedback is hard to hear. Especially if we're too attached to other's approval or sensitive to constructive criticism. But it's a skill that can be honed and mastered.

  • What can you do in the days ahead to cultivate better openness to the feedback of others for the sake of your marriage, family, and work relationships?
  • What would it take for you to be more open to the possibility that some part of what others are saying or have said is true about you?
  • When was the last time you invited a few trusted friends to help you gain clearer insight into areas of your behavior you've been unaware of?

I figured out that it's near impossible for me to hear unpleasant things about myself with low self-esteem and a faulty assurance of my unchangeable preciousness to God.

Some key internal assumptions I had about me had to change.

I'm learning, through Christian meditation and contemplation how to live experientially and consistently from the truth that at my core I am a fully approved child of God, enough as I am, free from shame. And it's strengthening me to hear the occasional unpleasant truth about my shadow side with much less fear and defensiveness.

The bottom line: I'm a much better leader and less shaken by helpful comments.

April 1, 2019

Missions?

Rev. Arlyn Willett, Pastor, Calvert Park Community Church of God in Burton

My wife got saved because long ago, someone came to the door and invited her to Jesus. Our church doesn't really have a door to door ministry because it does seem a little invasive. I often wonder if we get too apathetic at our church and don't even realize it.

How often do we go to a door and ask a total stranger if they are saved? Or if they want to be? (Any kind of opened door metaphorically).

I feel that my church organization, The Church of God, is a church of sound believers, who all have a great story of how they came to christ. We gather and praise the Lord, I'm not really sure though, what goes on the rest of the week. Most likely, we all head out to our normal days, finding time to do our daily devotions and saying prayers throughout the day, trying our best to stay focused on our relationship with our Lord.

I'm sure that some even get to think about the times that they went on mission trips, where they spent the whole week helping some people that were not nearly as fortunate as we are. Very nice thoughts to get them through the day.

I tried to help one of our churches by doing a fundraiser for them to help them get a new projector because the poor unfortunate church had to use an overhead projector and transparent paper to put their worship words on the wall. We did reach the monetary goal, but what a bummer that church and its 12 or so members just didn't seem to get things moving there. It's so weird, not long after they closed their doors, some other church organization moved in and next thing we know, the place is packed and there are like three school (church) buses parked there. I guess they pick up kids all over the neighborhood in them buses for free! Boy it sure is good to see that old Church of God building thrive again.

Gosh I wonder if those people from that other church of God, the ones that went on the mission trip, if they do any missions at all now that they're home? I wish our church could do a mission trip, but our people are pretty busy, much too busy really, "some of us work ya know."

I was listening to our national pastor preach once, and he said that when he moved in to Anderson, he thought he'd get acquainted with some of the other church leaders in town, so he went to several. Actually he ended up making a pretty good friendship with the Catholic priest and started having lunch once a week with him. Pastor said that he told his new friend that he liked how sacred everything seemed at the catholic church, but what he didn't really agree with, was how they had to confess everything to the priest in order to be forgiven. The priest said yeah, he's sure that going to the lord with their prayers would be just as easy but then some people just need to get it off of their chest by going to the confessional. Shoot, a lot of people come to confess, even people from your church, said the priest. My church? said the pastor. That's weird, why would they do that? The priest said that the church of God parishioners told him that they too just needed to get it off of their chest, but boy, if they confessed their sins to their Church of God people, they were afraid that they would become the subject of the new gossip, or even worse, thrown out. They felt best confessing at the Catholic church where nobody would make them feel judged.

My church has 50 to 80 regular members, and it feels victorious being as we started with 12 people. But the town that we belong to, has a population of 33,000. What can we do to build our church and God's kingdom in this community? What can we do to reach all if those people? Are we going wrong somewhere? Everyone in our church seems to be hungry for Jesus, to be praying to the Lord, yet our lives are so busy, all we can seem to do is hope things get better. What is our mission? We love our church, the building and the people, but what's next?

March 25, 2019

Seventh Circuit Court Rules the Clergy Housing Allowance Is Constitutional

To all our church partners in the Servant Solutions family,

We are grateful to share with you that late today (Friday, March 15, 2019) that we received notice from our counsel that the Ministerial Housing Allowance has been upheld to be constitutional by the Seventh District Court of Appeals.

The housing allowance benefit had earlier been declared as unconstitutional in a 7th District Court in Wisconsin when the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the housing allowance. Servant Solutions, as a cooperative partner in the Church Alliance, worked in the appeal process and filing of Amicus Briefs with the Court.

Jeff Jenness returned this week from meetings in Washington DC with the Church Alliance Steering Committee had this to say.

"We are very pleased with this outcome as it preserves the decades long provision in the IRS code which allows for the designation of a housing allowance as part of a minister's compensation. We're grateful to the Lord for this outcome."

More detail will follow soon in an upcoming newsletter. You can read the court decree outlining this action here.

March 18, 2019

Is What We Do Important?

Dr. William Jones, State Pastor, Church of God in Michigan

When I was in college my first Summer job was working for a cabinet factory. I was not going to be there long enough to get into the Union, so the plant manager just put me wherever he needed. I pushed a broom my first week which gave me great respect for those who do so. It was murderous. I think the sweeping was a test to see if I would work or loaf. (There was a great temptation to lean on that broom when no one was watching.) After a week of sweeping, the boss decided that I was a worker and could be trusted without a great deal of supervision. He put me and another college student in a warehouse with a trillion cabinet doors and drawers (at least it seemed to be that many to me.) Our job was to sort, re-stack, and categorize all those doors and drawers, then when freight train loads of new material came in, organize that as well. We worked hard!

One day our boss came to our warehouse to talk with us. He said he never had had any workers like me and my college buddy. He commented on how we worked whether he was there or not, and we did not complain (at least to him). He wanted to know why? We both were Christ-followers, but we "hem-hawed" around saying that was the way we were raised...it made time go faster...then finally, my friend confessed. He said, "sir, we follow Jesus Christ and the Bible says that we really don't work for you, we work for him...we are to honor him with all we do." Oh, I wished I had said that. Recently, a similar situation occurred. Jalene and I were traveling with Dave and Jeannie Perry in a land far...far away. In a large group of strangers we were asked how long we had been married. Dave and Jeannie were celebrating their 40th anniversary and Jalene and I had just celebrated our 44th. We were by far the longest married in the group and the facilitator asked the secret to longevity. With Dave I first started thinking of funny answers (just say yes dear, whatever you want dear, it was my fault dear...) Then the warehouse came to my mind. I said, "it was because we're Christ-Followers and that makes all the difference." It changed the direction of the facilitators comments toward us; I think in a positive way.

I just got a support letter from a person I barely knew. asking for me to support his Christian Motorcycle fundraiser. In it he wrote that his wife (of many years) still talks about me leading her to Christ, she thought it was cool to have a minister back then who was a biker. He said, "isn't it ironic that she is now married to a Christian Biker?" So Bill what is your point...What we do makes a difference. The Devil and his minions would have us believe that what we do does not matter. In the three incidents above it made a difference for our Plant Manager and for the Presenter, and for this Christian woman. Let us not be afraid to speak up in the public forum about our love and devotion to Jesus Christ. He has given us Life, and Heath, and all things. Though the temptation comes to be silent, let us never be ashamed of our Savior.

March 11, 2019

Go way...like Jesus did.

Rev. David Perry, Pastor, Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca, Michigan

My wife Jeannie and I have six beautiful, adorable, intelligent grandchildren and soon number seven will be here! Some of you who know me may ask, "How do you have such wonderful, beautiful, adorable, intelligent grandchildren?"

I attribute that to superior genetics. My three sons followed my example and married beautiful, adorable, intelligent women like their mother. It was the only hope our family tree had.

One of my grandsons is almost three years old, Gideon Wayne Perry. He has a pet phrase that cracks me up. Gideon loves to play and if you disturb him by saying, "Gideon, time to eat, or to sleep, or to change your diaper..." - his response is, "Go way!".

Hold that thought while we look at scripture in the Gospel of Mark.

Starting in chapter one through chapter 14, count how many times Jesus left the 12 disciples and the adoring crowd to go away and to pray. Then think about this: if Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the world, made it a priority to go way to pray alone – what does that say to you and me as church leaders?

Take your planner today and make regular plans to go way with God in prayer. To unplug and retreat from others. To pour out your heart and hurts. To be still and to listen to the Holy Spirit. To rest, relax, renew and recharge your spiritual energy.

If you are thinking about a Sabbatical or need help in planning one, contact the State office. We have information and resources to help you. If you need someone to come share with your leadership about this, we would be happy to do so.

So in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the words of my grandson, Gideon, I say to you pastors and church leaders, - "Go way!".

March 4, 2019

I Triple Dog Dare You

Rev. David Aukerman, Pastor, Mount Haley Church of God in Midland, Michigan

As another round of snow falls here in central Michigan, I am reminded of a much-beloved Christmas movie, a classic in its own time, "A Christmas Story." One of the iconic scenes in this film involves a series of dares between young boys, as one of them dares another to stick his tongue on a frozen flagpole. The challenges escalate from a meager "I dare you" to "I double dare you," but they reach their climax with the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister "triple dog dare."

But this article isn't about "A Christmas Story." It's about the United Methodist Church.

You are likely aware of the news from this past week's General Conference - the UMC's equivalent to our national General Assembly - where the United Methodist Church met to vote on two related issues: whether or not to allow the ordination of LGBTQ ministers and whether or not to allow ministers to perform marriages of LGBTQ individuals.

After a great deal of impassioned discussion, the UMC voted against the "One Church Plan," which would have allowed individual conferences and districts to make their own decisions on these issues, while maintaining the unity of the denomination. The UMC then voted (with a 53% majority) to approve the "Traditional Plan," which reinforces the heterosexual values approved by previous gatherings of the General Conference.

The United Methodist Church is on the verge of splitting on the issue of same-sex relationships. This certainly would be true if the "One Church Plan" had been approved, but I believe it is still true even with the passage of the "Traditional Plan." Our brothers and sisters in this group are in a really difficult position. Please pray for them, and when you rub shoulders with Methodist ministers, ask them about how they are processing this. Listen to their answers. Give them space to express themselves.

What saddens me most about this situation is how a social issue is splitting apart a Christian fellowship.

What angers me most about this situation is how one's stance on a social issue is perceived to be a determining factor regarding whether or not one is a Christian.

Your stance on same-sex relationships doesn't make you a Christian. Your stance on alcohol consumption doesn't make you a Christian. Your stance on gambling or pornography or abortion or politics or Chick-Fil-A doesn't make you a Christian.

What makes you a Christian is your living, loving, redemptive, transformative connection to Jesus Christ and, by extension, to his church.

I believe that there are honest, authentic Christians on both sides of each of the issues listed above. (Even Chick-Fil-A. And, seriously, even politics. Even abortion. Even same-sex relationships.)

If your response at this point is to say, "Yes, but...," then I ask you simply to wait. Consider those with whom you disagree on any of these important social issues. Listen to their stories. Pray with them. Worship with them. Read scripture with them. Find points of common faith with them. Serve others with them. Don't let a social issue separate you from other followers of Jesus.

I know the Church of God's stance on same-sex relationships. I attended the 360 Conference a few years ago when Ryan Carrell and Bill Jones presented opposing viewpoints on the LGBTQ issue. I was in our national General Assembly a few years ago when we (for at least the fourth time in our history) affirmed something similar to the United Methodists' "Traditional Plan." But here's something else I know:

The Church of God is not finished dealing with the LGBTQ issue. It's not going away. It will come back to our General Assembly again, perhaps in five or ten years - or maybe sooner. And we too, like our Methodist cousins, will be faced with a decision about how to proceed.

Now, we are a small tribe, and our decision will not make headlines like the UMC's decision has this week. But as people who proclaim a message of holiness *and* unity, we cannot allow the LGBTQ issue to divide us (as, I believe, it already is doing).

Prioritize unity to at least as high of a level as you prioritize holiness. Sit down with someone with whom you disagree, and really listen to them. Imitate Jesus, who hung out with (and loved) all sorts of people - and who reserved his harshest judgment for the super-religious Pharisees. Don't let the LGBTQ issue become a litmus test for whether or not a person is a Christian. Don't let the LGBTQ issue split the Church of God into two groups.

I triple dog dare you.

February 25, 2019

God says, "Just Chill...I Got This!"

Rev. David Perry, Pastor, Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca, Michigan

"Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
    or, whine, Israel, saying,"
"God has lost track of me.
    He doesn't care what happens to me?"
Don't you know anything? Haven't you been listening?
God doesn't come and go. God lasts.
    He's Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn't get tired out, doesn't pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out."
~ Isaiah 40:27-28 The Message

A while ago, I was in one of those pastoral "Mondays" depressing blah- blues moods. As pastors and leaders, you know what I am talking about. It is the letdown after the weekend of proclaiming the Good News and sharing and leading others to the Throne of God's Grace. And then Monday hits and you whine like a fussy baby.

I was complaining to God about my fear about the future. All stressed out about what is coming up for me and my family  financially, vocationally, and health wise.

I know that there are some things I can work on and do my best in preparing for. Yet so much hangs in the balance in a future that I cannot see or control. Wow, this can really freak you out.

Then I read from Isaiah 40. Friends, let me encourage you to read the whole chapter. Read slowly. Reflectively. Read from several versions. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you.

The Message version kind of slapped me in the face. All this stuff I was stewing on - God knows. God cares. It is like Him saying, "Just chill...I got this."

A little while later, an inspirational meme came to me. A picture of creation with the words,

"I made all this stuff out of nothing. Trust Me...I can take care of you. ~ God"

Hey, pastors and leaders, trust Him. Praise Him. And now, go and serve Him with joy!

February 18, 2019

Don't Give Up Your Bean Field!

Rev. David Perry, Pastor, Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca, Michigan

"Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. 12 But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory." ~2 Samuel 23:11-12

I sit on the Board for Helping Hands in Motion, (HHIM) which is a support ministry to indigenous National Leaders of Haiti, India, Sri Lanka, as well as some other closed countries. My friend, Pastor Dennis Huebner from the First Church of God in Elkhart, Kansas, is also the Board Chair. Denny shared these thoughts in devotions at our meeting in January 2019.

The Philistines were terrorists who bullied the Israelites. Often they would wait until harvest time and then raid and steal the harvest that the Israelites had worked so hard for. When the Philistines showed up, the people of God usually ran away. They gave up, they quit, and they lost the crop. It was a bad habit they had developed.

One guy decided he was done running. Shammah, one of David’s Mighty Men listed in 2 Samuel 23. Some would say, "It's just a bean field, it isn't much" but Shammah said nope, here I stand, not giving up, I'm not running away. I am willing to stand and fight for what is right.

Denny asked us if we are in the habit of running or taking a stand. He challenged us that often it just takes one person willing to pay the price to turn a ministry or a church or a life around. How about us - Stand or quit?

A poem from John Greenleaf Whittier entitled "Don't Quit":

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow –
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor's cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit –
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

February 11, 2019

Trust God

Rev. Dan Whiting, Executive Pastor, Clarkston Community Church in Clarkston, Michigan

Hey Lead/Senior Pastors I greet you in the name of Jesus and from the chair of an Executive Pastor for the past 15 years and for the past several years as a member on the Church Health Team. In recent articles Dr Jones has shared his wisdom on the various rewards and challenges of being a Pastor. I simply want to say to you all who prepare messages, counsel the hurting, balance the budget, clean the worship center, attend late night meetings, gracefully hear complaints and the list goes on... We love you! We know you have had many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to increase giving, attendance, and volunteers. Often you might ask God; “Why have you not increased the flock?" So, from a "Second Chair Leader" I offer you five insights or thoughts just for you today. Not necessarily from any particular author or expert on organizational leadership, but just a few of my observations.

  1. We don't operate from a position of scarcity. God has given us abundance. The world projects the opposite. It is not always about how much money the church has or how many people are sitting in the pews. It is about a big God who can and will provide if...
  2. We stay faithful to the Gospel in all things.
  3. Surround yourself with positive people and associates.
  4. Fix your thoughts on Jesus. Heb 3:1
  5. People will let you down, but Jesus won't.

My opinion is that we (me included) worry too much about what people will think, or some sort of numerical outcome of a program or event. Nope, it's about being faithful to the calling of proclaiming the Gospel. All the rest will take care of itself. Do you really believe that? This does not mean that we don’t work hard. I believe trusting God means we trust Him to give us the power, the supernatural ability to make things happen.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,'says the Lord Almighty. Zech 4:6. Let's redefine success shall we?

“‘Well done, my good servant!' his master replied.'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'" Luke 19:7

Be encouraged because you are making a difference. I am not a preacher and I don't claim to be a very good evangelist but I leave you with a short story that happened this week. I got a text from a guy I knew very well more than 10 years ago and a non-believer for sure. And for many reasons I won't share here, we had not talked for 10 years. I got a text from him last week that said this.

"I've had a surprising and really wonderful return to the church in the last couple of years. I appreciate you being such a kind and generous example of faith when we were spending more time together."

Stay faithful to the Gospel, trust God and the abundance will come. I believe it! Do you?

February 4, 2019

Dealing with Snarky Critical Comments

Rev. David Perry, Pastor, Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca, Michigan

"All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked." ~Luke 4:22  NIV

If you read this passage in context, Jesus had come back to his hometown. Asked to read at church, He read from Isaiah 61 - a great stirring passage proclaiming the Year of the Lord's favor. It was Jesus' mission statement, his announcement for His public ministry. And all there were amazed as He spoke. It was a grand high moment of the moving of the Spirit through His people.

And yet some wags asked, "Ain't he Joseph's son?" The insinuation was that Jesus was born illegitimate. It was a snarky way to diminish Jesus in this great moment.

I have had this happen several times in ministry where God seems to be moving and great things are happening and then someone has to come along and throw doubt, criticism, and cold water on the work of the Lord. Speaking as a pastor, this is what I find so...so...so very frustrating to deal with and work through.

May I share a couple of thoughts to help you, my brothers and sisters, who have faced this or who are going to face this soon?

Don't be shocked. If it happened to Jesus, it will happen to His followers, too. As the O'Jay's sang back in 1972 - what they do, they smile in your face...

Don't give up. That is the intent of the forces which seek to distract and who ultimately want to destroy us. Don't give them that satisfaction.

Do forgive. It is part of the pattern of daily prayer Jesus taught us. Learning to forgive is vital for being a good leader.

Do know Whose you are. I am a child of God, I am chosen by the Spirit of God.

Do fulfill your mission. Continue on. Read the rest of Luke 4. Jesus did not stop or retaliate. He didn't even post on social media. He fulfilled His mission of loving, teaching, and healing. So should you, my brothers and sisters.

January 28, 2019

Weight of the World

Dr. William Jones, State Pastor, Church of God in Michigan

Have you ever felt like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders? Many of us have had that lonely feeling that if anything is going to happen here it is because of what I will produce. Some of that stress is good. It motivates us to do our best. It is also important to always remember that success in ministry does not lie solely on the shoulders of the Pastor. Lets think about our other team members...

In 1 Corinthians 3:6 Paul writes: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." We must never forget that no matter how hard we work, we are dependent on the movement of God’s Spirit to bring fruit. It is never all on us. In the end, whatever we do is for God’s glory and we must never forget that God is the key player on our team.

The next key players are our brothers and sisters in Christ. In American Christianity we have mistakenly bought into the concept that we hire the pastor to do the work of ministry. In Ephesians 4 Paul lays out the role of the Pastor saying, "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ." The role of those gifted as Pastors/Teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. If we are doing it all we will flame out in discouragement and exhaustion. When feeling alone remember there are millions of fellow Christians serving the same King!

The final key players are the other leaders around us. God has gifted and called leaders in your local church, in your community, in your state and nationally to help you succeed as well. When we think about it that way, we realize that there are resources, power, and support systems all around us.

Sometimes we feel alone because we are not willing to reach out and ask for help. Ministers are notoriously self-sufficient. That wrong thinking leaves us feeling we are alone and often overwhelmed. You have a great team around you...take advantage of those resources, and the weight of the world will lift from your shoulders.

January 22, 2019

You Could Have Been a Great Leader!

Dr. William Jones, State Pastor, Church of God in Michigan

Several years ago I was on a sabbatical. The main focus of my Sabbatical was to make preparations for finishing well. At that time I had about eight years left before my retirement from our State Ministry and I wanted to do all I could to finish well: honoring the Lord, the Church that had put their trust in me, and finally my family.

I spent several days with Dr. Al Ells. He is a well know author and counselor to leaders. (If you have not read his book, Leaders That Last, you will want to get it!) He put me through a battery of assessments, and had me do some extensive homework. In one of our sessions, Dr. Ells said to me words I will never forget…”Bill you have been a good leader; you could have been a great leader! But you chose to do ministry alone.” I wanted to argue with him, but I knew he was correct. I always believed I could lead, learn, and succeed on my own. My pastorates were in northern Michigan where there were few other Church of God congregations, and when there were state or national meetings I thought they took too long or were too far away (often disguised as too expensive). If you were to ask me who mentored me in ministry, I would say John Maxwell through his books, conferences, and audio lessons...though I never met him personally.

I learned too late in my ministry that I really did need other people. From that point to today, I have worked more at collaborating and counseling with others rather than just depending on my own knowledge or intuition. I have found real joy and help in collaborating with others. If I were younger, I would spend more time building relationships with colleagues and coaches to lead with the help of others rather than doing it alone.

What about you? It is very easy to retreat to the ivory tower of our office and do ministry alone. For most of us it is our default position. You may be doing very well alone...I did. But it was not the best for my ministry. I want to encourage you to connect with colleagues and friends in your community and in the Church of God in Michigan. There is so much to gain listening, sharing, learning, and playing together. Our annual Ministers Retreat is next week. It provides a wonderful place to “let your hair down,” and collaborate. You can still register, call my office and Goldie will help you. If it is too late this year, look now at your calendar and make a priority for those opportunities to connect with friends and colleagues!

January 14, 2019

Handling Discouragement

Dr. William Jones, State Pastor, Church of God in Michigan

"I really believed that I was led by God to have the Church build a new gymnasium! I can't believe that my board said no!" The subject of the last sentence could be changed to starting small groups, to serving in a local school, starting a second worship service...the list can be endless. What do you do when your board of the church says no? Every working role in life has its times of discouragement. Discouragement comes to us all, but it can feel more poignant when one believes God is leading us, and we are still turned down. Lets think for a few minutes of disappointment in Ministry...

One of the hardest things to discern is whether an idea is coming from me or from God. This is the first place to go when your plans get blocked. Spend much time in prayer, asking the Lord to help you know if the idea you feel devoted to is from Him or you. If you are convinced that the idea...plan...direction to take the church is from Him, then you go to step two.

How can I communicate differently, so that my leaders see what I do? Often an idea is dismissed because we have not communicated long enough, or clearly enough for my leaders to buy-in. This communication must answer questions beyond what we want to do. We must communicate: Why, How, Anticipated results, Challenges/Roadblocks, Benefits and Drawbacks. Leaders make their best decisions when they have all the facts and have dealt with all their questions.

The third aspect of dealing with a discouraging answer is to give it time. People often balk when they feel they are being pressured to make a decision quickly. Giving people time to think, to talk to one another, and ask their questions provides a higher likelihood that they will say yes when it comes to vote. There are decisions that need to be made immediately, but these should only be emergencies. If most of our decisions are needed in a hurry, we are not planning well.

Finally, sometimes when I, as a leader have what I want or even what God wants turned down, my leaders say no. Then, I might be wrong! This is hard to say, but it is critical to recognize that I am not the source of all wisdom, nor am I the only one to whom the Lord speaks. Many years ago I had an idea, that I was sure would be best for the church. My board said no and I could not convince them differently. In fact, they went a whole different direction. Time proved that they were right.

When discouraged about being blocked or turned down, go through the process above. Always be willing to communicate better and give plenty of time and always willing to admit that maybe I am wrong.

January 7, 2019

We do it, you help vs. You do it we help

Dr. William Jones, State Pastor, Church of God in Michigan

All of my life I have been part of congregations that needed help. From needing nursery workers to choir members, to youth leaders, the church was always looking for people to help keep the machinery of the church purring. I have seen people get so excited about a new family that visits saying something like, "We could really use that young couple in our youth ministry." or "He is a business man in town, I hope he believes in tithing." Or a tired single mom brings her two small children to the nursery, and someone in the nursery says, "If she is planning on bringing her kids, she better sign up to help in here." I confess that these are some of the most egregious things I have encountered during the past 40 years of ministry, but they do reflect a mindset in the Church that sees people as resources to use rather than souls to love.

All the churches I pastored have somehow had a similar mindset. What we were saying is "we do it...you help." We do a musical, we do a children's program, we do a youth activity...and we would love you to help. It makes the church/staff the pool of ministry ideas, and the parishioners, the human resources needed to pull off any given ministry.

I am thinking about a change in mindset. It takes reversal of attitude toward people. In my last article I wrote about the passage of scripture in Ephesians 2:10 that describes God's children as his workmanship or his masterpieces. What if we began to see every person as someone we are to help become all God wants them to be rather than someone to help us accomplish a program or ministry? What we would be saying is "you do it...we help." In this scenario we help people find their passion for ministry and equip, support, and encourage them to accomplish something great for God. You love music, let's help you develop, you care about the poor, or the mistreated, or the hurting, let's find ways to live out that concern. The list of passions can go on and on.

This attitude has more of an emphasis on sending into ministry rather than using for needs. Yes, this is risky, because if we help people fulfill their God gifted destiny, they might not stay at our church. They might serve in another venue while worshipping and being discipled by us. It comes back to a critical issue: will our church be outwardly focused or inwardly focused. We will go into all the world or stay cloistered away from the world?

Thanks for letting me think with you. I look forward to your comments to continue the conversation.