A Mental Health Inclusion Strategy for the Church | Influence Podcast


May is Mental Health Month. In today’s episode, Influence magazine executive editor George P. Wood talks to Dr. Stephen Grcevich about a mental health inclusion strategy for the local church.

Dr. Grcevich is founder and president of Key Ministry. He is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with over thirty years of clinical experience and extensive research experience evaluating medication prescribed to children and teens for mental health disorders. A past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, he is the author of Mental Health and the Church, published this year by Zondervan. (The link takes you to my review of the book.)

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How Churches Can Support Foster Parents | Influence Podcast


May is National Foster Care Month.

In today’s episode, Influence magazine executive editor George P. Wood talks with Jay Mooney and Johan Mostert about how churches can support foster care parents and thus solve the twin problems of America’s foster care system: capacity and stability.

Jay Mooney is executive director of COMPACT Family Services, formerly Assemblies of God Family Services Agency. Johan Mostert is director of COMPACARE, one of COMPACT’S initiatives.

To learn more about COMPACT Family Services, go to CompassionateAction.com, or follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 139 Notes

  • 00:00 Introduction to podcast
  • 00:05 TruFire Curriculum sponsor ad
  • 01:17 Introduction of Jay Mooney and Johan Mostert
  • 01:39 The size and nature of America’s foster care problem
  • 05:19 What happens when kids enter foster care
  • 08:36 The twin problems of capacity and stability
  • 13:35 How can churches can help solve the foster care problem
  • 17:15 What church members can do to come alongside foster parents
  • 19:29 How to access the COMPACARE systems manual for your church
  • 22:55 The COMPACARE strategy is low-cost and scalable
  • 28:12 More information about COMPACT Family Services
  • 31:01 Conclusion

How to Lead a Small Church | Influence Podcast


The vast majority of churches in America are small. In the Assemblies of God, for example, 75 percent of all churches report fewer than 200 people in weekly attendance. Nearly 60 percent report fewer than 100. And nearly one-third report fewer than 50.

Unfortunately, there are few books about how to lead a small church. Karl Vaters’ new book, Small Church Essentials is one of the best, and it’s both hopeful and helpful. (See my review here.)

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Vaters about the unique challenges and opportunities facing small-church pastors. Vaters is teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, and an Assemblies of God minister. He blogs regularly about small-church leadership at NewSmallChurch.com.

P.S. This podcast first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is posted here with permission.

Small Church Essentials | Book Review


“Your church is big enough,” writes Karl Vaters in Small Church Essentials. “Right now. Today, at its current size.”

Vaters’ statement goes against the grain of what many ministers have been taught, explicitly and implicitly, about church growth. “A healthy church will grow numerically,” they’ve been taught in so many words. “If yours isn’t growing, you’re doing something wrong. Here’s how to break the ____ barrier” (fill in the blank with a large number).

The intent of this teaching is good, of course. Church growth aims at increasing a church’s size by increasing the number of people it wins to Christ. And church-growth ideas have been successfully implemented at a number of churches, which have grown exponentially.

But not all churches. Not even most churches. Indeed, despite the intent, the effect of church-growth teaching can be demoralizing to small-church pastors who implement it with little or no resulting growth. That’s certainly how Vaters felt after implementing church-growth programs at his church for many years with no appreciable change in size.

Things came to a head when he heard a denominational leader state that 80 percent of that denomination’s churches were under 200 in weekly attendance, and 90 percent were under 100. “I knew the expected response to the statistic should be, ‘Our church is small too. Oh no!’ But something inside me broke that day.”

His immediate response was defensive and a bit cynical: “Our church is small, so what?” But as weeks passed, he realized that “so what?” was not an agenda. While planning an upcoming church event, the thought hit him: “Our church is small, now what?” That was a game-changer, an epiphany.

It led Vaters to a new understanding of a growing church, epitomized in this sentence: “We are always striving to increase our capacity for effective ministry.” Any church can do this, at any size.

Of course, capacity for effective ministry is going to look different at small churches than at big churches. Why? Because of the Law of Large Numbers: “The bigger the group, the more predictably they behave. The smaller the group, the less predictably they behave.”

So, for example, leading a big church requires a pastor to focus on systems and processes. Those systems and processes move people from the large-group experience on Sunday to a small-group experience at midweek. A small church is already a small group, however. Instead of focusing on systems and processes, a small-church pastor leads by personal relationship.

Here’s another example: In a big church, discipleship typically takes place using a curriculum model. (Think of Rick Warren’s baseball diamond analogy here.) When a church needs to train large numbers of people, this systems-oriented approach works well. But a mentoring model works better in a small church precisely because it leverages the value of personal relationship.

I could cite other examples of how the Law of Large Numbers shapes leadership in big and small churches, but I think you get Vaters’ basic point. Leading a small church requires different ways of thinking about and practicing ministry than leading a big church. Not better or worse, mind you, just different.

Small Church Essentials isn’t anti-big church by any stretch of the imagination. By the same token, though, it’s not uncritically pro-small church. “Small churches are not a problem, a virtue, or an excuse,” Vaters writes. “Jesus calls every church and every church leader for a purpose,” he concludes, “and He equips us with everything we need to accomplish that purpose.”

Regardless of size.

If you’re a small-church pastor who wants to increase your own capacity and your church’s capacity for effective ministry, I highly recommend this hopeful, helpful book.

 

Book Reviewed
Karl Vaters, Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Extraordinary Women of Christian History | Book Review


“One Half of the World does not know how the Other Half lives,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack. That is certainly true of church history, the standard volumes of which are dominated by accounts of the thoughts and deeds of men. Ruth A. Tucker’s Extraordinary Women of Christian History tells readers about the “Other Half” of Christendom by means of biographical snippets of famous Christian women.

Tucker has served as a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Calvin Theological Seminary. She is best-known for her biographical approach to both the history of Christian missions in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya and of church history more generally in Parade of Faith. In 1986, she and Walter L. Liefeld coauthored Daughters of the Church, which is a systematic account of “Women and ministry from New Testament times to the present,” in the words of the book’s subtitle.

Like Daughters of the Church, Extraordinary Women arranges its material chronologically. Chapter 1 begins with the apocryphal, but nonetheless influential, Thecla, erstwhile missionary compassion of the apostle Paul. Chapter 14 ends with Helen Roseveare, missionary doctor to the Congo in a time of civil war. Along the way, readers peak into the lives of women, both Catholic and Protestant, some married but others not, who professed the Christian faith with their thoughts, lives, and deeds.

From the outset, Tucker confesses that her accounts of these women’s lives will be anything but hagiographical. Analogizing her choice of subjects to “the tastiest candy from this sampler box of chocolates,” she notes that “in many cases [i.e., other writes’ accounts of these women’s lives] the candy is too sweet for the palate—sugarcoated heroines.” Tucker’s accounts are anything but sugarcoated. Indeed, if anything, they tend toward bitter chocolate. She writes, “I was struck by how many failed marriages and failed ministries had become added ingredients of this volume” (x). At times, this non-sugarcoated approach becomes too much, as if the failures outweighed the successes, at least to my mind.

Regardless, I appreciate Tucker’s reminder: “These women are anything but the super-saints of pious heroine tales. They are real people, and they are like us” (x). There is hope in that statement. God can make a beautiful thing out of the crooked timber of humanity.

One final takeaway as a male reader—or rather, a question. The women Tucker portrays advanced the kingdom of God despite opposition, especially the opposition that arose because so many of them labored against the grain of traditional gender roles and expectations. Ironically, the Protestant Reformation made the leadership of women even more difficult. “Protestants disdained monasticism,” Tucker writes, “which incidentally had been the primary path to ministry for women” (53). One can feel the sting of that opposition to women’s contributions in the complaint of nineteenth-century preacher and social reformer Phoebe Palmer:

We believe that hundreds of conscientious, sensitive Christian women have actually suffered more under the slowly crucifying process to which they have been subjected by men who bear the Christian name than many a martyr has endured in passing through the flames (148).

Interestingly, Palmer countered this “crucifying process” with a long, rigorous defense of women’s preaching ministry in a book whose title alludes to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2—Promise of the Father.

The question(s), then, that rises from reading Extraordinary Women of Christian History is this: If the Spirit has been poured out upon “all people,” both “sons and daughters” (Acts 2:17, cf. Joel 2:28), why do so many churches continue to erect barriers to the full involvement of women in all of their ministries? Would not the work of the kingdom advance more steadily if its daughters were not unduly hindered? The women whose lives Tucker sketches did much. One cannot help but wonder whether they could have done much more, had they worked without hindrance from within the church.

Book Reviewed
Ruth A. Tucker, Extraordinary Women of Christian History: What We Can Learn from Their Struggles and Triumphs (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

How to Reach and Retain Youth in Your Church | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Josh Wellborn about what churches can do to reach and retain young people. His vision can be summarized in two words: relationship and discipleship. Take a listen!

How to Multiply Leaders in Your Church | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Dave Ferguson about how to multiply leaders in your church. The conversation draws on insights from Dave’s new book, Hero Maker, coauthored with Warren Bird and published by Zondervan. (See my review below.)

Dave is pastor of Community Christian Church, a multisite congregation with 11 locations in Chicago and its suburbs. He’s also the visionary for New Thing, an international church-planting movement, and president of the Exponential Conference. You can follow Dave on Twitter; his handle is @DaveFerguson. And check out his website, DaveFerguson.org.

Here’s my very brief review of the book:

“Am I trying to be the hero, or am I trying to make heroes out of others?” Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird believe church leaders should ask this question daily if they want to develop a culture of multiplication in their congregations. To help leaders do this, the authors outline five essential practices of hero making: multiplication thinking, permission giving, disciple multiplying, gift activating and kingdom building. Hero Maker is a helpful book for any church leader who wants to do the “greater things” Jesus promised His disciples in John 14:14.

Book Reviewed
Dave Ferguson and Warren Bird, Hero Maker: Five Essential Practices for Leaders to Multiply Leaders (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).