Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let Others Solve Your Problems

Merry Christmas. I know that's something everyone seems to say this time of the year, but I really do mean it. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, that it brings you close to family, friends and God, and that you discover again the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Thanks for taking time to read my ideas and reflect seriously upon them. I hear from folks all the time about things I've written and it encourages me. If you are reading my blog for the first time you should know that each edition is part of an ongoing dialogue that proceeds on things written earlier. So to get the full benefit of each article it would help to read the articles that have gone before it. Enough said.
The church has some unfinished business. Jesus told his followers to make disciples of all peoples beginning with their neighbors and extending out to all people everywhere (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Like many things, that's easier said than done. So what stands in the way of us doing that? In part, at least, we've shifted the focus away from "making disciples" to consumer models of "doing church" and I don't think that's what Jesus intended. I really believe Jesus envisioned the church as a disciple-making movement rather than the Christendom of Europe or the consumer-oriented church of America. If that is so, how do we get back to that?
Let others solve the problem for us! At least let them start to solve the problem for us.
Andrew Hargadon and Robert Sutton writing in Harvard Business Review say: "The ... best innovators systematically use old ideas as the raw materials for one new idea after another." (May‚ June 2000, "Building an Innovation Factory")
The Industrial Revolution was born when steam power replaced water and muscle power. The idea of using steam to generate power has been around since the ancient Greeks, but it was centuries later before folks like Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcomem and James Watt took that idea, built upon it and changed the world.
We think of velcro as a space age product, but the idea, literally, has been around since creation. Cockleburs have stuck to clothing since Adam and Eve put on fig leaves, but it wasn't until Swiss engineer George de Mestral came home from a hunting trip with his dog and really looked closely at them that anyone conceived of them as the basis for a new kind of fastener.
Today scientists are studying the gecko to learn how to learn about surface tension and discover how to create a boot that will adhere to any surface (making Spidermen of us all).
How can we let others solve our problems for us? In Borrowing Brilliance, David Kord Murray suggests problems can be solved by learning what others have done to solve your problem or problems like yours and use what you learn as ingredients for forming new ideas. First, copy; then, create. He suggests looking in three categories: learning from others in your field, learning from similar but unrelated fields, and learning from completely unrelated fields.
What can we learn from our own field? What churches are doing the best job of making disciples? (Not just growing membership.) We hear about church planting movements going on around the world. What can we learn from them? Baptists and Methodists grew rapidly in the U.S. during the 1800s. Anything we can learn from them?
What can we learn from other fields/industries? How did McDonald's grow from one fast food restaurant in San Bernardino, CA to the world's largest chain of hamburger restaurants in a span of 60 years? How did Walmart grow from a few stores in northwest Arkansas to the world's largest public corporation in less than 50 years? (I'm not advocating adopting business practices to grow the church per se, but I think there is something to be learned from them.)
What can we learn from unrelated fields? Virus spread rapidly. What can we learn about rapid multiplication from viruses and the spread of epidemics? What about ideas? How do ideas spread? How do fads develop? How did the Beatles move from obscurity performing in night clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg to the most commercially acclaimed popular music act in history?
Are there things that run though all of these? For example, I think there is something for us to learn about simplicity of structure. Viruses are simple organisms. Church planting movements are built upon simply structured house church models. Franchises are precisely replicated, simple organizations (each one essentially the same as the next). Want a burger and fries? McDonald's has it? Want a steak and baked potato? Sorry!
If all truth is God's truth, we can learn from others and apply what we learn to advancing God's kingdom cause in our world.
Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the Problem
Step Two: Learn from Others
Step Three: Imagine and Construct a New Idea

Monday, November 8, 2010

Defining the Problem -- Finding Solutions

Previously I've written* the mission of the church is to make disciples of all people, to lead the unconvinced and unbelieving to become fully devoted followers of Christ. The work of the association is to assist the church in carrying out that mission. (*see "Define the Problem")
If that's our task, we are not doing a very effective job. While we can show that we are starting new churches and our churches are baptizing folks, we are doing it at a rate much slower than the population growth of the city. We are doing good ... just not good enough. (see “Insanity Redefined”)

We can't just keep doing what we've been doing and expect things to get better. We need to do things differently. But we will never do things differently until we begin to think about things differently. (see "Think different(ly).")

The first step to thinking differently, I've said, is to define the problem. I asked what you thought. Now let me share what I think. I think the problem is the way we think about church.
When most folks think about church they think of a building, of people gathered to hear a preacher, of ongoing programs like music, children and youth ministries, Sunday School, missions groups. The model is deeply ingrained in us whether we like it or not.
But is this what Jesus meant when he said "I will build my church?" I don't believe so.

When Jesus gathered his disciples and told them to follow him he didn't take them to the Temple and say "Now guys, we're going to raise shekels and build a building. I'll be the pastor. Peter, you and John can be my associates. Matthew, I want you to be chairman of the stewardship committee. Andrew, you’re in charge of the new members class. Anybody play the organ? We'll grow this thing and start more like it and some of you can be the pastors of the new churches we start. We'll need one in Antioch, Cairo, Ephesus, Rome...."

Not on your life! Jesus gathered his disciples, taught them in the course of daily life and sent them out to make other disciples from among all the peoples of the earth. That's the essence of the Great Commission. That's the essence of church.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the IRS may have a greater influence on how we do church than the Bible because the IRS encourages formal organization and incorporation, asks questions about fundraising, place of worship, clergy training, and familial relationships to governing bodies. These issues are not raised by the Bible and they shouldn't be issues that define or limit how we do church.

Buildings, professionally trained clergy and meeting IRS guidelines are not wrong or bad. That's not the point I'm trying to make. The problem comes when they become the primary ways we define and understand church rather than the biblical instruction to make disciples.

So how would I define the problem? I would say we have substituted an institutional understanding of church for a biblical one that focuses primarily on making disciples of all people.

Does this mean traditional churches aren't making disciples? Not at all! I'm the product of a traditional, institutional church and probably so are most of the folks reading this blog. Traditional churches have programs that teach people to share the gospel, educate believers, even send folks out to far away places to make disciples. My point is not that they don't do it. It's just a comparatively inefficient way of doing it!

Should we do away with traditional churches and change to another format? That's not going to happen and I don't think it needs to happen, but that moves us more toward finding solutions and I'll wait a while before addressing that. Let me go back to the process I referred to in "Define the Problem."

In order to think more creatively, begin by defining the problem. Then, to think creatively learn what others have done to solve the problem.
In his book Borrowing Brilliance David Kord Murray says "All brilliance is borrowed. First copy, then create." It's nature's way. A copy of genetic material from the mother (egg) combines with a copy of genetic material from the father (sperm) to create an entirely new person that is similar to but distinctly different from either father or mother. (It would have been so easy to refer to my grandson so recently born, but I resisted the temptation.)

When did the church do it’s best job of making disciples? How did they do it? Who is doing an outstanding job of making disciples today and how are they doing it? These are not the only questions we need to ask, but they get is started as we continue to rethink the church.
I'll have more to share about finding solutions to problems in the next segment. Hint: it's not just the church we need to learn from.
Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the problem
Step Two: Learn how others have solved the problem

Monday, October 25, 2010

How the West Was Won -- Part 3

As a proud grandfather, I just had to include this picture of our new grandson and his father (our son).

Let me introduce Matthew Billings Jr and his father Matt. Matthew was born October 21, 2010 and is healthy, content and very well loved.
Let me pick up where I left off. I'm trying to provide background material to part one in this series in which I said that the way early Baptists and Methodists in America were structured made a significant difference in their ability to start many new churches and reach people with the gospel. I'm basing my argument on the excellent research provided by Finke and Stark in The Churching of America: 1776-2005. The comments in italics below are direct quotes from their work. All other comments are mine.
One of my contentions in "Insanity Redefined" is that we cannot start all the churches we need because there are not enough clergy to pastor the number of churches we need if we rely on having full-time, seminary educated clergy. That wasn't a problem for the early Baptists and Methodists in America.
Not only could the Baptists and the Methodists generate surplus clergy, both denominations operated with incredibly low overhead. The Baptists typically paid their preachers nothing at all; most earned their living with a plow just like other members of the congregation. [p.82]
The uneducated and often unpaid clergy of the Baptists and Methodists made it possible for these denominations to sustain congregations anywhere a few people could gather, for it was the pursuit of souls, not material comfort, that drove their clergy forth. [p.84]
I include these two quotes not to suggest churches should not pay their pastors, but to show that Baptists grew through laymen leading small groups of folks like themselves. We might think of this as bi-vocational pastors leading congregations or laymen leading simple, organic churches. It also highlights their passion to reach the lost as the following quote suggests: Indeed, it would be hard to imagine that any sum of money could have motivated Bishop Asbury to travel nearly 300,000 miles on horseback, disregarding weather and chronic ill-health, to supervise his far-flung network of itinerants and circuit riders. [p.84]
These farmer-preachers knew what to do: preach! Neither the Baptists nor the Methodists set forth their confessions in complex theological writings that required extensive instruction or teaching ... but both denominations stressed spiritual conversion and a strong individual responsibility to God. [p.86]
What about their doctrine? Did the lack of formal theological education make them subject to poor theology or false doctrine? Apparently not. Probably just the opposite.
The Harvard and Yale divinity schools did not train their students to earn their own livings behind a horse and plow or prepare them to spend half their days in the saddle going from one rural hamlet to another. As George Whitefield charged, the primary impact of these schools on many of their students, then as now, may have been to replace faith with theology and belief with unbelief. For seminaries, a desire for intellectual integrity and academic acceptance soon takes precedence over developing the skills desired and the piety admired by those in the pew. Indeed, it was in the religion departments and divinity schools, not in the science departments, that unbelief was formulated and promulgated in American intellectual life. [p.87]
Just FYI, in the last quote the authors refer you to Conrad Cherry (Hurrying Toward Zion: Universities, Divinity Schools, and American Protestantism) for a historical overview of divinity schools' struggles with intellect and piety. Also, just to be clear, I am grateful to my alma maters, Belmont University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, from which I received a good, solid liberal arts and theological education.
What does this mean? It means these folks were solid theologically and passionate about reaching people with the gospel. Though not professional clergy, they were effective in reaching folks like themselves because they were "of the people, by the people and for the people." They used the language of the people. They made careful use of vernacular imagery, metaphors, and stories that applied to the everyday life of their audience. // The Baptist and Methodist preachers looked like ordinary people because they were, and their sermons could convert and convince ordinary people because the message was direct and clear and the words were not read from notes, but seemed (to both speakers and hearers) to issue directly from divine inspiration. // We must never underestimate the impact of humble and ardent preachers on the spread of faith. [p.86]
In some ways, these preachers were not special. They were common folks, but that may be what made them special! They were common, ordinary everyday folks, in love with Jesus, passionate about reaching others with the gospel, willing to personally sacrifice if necessary to see that their family, friends and neighbors had a chance to hear the gospel and be saved. That's how the west was won for Christ in America.

Monday, October 11, 2010

How the West Was Won -- Part 2

In my previous blog I mentioned Finke and Stark's The Churching of America: 1776-2005. I thought a few quotes from their chapter "The Upstart Sects Win America, 1776-1850" might be enlightening. Quoted material will be in italics and cited for easy reference.
In 1776 the Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians seemed to be the colonial denominations. Of Americans active in a religious body, 55 percent belonged to one of the three. And at the time it seemed certain that these groups would continue to be in the "mainline" for the foreseeable future. Indeed, in 1761 Ezra Stiles using a demographic projection technique taught him by Benjamin Franklin, proclaimed that one hundred years hence there would be seven million Congregationalists in the colonies and fewer than four hundred thousand Baptists. But by 1860 there were actually fewer than five hundred thousand Congregationalists in America, while the Baptists numbered nearly two million. What happened? [p.55]
In 1776 the Methodists were a tiny religious society with only 65 churches scattered through the colonies. Seven decades later they towered over the nation. In 1850 there were 13,302 Methodist congregations, enrolling more than 2.6 million members--the largest single denomination, accounting for more than a third of all American church members. For such growth to occur in eighty years seems nearly miraculous. [p.57]
Thus the central question comes into clear focus. Why did the leading denominations of 1776 crumble in a free market religious economy? What did they do wrong? Or what did the Methodists and the Baptists do right? [p.60]
Where there are winners there are losers. Much can be learned from a comparison of the two primary winners in the American religious economy between 1776 and 1850, the Methodists and Baptists, with the two primary losers, the Congregationalists and Episcopalians. There also is much to be gained from examination of the "also-ran" Presbyterians, whose growth kept pace with the population, but not with the increase in the proportions active in churches. [p.72]
Social scientists agree that the structure of an organization can have tremendous impact on its efficiency and success. [p.72]
The authors cite the local, democratic rule of the congregation in both Methodist and Baptist churches as significant. Methodist congregations were divided into small, close-knit groups called classes. Each class met on a weekly basis and was composed of approximately a dozen or more members. Here is where the zeal of camp meetings was maintained, intimate fellowship was achieved, testimonials were offered, new converts were instructed, and the behavior of the faithful was monitored. [p.73]
In this era the actual pastoral functions were performed in most Methodist churches by unpaid, local "amateurs" just like those serving the Baptist congregations up the road. [p.73] [This is in contrast to the Congregationalists and others that functioned with highly educated, well-paid, full-time clergy.]
Whereas the Baptists would form regional associations wherever four or five Baptist churches were established Congregational churches established outside of the New England region were often isolated units, lacking any regional support. [p.74, just had to thrown that one in]
The Presbyterians had established strong presbyteries throughout the nation, and ... they fared much better than did the Congregationalists or the Episcopalians during this era. Their growth, however, was constantly plagued by divisions within their organization. [75]
The organizational forms used by the Baptists and the Methodists were quite different, but their clergy were nearly interchangeable. In both denominations, ministers primarily came from the ranks of the common folk and, to a very important extent, remained common folk. Unlike the Congregational, Presbyterian, arid Episcopalian ministers, who typically were of genteel origin and were highly trained and well educated, the Baptist and Methodist clergy were of the people. They had little education, received little if any pay, spoke in the vernacular, and preached from the heart. [p.76]
In short, well-educated clergy entered a prestigious full-time profession with a variety of career opportunities, whereas the uneducated clergy answered a call from God and the people to serve the local church in saving souls. [By uneducated the authors mean they lacked formal theological education. They were not, the authors point out, less educated than the people they served.] Reliance on well-educated clergy also created a serious practical problem for the colonial mainline: a constant shortage of clergy. [p.80]
In contrast, Baptists and Methodists had an abundance of available clergy because the clergy came from the people. Both denominations developed systems that made it easy for gifted laymen to enter the ministry. Among the Baptists the local preacher, or farmer-preacher, was often a man of local origins whose call was ratified by his fellow congregants. [p.82]
Not only could the Baptists and Methodists generate surplus clergy, both denominations operated with incredibly low overhead. [p.82] More on this will follow.
That's enough for now. In good "speaker" speak, let me tell you what I'm trying to tell you and then continue developing my argument later: one of the key issues we need to face is that our current system of doing church is more like the Congregationalists than the old time Baptists and Methodists. Dependence on full-time, highly educated clergy, for example, limits how many churches we can start. So does our dependence of buildings and our emphasis on super-sized churches. Denominational conflict hindered Presbyterians and has hindered us as Baptists. Operating as isolated churches rather than working together hindered Congregationalists and will hinder us.
Back to the point I've tried to make all year. We've got to change the way we do church if we are going to reach the city. We've got to think differently about church if we are going to change. That's what I think. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How the West Was Won

So, have you defined the problem yet? I will share some of my thoughts in this article, but I think it might be helpful to give you a bit of background information before I do.

One of the most intriguing and informative books I've read in many years is The Churching of America: 1776 to 2005 by co-authors Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. Dr. Roger Finke is a Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the Pennsylvania State University who helped create the Association of Religion Data Archives which provides significant information on religious life in America (and a resource I use for our work in Houston). Dr. Rodney Stark was for 32 years professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington. In 2004 he became University Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University where he also serves as the co-director for the Institute for Studies of Religion. (I believe this is a book anyone interested in reaching our world for Christ should read! To purchase a copy of The Churching of America: 1776 to 2005 click here.)
In The Churching of America: 1776 to 2005 the authors look at the history of the church in America, how it grew, what factors contributed to the growth of some denominations and the decline of others. For example, in 1776, the leading denominations in America were Congregationalists, Anglicans (Episcopalians) and Presbyterians. Baptists and Methodists were considered sects. By 1850 everything changed! Methodists and Baptists were the largest denominations. Congregationalists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians fell far behind. Changes in the Methodist church in the 1880s caused their growth to stall out while Baptists continued to grow becoming the largest denomination in the US.

What happened? What contributed to the growth of Baptists and the decline of other denominations? Social scientists believe there were several contributing factors (things we need to pay attention to today).

Structure made a difference. Churches were not highly organized. Their structure was simple and congregational. Among Methodists, the class meetings (home Bible studies led by laymen) were a primary source of spiritual and social support for members.

Pastors were not professionals. A highly professionalized clergy had not yet developed. Among both Baptists and Methodists, pastoral functions were mostly performed by unpaid, local "amateurs," what were sometimes called "farmer-preachers." The call of George Truett to ministry was typical of what was going on in churches at that time. His church needed a pastor. George was just a young man in the congregation. During a congregational meeting, a layman announced "I believe God is calling George Truett to be our pastor." George wasn't convinced. He planned to study the law, but the congregation prevailed upon him and he became their pastor. That's how one of Baptists greatest leaders entered the ministry!

And there is much, much more in the book (and history) we can learn from, but this is enough for now.

In my last article I said we need to define the problem, we need to see what impedes our reaching all the people in our city with the gospel, what is contributing to the loss of market share for the church in Houston and in America (sorry if stating things in such crass terms is unsettling for you)?
I'll answer by referring you back to a conversation with a new friend and neighbor (posted in August). In our first meeting, he asked what I did. After I told him he said, "I go to church with my fiancee. It's a Presbyterian church, but it's not really a church because we meet in a school."

Did you catch his idea of what a real church is? Therein lies the problem. What is it? I think it is in our institutionalized understanding of church. Even though we know "the church" is the people, we've allowed an institutional model to creep into our thought process and take over our understanding of church. I believe that model of church is a major impediment to the rapid multiplication of disciples. (And for those who ask, is it about making disciples or planting churches, I think the distinction is only relevant if we think of church as an institution. In my mind, the concepts are more alike than distinct.)

It's probably dangerous for me to say so, but I believe we need to de-institutionalize church. We need to find models of church that are consistent with the biblical characteristics of church but without many of the trappings that we think of when we think of church: buildings, professionally trained clergy, large budgets, complex organizational structure.

Now I realize that's probably not going to happen in the US unless something quite frame-breaking happens (like the taxation of the church, and don't think that couldn't happen!). So rather than dismantle church as we know it, I believe we need to lay another system alongside the institutional church, a system of simple church that empowers the laity and doesn't require significant funding. But that's a conversation for later when we start talking about solving the problem. For now I'm just trying to define it.

For more on "How the West Was Won, the Growth of the Church in America," plan to attend our January Quarterly Meeting when I'll be doing a more extensive presentation of this material.
In case you missed it, I would also encourage you to read my July article entitled "Insanity Redefined" for data that shows it would take 1,452 years and $47.9 billion dollars to reach the unreached population of Houston using our current strategy for starting institutional model churches!
And thanks for all who are engaging the conversation by making comments. Keep those cards and letters coming. :-)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Define the Problem

Throughout the year I’ve tried to carry on a “conversation” with you about the work of UBA churches in Houston. Let me take a minute to summarize what I’ve said. The mission of the church is to make disciples of all people (panta ta ethne), to lead the unconvinced and unbelieving to become fully devoted followers of Christ. The work of the association is to assist the church in carrying out that mission.

I've said that, frankly, if that's our task we are not doing a very effective job. While we can show that our churches are baptizing folks (a measure of our effectiveness in making disciples), we are doing it at a rate much slower than the population growth of the city. We can show that we are starting new churches each year, but we are doing it in multiples of ten when we need to be starting them by the thousands!

So, we are doing good, just not good enough. It a little like bailing the water out of a ship that is taking on water faster than you can bail it out -- you are working hard but you are fighting a losing battle, and the projected end is not good.

I've said we can't just keep doing what we've been doing and expect things to get better. We need to do things differently. But we will never do things differently until we begin to think about things differently. So my theme throughout the year has been "think different(ly)."

Think different(ly). I've discovered that's much easier said than done. Why? Because God didn't really design us to think differently. He designed us to think in repeatable patterns. (I'm tempted to follow this line of thought in my blog, but instead let me point you to the "Think Different(ly)" videos on our UBA webpage where I show you in detail just what I'm talking about.)

So the question then becomes, what is it going to take for us to learn to think different(ly)? (I'm glad I asked.)

I think it is a process that begins with defining the problem. How you define the problem determines the solutions you develop. For example, Henry Ford and Will Durant (the driving force behind General Motors) saw the mass market potential of the automobile. The question, how can we produce cars people can afford?

For Henry Ford, cost was the primary focus. How could he keep the costs down so that he could produce a good product at an affordable price? The solution? He developed a wonderfully elegant system -- the assembly line process -- for producing cars. There was only one model -- the Model T ... one color -- black. "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black" he said. Everything was designed to keep costs down. A friend told me he even arranged for his suppliers to send parts to him in crates of a certain size. He would disassemble the crates and use the wood for the floorboard in his cars. Everything was designed to keep the cost down.

Will Durant also wanted to make cars people could afford, but he took a very different approach. Instead of focusing on the cost of the car, he focused on paying for the car. Drawing on his experience in the carriage business, Durant sought to create automobiles targeted to various incomes and tastes. He created General Motors by consolidating his company (Buick) with twelve other car companies and various parts and accessories manufacturers. With so many options and so many different cars, how did he make cars affordable? He created a finance company, GMAC, that allowed people to buy a car and pay for it in affordable monthly installments.

Both men were interested in mass producing and mass marketing automobiles. One defined the problem as cost, the other as affordability. The way they defined the problem determined the kinds of solutions they developed.

We are commissioned by God to make disciples of all peoples and we are doing that less effectively than we've done it in the past. So what's our problem? Is it that church members have become consumers rather than contributors ("folks just aren't committed like they used to be")? That our society has become postmodern and pluralistic? That Christians are afraid of being rejected if they witness (maybe even fired)? That the church has become irrelevant and outdated? That churches focus more on providing for their members than on making disciples? All the above? Some combination of the above? Something else?

How we define the problem is critical. I know how I would define the problem. How would you?

Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the Problem

Tuesday, August 3, 2010 the Church

K.I.S.S. -- you probably recognize the acronym. It stands for "Keep It Simple Stupid." That much may be familiar, but do you know about the man who developed the acronym and all he accomplished?

KISS was first coined by Kelly Johnson (Clarence Leonard Johnson), an aircraft engineer and aeronautical innovator. Johnson led or contributed to the development of a number of aircraft including the P-80 Shooting Star, America's first operational jet fighter. He was the team leader of the Lockheed Skunk Works which was responsible for the design and development of the F-104 Starfighter and the secret reconnaissance planes U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird. When the Blackbird was developed, it flew so high and so fast that it could not be intercepted or shot down.

Johnson's fourteen rules of management are built around the idea of keeping things simple and uncomplicated (which is amazing since he was involved in creating the most sophisticated aircraft of his time). One time he handed a team of design engineers a handful of tools and told them the jet aircraft they were developing must be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with only these (handful of) tools. Now that's keeping it simple!!

I concluded in my last blog with Einstein's maxim -- "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Antoine de Saint Exupery said, "It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

If we were to make church simple, if we were to reduce it to it's irreducible minimum, what would we have? I think we would have a group of people in whom Christ dwells focused on being disciples of Christ in the world. The Bible would be their curriculum. They would reveal Christ to others daily as they interact with them. They would be led by one of their own. Their desire would be to see others become disciples of Christ. Their tithes and offerings would be used for ministry to others.

Keeping church simple sounds like a desirable thing to do, but it's not as easy as it seems because we have come to expect certain things of church.

  • Many equate "church" with a building. A fellow I met this weekend said, "I am going to church with my fiancee, but it's not really a church. It meets in a school auditorium." To him, it wasn't a real church if it didn't have a building.
  • We want to be led by highly competent, professionally trained, full-time ministers. "Our pastor is bivocational," one lady told me. "We wanted a real pastor, but we couldn't afford one."
  • Many who attend church are product-oriented consumers of church who will swap churches because one has a better youth program or another a more dynamic music ministry.
  • Many are merely spectators of church. One acquaintance said to me, "I can watch one or two good services on TV. I don't need to go to church."

Church has become too much about facilities, professionalism, dynamic ministries and glitzy programming ... and less and less about disciple making.

Please, hear me. I am not an angry "outsider" casting stones at the church. I am a professionally trained minister with an earned doctorate that led a large congregation that had many ministries, a big church plant, a large staff and a budget bigger than UBA's today (and that was 22 years ago). I'm a loving "insider" who realizes that continuing to think of doing church this way as the only way we can do church is not going to reach our city for Christ. (Just read my previous blog and you'll see why.) We must find a way of starting churches -- lots of churches -- that focus primarily on making disciples without the complexity required by the traditional way of doing church.

At the heart and core of what it means to be church is the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. We are to make disciples and love one another. What could be more simple than that?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Insanity Redefined

When I began my quest to think differently, Albert Einstein's name kept popping up in things I read. So I started reading a bit more about him. Here are some of my favorite Einstein quotes:

  • "A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be."
  • "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted."
  • "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
  • "The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits."
  • "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."
  • "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
  • "I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details."
  • "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
  • "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."

OK, I don't know if he really said the last one, but I like it.

But the Einstein quote that's getting the most circulation right now is his redefinition of insanity. He said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (I think that's a definition of my golf game, but that's better saved for another blog. Then again, maybe not.)

Doing the same thing over and over. That basically describes how we've started churches for years. Here's the formula: get a church planter, gather a group of people, secure funding from various sources, find a place to meet, as you grow hire more staff, eventually buy property, build a building, expand your programming ... wallah ... a church. We've done it the same way for years and years expecting this to help us reach our city, make disciples, transform communities, fulfill the Great Commission.

Seems reasonable, but if you've followed my blog for a while, you know that it's not working as we'd like. (Check "A Parable Inverted" under March.)

Let me be clear, I'm a church man. I believe in the church. I believe it was founded by Christ, ordained by God, and is an effective means of fulfilling the Great Commission. Much of who I am today is the direct result of the ministry of various churches I've been associated with throughout my life. I'm pro church!

Here's the thing -- I'm not sure church the way we've been doing it is working the way it needs to. Just consider one thing -- the number of Christ followers in our city is declining.

In 1990 the population in Houston was 3,731,131. In 2000 it was 4,669,571. According to religious demographers (, only 20% of the population in Houston could be identified as Christians (active followers of Christ as we understand it) leaving 80% that need to be reached with the gospel. Eighty percent of the 2000 population is 3,735,657 or roughly the same number as the total population living in Houston in 1990.

Estimates put the current Houston population at about 5.99 million. If 80% of them need to be reached with the gospel, let's see ... that would be 4,792,000 people need to be reached.

How many churches do we need to reach 4.79 million folks? A medium-sized UBA church in the Houston metro area has about 300 members. Using that as a basis, it would require 15,793 new churches to reach the 4.79 million unreached people in our city.

What would it cost? It takes about $3 million to fund a traditional church -- to buy land (you'd need at least 3 acres of property), build the first unit buildings, pay a staff, funding programming over the time it takes to become a 300 member congregation. Truthfully, $3 million is a conservative estimate.

What would it cost to start and grow 15,793 new churches? Are your ready? $47.9 billion dollars!

How long would it take? At our current rate of growth (110 new churches per decade), it would take 1,452 years.

1,452 years and $47.9 billion ... and that's just to reach our current estimated population.

What am I saying? It's not enough just to start more churches the way we are currently doing it! No matter how hard we try or how many we start, it will never be enough. There're not enough trained leaders, not enough money, not enough available land to do it the way we've done it for many years. We've got to think differently about the kinds of churches we start, where we get our leaders, how we reach those who we are not reaching with our current strategy. This is not to say we need to stop planting traditional churches; the point is that's not the only kind of church we need.

Otherwise, we just doing the same thing over and over expecting different results ... and thanks to Dr. Einstein we know what that is.

So what do we do? Maybe another Einstein quote can help us: "make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Hummm, but I'll save that thought for another time.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Panta ta Ethne -- It's No Laughing Matter

A Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian and an atheist were riding together in the same car. Sorta sounds like the start of a joke, doesn't it. It's not.

The other day I was in a Starbucks when a friend, a fellow church member, came in. We were talking about how much Houston is changing. "It was really weird," he said. "We were working on a project at work and broke for lunch. Four of us decided to go together. We were a kind of mini-UN (United Nations). I drove. There was a tech guy from India. He was Hindu. A guy from Pakistan. He was Muslim. And another guy from the US. I know he's not a Christian. I'm not sure he has any kind of faith. And there was me. [It was close to Easter.] I was playing Christian music on the radio and one of the guys started asking me about it."

Houston is changing, diversifying. Folks from all over the world come to our city to live, work and play. The mission field has come to Texas. As Christians we know we have a responsibility to share the gospel with everyone. The Bible tells us to go into all the world and share the gospel (remember Acts 1:8). Leaving home, going abroad to share the gospel ... that's what missionaries do. And our job is to support them with prayer and finances. But what is our responsibility toward the world citizens who now live in our city?

Let's do a little Bible study. On one occasion Jesus said to his followers, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations [panta ta ethne]..." (Matthew 28:19). When most folks read this they assume nations means a country, like India, China, Pakistan. But look closely at the word ethne which is translated nations. Remind you of any word in English? Right! Ethnic. Now read it again using the word ethnic in place of nations. Go and make disciples of all ethnics. That gets closer to what Jesus meant. Why? Because the word nations has morphed (words tend to do that ... charity doesn't mean today what it did to the King James translators).

Now go to Acts 2. The story of Pentecost. Remember what happened? The disciples were gathered in prayer when the Spirit of God fell upon them and they began speaking in different languages (2:4). It was Passover in Jerusalem. Folks from all over had come to the city to celebrate. It's obvious from the listing of countries in Acts 2:9-10 that they came from countries spread across the Mediterranean, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As the disciples spoke, the people there understood what they were saying. It didn't matter where they'd come from, what language they spoke, what people or ethnic group they represented, they all heard the gospel in their native language.

The miracle at Pentecost is a picture of what God desires for people around the world and in our cities today. God desires that everyone have a chance to hear the gospel in their native tongue so they have a chance to be saved. That means that the 350+ ethnolinguistic people groups living in Houston, speaking 215+ different languages all deserve to hear the gospel in their native language and to have a church that reflects their distinctive culture and tradition to disciple them.

What is our responsibility? As churches we are responsible for reaching across cultural and linguistic barriers to reach folks who may not be like us. Most churches never do this and have no strategy in place to change! Just look around your church this Sunday. You'll probably only see folks who are like yourself ... white, black, Chinese, Korean, Hispanic, Vietnamese, whatever. We all do it. That's not necessarily bad. We like to be around folks who are like us. It's only bad if the church doesn't have a strategy for reaching those who are not like themselves as well.

Folks who are not like us are all around! Take a look. See who lives in your neighborhood, who you encounter as you shop, maybe who you see when you go into the city. If you are really adventuresome, drive into parts of the city where you don't live. Look for folks who don't look like you. Stop by the Galleria. Notice the many different ethnicities. Drive down Westheimer. Notice the restaurants. How many different kinds of food (Chinese, Thai, Indian) can you identify? Can you find street signs in languages other than English? Can't get out? Turn your radio on during the daylight hours and cycle through all the AM channels. How many different languages did you hear? Start looking and listening for the panta ta ethne. They're here and they are our responsibility.

Back to my friend. He is in his car with a Hindu, a Muslim and another fellow who was not a Christian playing Christian music when one of the others in the car ask about the music. What does he do? What does he say? Nothing. He just turns off the music so they can talk. Why? He didn't know what to do, what to say, how to respond. And that's true of many churches today. It's not that we don't care. It's that we just don't know what to do. That's where the associational staff can begin to help.

For a good while now we have tried to learn how to be missionaries in our own culture and context and to teach others to do the same. We've learned from missionaries and gone to the mission field for first hand field work in order to be able to help our churches reach all the people, the panta ta ethne, in our city. It's all part of UBA 4.0. More next month.

Monday, May 3, 2010

UBA 4.0 -- An Open Conversation

Throughout the year I am engaging in ongoing conversations with our UBA leaders about re-tasking the association to take on lostness in our city. But I don't want to limit the conversation to the opportunities I have for a face-to-face dialogue so I've decided to expose my thinking to all who stop by and read my blogs. (Thanks for doing that, by the way.) So let's have an open conversation about UBA 4.0. (Please, feel free to use the comment feature and let's talk.)

In my previous blog (UBA 4.0 ... read below) I postulated that the association has always been designed for the times. During the first three iterations of the association, the association helped churches focus on starting churches and getting pastors on the frontier (1.0), developing our Baptist identity in a predominantly Christian context (2.0), and strengthening churches and helping them change to reach an increasingly secular community (3.0). Today things are continuing to change and the major change is demographic. I referred to it in my previous blog, but let me amplify that thought a bit.

It all began in 1965 with the "Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965." I mentioned this in my previous blog, but let me expand upon it here. (I can tell you are excited about this part of the conversation, but stay with me. It's important.)

Prior to 1965 almost all who immigrated to America were white Europeans. They primarily came from the northern portion of Europe and the British Isles: England, Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, France, Germany, Poland. To a lesser degree they came from the Mediterranean region of Europe.

From 1492 to 1965, 82% of all who came to America, came from Europe. Another 12% were African-Americans, originally brought here as slaves. (Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808.) A small number of Chinese and Japanese worked as farmers or laborers in California and Hawaii. The border between the US and Mexico was relatively open allowing cheap laborers to come and go as needed, but only a small percentage took up permanent residence. So, for the most part, America was a "white" nation.

From 1924 to 1965, immigration was even more tightly managed. 98% of all immigrant visas granted went to Europeans.

By controlling immigration the government was creating an essentially homogeneous population.

* Prior to 1965 America was predominantly White (Caucasian, Anglo, call it what you will, I am using this designation because it has been the designation used by the government on census forms). Immigrants who came to America typically wanted to "become Americans" which meant learning English (especially making sure their kids spoke English), blending in, becoming part of the great melting pot. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians often felt like (and were often treated as) second-class citizens. They found it hard to move into the mainstream of society and culture.

* Prior to 1965 the predominant American worldview was Judeo-Christian. Writing in the 1950's sociologist Will Herberg said to be American was to be either Protestant, Catholic or Jew (Protestant, Catholic, Jew. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1955). Herberg cited data showing 68% of Americans were Protestant, 23% were Catholic, 4% were Jewish (the remaining 5% expressed no religious preference). Whether Protestant, Catholic or Jew, the Bible was foundational for one's worldview. Consequently, the Judeo-Christian worldview was almost universally shared by Americans.

But all that began to change in 1968 when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 became law. This particular act has been called "the most important piece of legislation no one has ever heard of." Sometimes called the Hart-Cellar Act, it abolished the National Origins Formula that had been in place since the Immigration Act of 1924 making it possible for immigrants from other parts of the world to come to America. By equalizing immigration policies, the act resulted in new immigration from non-European nations which has essentially changed the ethnic and demographic makeup of America.

Today only a small percentage of the folks who come to America come from Europe. Most come from Asia, Africa and Latin America. That means their skin is of a darker hue and their religious background may very likely be something other than Christian.

What impact has all that had on a city like Houston? Dr. Stephen Klineberg of Rice University describes the Houston of the 1960s as a "bi-racial Southern city." In 1960, 74% of the population was White, 20% was Black and almost everyone spoke English. That's no longer the case. Houston is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the US.

Whites (Anglos) are no longer the largest ethnic group in our Houston. The largest ethnic group in Harris County is now Hispanic. (Interestingly, this is a trend that is growing throughout the top 100 cities in the US.)

The number of Hispanics living in Harris County today is greater than the total population of Harris County in 1960 and greater than the number of Anglos living here has ever been! (This is the reason that no matter what other changes we may make in the association, we will maintain a strong focus on working with our Hispanic leaders and churches.)

Houston is a major immigration portal into Texas and the US. One out of four immigrants that live in Texas live in the Houston area.

The number of Asians in Harris County today is greater than either the number of Blacks or Hispanics in 1960.

We know that four out of ten Harris County residents do not speak English when they go home at night. With nearly 215 identified languages spoken here, it may even be that the majority of folks who live here prefer a language other than English (they may be able to speak English, but it's probably not their first language).

What does all this mean? It means the folks who live in Houston can no longer be described as "homogenous." Far from it. We are a diverse people from many faiths -- if any at all (but more on that in a later blog), speaking many languages, with differing sometimes even conflicting worldviews. We are a world mission field, and all evidence suggests we are not doing a good job of reaching our burgeoning mission field. Every day that goes by Houston becomes more diverse and more lost. More about that next.

(If you want to learn more about immigration and the history of America, I'd encourage you to explore the Library of Congress webpage:

Friday, March 26, 2010

UBA 4.0

We don't see trees grow or notice ourselves aging each day, but these things happen. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes only when viewed through the lens of time. But things change.

Associations, like trees, change, grow, develop over time. Take UBA, for example. UBA has gone through three distinct stages in her 170 history (yes, UBA was begun in 1840 and is 170 years old this year).

UBA 1.0 -- In the beginning was the church, or churches to be more accurate. Three churches joined together to form Union Baptist Association. Associations were formed for several reasons: to promote Baptist understanding of doctrine and Baptist church polity [our Baptist identity], to provide fellowship, to encourage starting new churches and to promote benevolent work.

When UBA began there were no national or state conventions and no agencies. They came later. As they developed, the focus shifted from the association and the local church to conventions and agencies. This led to the next stage of associational life for associations.

UBA 2.0 -- As national agencies developed, the focus shifted from the local church to the state convention and national agency. National agencies began developing programs to be implemented by churches all across the convention. Baptist churches became standardized. It didn't matter if your church was in California or the Carolinas, it was like virtually every other Baptist church. Local associations became implementers of national programs at the local level. The primary purpose of the association was to help produce good Baptists.

Houston is a city of entrepreneurs. Innovation, creativity and risk-taking are accepted, even encouraged and highly rewarded. The leaders of UBA reflect the spirit of Houston. UBA helped start two major universities -- Baylor and Houston Baptist, Memorial Baptist Hospital (today part of the Memorial-Hermann system), Center for Counseling before Christian counseling was well-established, Union Baptist Foundation for starting churches, Baptist Mission Centers and Trinity Pines Conference Center. So it's no surprise that when church life began changing in the late 80s and early 90s, UBA began to change.

UBA 3.0 -- UBA transitioned from being a promoter of Baptist programs to a team of consultants for churches and community transformation in the mid 90s. Rick Warren once referred to UBA as transitioning from being a program-driven association to a purpose-driven association. UBA led the way in leadership development with programs like Young Leaders (later LeadersEdge) which was duplicated in associations across the country, church planting and community transformation. Mission Houston grew directly out of the community transformation initiative of UBA.

Beginning in 1965, Houston began to change dramatically. Prior to 1965 almost everyone that immigrated to the United States came from the British Isles and northern Europe. That meant they were predominantly white and Protestant, Catholic or Jew. American immigration laws changed in 1965 and the face (literally) of America has dramatically changed since, with Houston leading the way in this new diversity.

Houston has transitioned from being a bi-racial Southern city (1960) to being one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in America. We've identified about 350 different ethnolinguistic people groups in Houston with 215 languages spoken. Four out of ten people living in Houston will not speak in English when they go home tonight. There are more Hispanics living in Harris County today than the total population of Harris County in 1960!

The folks moving into our neighborhoods from around the world are no longer predominantly white, Protestant or Jew. Many will be Catholic (often a syncretized version of Catholicism). More likely they will be Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, animist, or of no religious faith whatsoever. This provides the greatest opportunity for world missions at a local level we have ever known. While our forefathers learned about missions in a study group, we can learn by doing it firsthand in our city. This is one of several reasons it may be time for UBA 4.0.

What might the next iteration of Union Baptist Association, what I'm calling UBA 4.0, look like? That's yet to be determined, but I believe it must focus on our Great Commission responsibilities.

Peter Drucker said every organization must answer two questions: what business are you in? and how's business? I believe churches are in the Great Commission business. We are in the business of making disciples of all peoples. If that's true, then how's business? (I addressed this a bit in my previous blog "A Parable Inverted.") The short answer is this -- "not good!"

If the Great Commission is the church's primary task, and if we are not doing that job very well, and if it is the function of the association to assist the church in fulfilling it's purpose, then maybe it's time for us to rethink the purpose and function of the association.

I continue to wonder what would happen if the association, UBA or any association, saw as it's primary purpose to mobilize churches to take on lostness - intentionally and persistently.

I think it's time for UBA 4.0. What do you think? Feel free to post your comments.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Parable Inverted

One is such an important number.

True or false? A proposal to make German the official language of the United States of America was defeated in Congress by one vote! If you said "true" you are almost correct. Here's the story. In response to a request from a group of German-Americans from Augusta, Virginia, a House committee recommended publishing 3,000 sets of laws in German and distributing them to the states (with copies of statutes printed in English as well). The House debated this proposal without reaching a decision, and a vote to adjourn and consider the recommendation at a later date was defeated by one vote, 42 to 41. There was no vote on the actual bill, just the vote on whether or not to adjourn. Because the motion to adjourn did not pass, the matter was dropped. If they had considered the bill later, would they have voted to publish in German? Probably not. The House, a month later, debated a similar issue and decided to publish only in English. But the legend persists to this day that the German missed becoming the official language of the US by one vote.

There's no denying that one was an important number to Jesus. He told a parable about the importance of one, three parables in fact, all found in Luke 15. A shepherd had one lost sheep, a woman lost one coin, a father had one wayward son. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep in the fold and risked everything to find his one lost sheep. The woman turned her house upside down trying to find her one missing coin. The father abandoned decorum and protocol to welcome back his one wayward son. These parables show us God's heart for the lost, his willingness to do whatever was necessary to bring one more person into a relationship with him.

Last week our staff went away for 3 days to begin trying to "think different(ly)" about UBA and to ask what our responsibility was to our churches. [see my January 2010 blog] We are not interested in thinking different just to be different. We recognize there is a significant gap between what God wants and what is going on in our churches and in the world.

We didn't just talk about things. We sought God. We prayed. We read Scripture. We listened to God and shared with one another what God was saying to us. And there was amazing, amazing clarity and consistency in our conversation.

One of the things we discussed was the parable of the lost sheep. The good shepherd left 99 sheep in the fold to focus all his attention on rescuing one lone, lost sheep. Rescuing the one lost sheep became his priority! He risked everything to rescue that sheep.

Then we looked at the way the church (not any specific church, but churches as a whole) does things. What did we observe? We've inverted the parable. We focus our attention on the sheep in the fold, not on the lost sheep that need to be rescued.

We may say lostness is a priority, but what do the records say? In 1999, with 489 churches, UBA churches baptized 9,596 people. In 2009, with 599 churches and with 583,771 more people living in Harris County, we baptized only 9,595 people. With 110 more churches and almost 600,000 more people living around us, we baptized the same number of people. You tell me, is lostness really our priority?

I wonder what would happen if the association, UBA or any association, saw as it's primary purpose to mobilize churches to take on lostness - intentionally and persistently.

We're just one association, but if we did, maybe others would follow.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Think Different (ly)

In 1997 Apple Computer introduced their “Think Different” ™ advertising campaign. The campaign featured people who changed the world — scientists, social reformers, ministers, entertainers, athletes, explorers, artists — because they thought about things in ways different than the general populace. (For more information and links to the video, go to

We are all familiar with the idea “if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.” Let me introduce a new spin on that. If you keep thinking the way you’ve always thought, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.

Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People introduces the See-Do-Get model. What you see influences what you do, and what you do determines what you get. So to change what you get you must change what you do, and you will only change what you do when you change the way you see things, in other words to get different results we must learn to think differently.

I believe the church in North America needs to think different(ly). Why? It’s simple. The results we are getting are unacceptable. It’s not my purpose to defend my position, simply to state it. Anyone who has been a longtime lover and observer of the church knows that the church in North America is in trouble. A quick review of the Glenmary reports of religion in America from 1990 to 2000 verifies this. Baptist Christians, my denominational family, particularly should be concerned. Whereas, we were once strong and growing, we are now a denomination in decline. If we think we will survive, much less thrive, by doing what we’ve been doing, we are sadly mistaken. We need to learn to think different(ly).

As the executive director of UBA, I believed we, as a staff and as an organization, needed to think different(ly). I believe church leaders need to think differently. So to that end, I’m devoting this year to helping us learn.

In January I introduced the concept at our Quarterly Meeting. (To view an edited version of that presentation go to our website at , click on QAM Presentation, and the three part series will open. Right click on the center of the video and Zoom In to make the image bigger.) Other presentations will follow. Throughout the year the theme of our Pastor to Pastor series will be think different(ly) … about the church, about the church in the community, about making disciples. I will work with our staff, our moderator team, our subsidiary corporation leaders and our Associational Leadership Council to look at UBA and see where we need to think different(ly) in order to fulfill our vision of a transformed city.

All my life I’d been admonished to “think” — by parents, teachers, professors, my own self talk. Until I began studying about thinking, though, I didn’t realize no one had ever really taught me to think or helped me understand why I think as I do much less taught me how to think different(ly). As we learn, we will pass our learning on to you with the prayer that by thinking different(ly) we will begin to do things differently which should change the results we are getting.

God help us. Amen.

Monday, January 4, 2010


In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed or energy is converted. It is represented by the equation P(ower)=W(ork)/t(ime).

In the spiritual realm, that may be a good place for us to begin a discussion of the power of prayer. PP=W/t. Power in prayer equals the amount of actual prayer (work) divided by the time spent in prayer. The more time spent in prayer, the more effective our prayers. That would be a good place to begin, that is, if God measured our prayers by the time we spend praying. But that’s not what God does. Jesus made that clear in his denunciation of the Pharisees.

So what does matter? It matters that we pray. That’s it. While God doesn’t measure the length of our prayers, God does care that we pray. Prayer is an admission of our limitedness and a recognition that the all-powerful, all-loving God really does care about what we think and want, really does intervene in the affairs of men, and that life really is a collaboration between man and God.

One of the greatest prayer passages in the Bible is hidden away in Paul’s closing remarks to the church in Rome. He asks the Roman believers to pray for him, specifically to pray that he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that his service for Jerusalem would be acceptable to the Christians there, and that he would be able to visit the church in Rome (Romans 15:30-32). Overlay those three prayer requests over the closing chapters of the book of Acts and you will see a marvelous testimony to the power of answered prayer. Paul is miraculously delivered from an angry mob by a Roman soldier, saved from an assassination plot when a young man overhears a comment and persuades the Roman government to get Paul out of Jerusalem, and arrives safely in Rome after being saved from a storm at sea after the boat perishes upon the rocks. Oh, yes, and the believers in Jerusalem do welcome him warmly. It is a fascinating story!

Why all this talk about prayer and power? Because I want to call the churches in UBA to a Day of Prayer for our city. Specifically, Sunday, January 31. I want to challenge every church in UBA to set aside time in the worship service, set aside time in Sunday School, Bible study classes or in small group fellowships, set aside time to pray for our city — specifically that churches would be faithful in sharing the gospel with the lost in 2010, that folks will be saved in 2010 in record numbers, and that the transforming power of God will be evident in our city throughout the year.

Texas Baptists are engaged in an initiative called Texas Hope 2010 which has three goals: that the gospel is shared with everyone in Texas by Easter Sunday 2010, that no one go to bed hungry in Texas, and that these initiatives be undergirded and supported through fervent, focused, intercessory prayer. The Houston expression of this is called Pentecost Houston. Randall Everett, executive director of BGCT, has issued a challenge to BGCT churches to set aside time that day to pray for Texas. I want to encourage all UBA churches regardless of state convention affiliation to set aside a few minutes that day to pray that the lost in Texas will be reached with the gospel, and specifically that our initiatives in Houston will be effective in sharing the gospel with the lost in our city.

When Paul asked the Romans to pray for him, it was years before anyone knew of the significance of that request and the power unleashed through their prayers. It may be a few years before we know the impact and power of the prayers of 2010, but it is my firm belief that if we are faithful in praying, God will be faithful in responding. What a difference it will make.

Let us pray.