Book Reviews: Andy’s 2022 Reading Experience

I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.


IS GOD SPEAKING TO ME? – by Lysa Terkeurst

Is God Speaking to me is written by a woman (Lysa Terkeurst) to women, yet I found it very encouraging and a good little read for me too. This 57 page booklet is an excerpt from Lysa’s book, What Happens When Women Say Yes to God. Lysa writes, “I am amazed and saddened by the number of people missing out on the most exciting part of being a Christian – experiencing God.” This booklet is a great encouragement to listen and hear from God. Check it out.

Surviving Disappointment

Sometimes our dreams are dashed in front of us. We had all kinds of dreams, were convinced that we were doing exactly what God wanted in the place he wanted us, and life is not going as we had planned.

All of us face disappointment. All of us will have times of discouragement. But sometimes the load seems too much. We consider giving up and moving on to something else. We feel that those close to us don’t understand how big the load is that we carry. We feel very alone. We may feel God has given up on us.

I’m reminded of the story of Joseph in the Bible, which begins in Genesis 37 and goes on for a few chapters. Joseph had eleven brothers. They hated him because they saw that he was Daddy’s favorite. Joseph had a few dreams that made it look like the rest of the family, all the brothers and their Dad, would bow down before Joseph. Sharing those dreams didn’t help his brother’s hatred. A few of them arranged it to look as if wild animals killed him, and then sold him to some slave traders. Those slave traders brought Joseph to Egypt and sold him to one of the Pharoah’s top officials.

That would be a terrible experience for anyone. No one would be shocked if Joseph became angry. Instead of being a rebellious and belligerent young slave, Joseph served his master well. In fact, his effort was rewarded by the master making him his attendant in charge of the whole household. Jospeh overcomes being sold as a slave and manages to do good for his master. What an amazing example of overcoming disappointment. Instead of letting the disappointment of the situation he finds himself in, causing him to dwell on his own terrible misfortune, Joseph rises above that to continue to do his best as a person – and as a slave.

Then his master’s wife tries to seduce him, but he runs away in order not to sin in this way. The master believes his wife when she accuses Joseph, and he sends Joseph to prison. A second wave of disappointment must have hit Joseph. No one would have been surprised if he was angry at God or became a hardened criminal in prison. Instead, he overcomes that disappointment by doing good in prison. Like when he arrived at the official’s house, his abilities and attitude are soon recognized, and he is placed in charge over all the prisoners. Yes, God is with him, His blessing is evident, but Joseph overcomes what would have been a terribly disappointing situation and is rewarded. Again, instead of letting the situation push him into despair or anger at God, he continues to do his best in the situation he finds himself in.

After some time, Joseph becomes aware through a dream, that one of his fellow prisoners will be soon released and return to his position as Pharaoh’s cupbearer. Joseph asks the cupbearer to please remember him when he returns to Pharaoh’s palace. Joseph begs him to speak up on his behalf and get him out of prison. The cupbearer gets his position back but forgets about poor Joseph back in prison. As time goes on Joseph realizes the cupbearer didn’t speak up and he remains in prison, experiencing yet another disappointment.  

Two years later Pharoah has a dream. Finally the cupbearer remembers Joseph, and how he was able to interpret dreams for him. He recommends that Pharoah speak with Joseph, and Joseph is brought in to explain Pharoah’s dream. When Joseph favourably explains the dream, Pharaoh ends up making Joseph his second in command!

Joseph survived a few waves of disappointment – terrible things to endure. He made it through and God placed him over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

Some time later, when famine hits the homeland, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt looking for food. Since Joseph is in charge of the grain, they bow down before him – just like the dreams Joseph had as a youngster! And then Joseph makes an incredible statement in Genesis 50: 20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Not only did Joseph survive all the terrible disappointments, he saw that God used what others did to him as a means to accomplish great good!

Some lessons to help us survive disappointments:

1. Trust that God is the same God in both moments of triumph and moments of despair. Joseph never blamed God for what was happening. He even ended up saying God was in all of the things he suffered.

2. Be faithful where you are, no matter how disappointing. Joseph did his best in every situation he found himself in. And God blessed him and rewarded him. Whether the disappointments result in goals left unreached or a position terminated when you still had dreams to pursue, be faithful to God wherever you find yourself next.

Be the person God wants you to be no matter what the circumstances are around you.

3. Find your sense of well-being in your relationship with God rather than in your circumstances. Whether Joseph was head slave in an important official’s house or a lowly prisoner, he did everything to the best of his abilities.

4. Trust that God will look after the future. Serve God faithfully right now, wherever you are, trusting that God knows all the next steps and future twists and turns, and that you are safe in His hands.

Disappointments will come. Sometimes they are small, often they are big. We can survive them if we continue to trust God and know we are safe with Him.

When your dreams are dashed and life is not meeting your expectations, continue to hold onto God in the middle of the frustration and pain.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

The Future Life of a Leader

As a leader, you live in the future. While you have to be grounded to the present, and build on the past, much of your time is spent looking at the future and how to best prepare for it.

Vision

A leader, and his team, need a clear vision of where they want to go. A vision is your expectation of what the future could look like. You need to be able to see the reality of the future clearly enough to know what you must do to get there. This takes some creative and well-informed imagination. You need to know the realities of the present well enough to know what can be reality in the future. If you understand the present clearly enough, you know what must happen to make your dreams come true.

The average person doesn’t have the capacity to dream. Some are so loaded down with life that dreaming seems impossible. I recently talked with a lady who had been a single mom, just barely surviving day to day. She said she had not had any energy to think beyond the present day for a long time.

To think beyond that was impossible. Others do not have the time or ability to dream a better future.

The average person doesn’t have the capacity to dream. Some are so loaded down with life that dreaming seems impossible. I recently talked with a lady who had been a single mom, just barely surviving day to day. She said she had not had any energy to think beyond the present day for a long time. To think beyond that was impossible. Others do not have the time or ability to dream a better future.

Leaders need to be able to see a better future and take the responsibility of helping others see that better future.

Growth

As a leader you should anticipate growth, and desire that more people come to church. This requires future thinking to anticipate what this growth will look like and how you will get there. Will you outgrow your space in the next couple of years? Will you need to expand space or start multiple services? Will you have to hire more staff or equip more volunteers? Consider what a larger congregation will look like and the realities that will be associated with that welcomed growth. As you see that future, you need to be able to begin to prepare for it.

Meetings

When you plan a meeting, you are living in the future. You need to have a clear understanding of what is most important for that meeting.

If you are planning a staff meeting next week, you need to be clear about the priorities of that day. Not the priorities of today, or tomorrow, but at that time. You need to know how to deal with the issues of the moment of that day, even though you are not there yet. In that way you can set an appropriate agenda that will guide that meeting and help everyone present know how to keep moving toward the vision. Yes, a staff meeting does need to look back a bit, and recognize the realities of the day, but the leader needs to inspire hope for the future in those he is leading.

Staffing

When considering your staffing needs, it is important that you hire employees who will help your organization do more than you are presently doing. You need to anticipate what each person or role will contribute towards your vision. You can’t just hire for the moment, because you are already handling the issue of the moment. You want someone who will help you move ahead. This requires a plan for what your organization will need in the future and how a new hire will not only help you get there, but also help once you’ve reached those goals in a way the present team can’t yet do. Hire for growth. If you only hire to accomplish what is already being done, you are adding staff for maintenance, not growth.

Programming and Events

As a leader, you recognize that there are times when a certain program or event can help your church move toward your vision. There may be studies that you want your church to go through because they will better equip your members to do what you believe God has called your church to. You are living in the future as you see what you hope will be the results of this study.

I am presently preaching a series on hearing God. I want the congregation to get a better understanding of the truth that God still speaks to us and we can hear him guiding us in our daily lives. I anticipate a future where the members are more aligned with Jesus and truly hear him speak into their daily lives.

I am a Transition Pastor so there are certain meetings I have with the congregation that I hope will resolve any issues of the past and encourage the church to look forward with anticipation to what God will do. I am living in the future when I see a church that has dealt with issues, where repentance and forgiveness has taken place, and where there is greater unity around their common vision for the future. 

Challenges

You don’t have to be a leader very long before you encounter challenges. Some of these can be completely unexpected, like the covid challenge. But others can be anticipated and prepared for. For example, if half your congregation loses their jobs because a local mill shuts down, a pastor who is leading well will see how this will impact the financial aspects of the church in the near future. Leaders can see challenges coming if they look ahead.

If you are going to lead your church or organization through those challenges, you need to be able to see what your church will look like when you get to the other side. You need to know how to lead them through these challenges. No one ever knows what the other side of a challenge will really look like, but a leader can prayerfully dream the better future and then lead toward it.

Leaders are not prophets, yet they need to read the “signs of the times.” Some farmers say that if you have a period of heavy fog, there will be rain in 90 days. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” says that a red sky at night will bring a pleasant morning. Leaders need to learn how to read their situations to understand their future, and leaders need to constantly consider the future as they lead in the present.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Leaders Inspire Hope

People need hope. There are too many things going on in our world that cause people to fear and to worry.

We can all find things to complain about or worry about. I don’t think we need any training in this area. It seems to come so naturally to us. It is much harder to look for and find the good in life, in business, and in ministry.

My grandma was a good pessimist – if there is such a thing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting her down, but she was incredibly creative in finding things to worry about. If you are going to be a leader that inspires hope you will need to be an optimist. You will need to be creative in seeing the good in things and in finding things to smile about.

Hope is an antidote to fear. Hope teaches that just maybe we can make a situation a little better. If we can instill a little hope in the people we work with, we will have done a great kindness to humanity. And we may very well find that our team wants to work all the harder for us because they enjoy the environment and are excited about the good they are able to be part of.

I believe in God. I believe that He is over all things, so I can trust him to work in situations I am in. I know that no matter how dark life may get, God, through His Spirit is walking with me. Even the worst situation can become more hopeful when we realize God is looking after us.

I’ve come to recognize the value of inspiring hope in the people around me, and I’d encourage you to do the same. It can be difficult to know where to start, so here are a few suggestions:

  1. Focus on the positive things. You could use appreciative inquiry when planning ahead or looking to improve something. Appreciative inquiry is more interested in what is going well and building from that, than what is not going well and how to get rid of that. The focus is on what is positive.
  2. Be kind. People receive enough negative messages without us joining in. Be kind to others. Say something nice about who they are or how they have impacted you. Say thank you and please. Be respectful of them as a person.
  3. Seek creative solutions. Be more interested in dreaming wild dreams and allowing people to get carried away in their imaginations than stifling any conversation that goes a little off the beaten path.
  4. Be a giver. Give more than you take. Be generous with your time and money. Seek to bless others rather than receive.
  5. Be willing to learn from those who have figured out how to do something well. Instill hope by showing your team that others found solutions, and you can too.
  6. Be humble. Don’t let your pride prevent others from blossoming into incredible people. Be okay with helping others become their best, even if that means that at some point the student surpasses the teacher. That’s actually one of the best compliments you could receive.
  7. Share information freely. Sometimes hope is overcome by fear because people don’t see the whole picture. Communicate well so that people will know what they need to know.
  8. Be a friend. Sometimes people just need someone to walk with them, or to listen, and try to understand.
  9. Be a pray-er. Do not hesitate to go to God with the problems of the day. Ask God to help you. And pray that God will encourage others. Pray with people and for people. God can give hope no matter the circumstance.

Hope says there is a better tomorrow. Hope says I will have others to walk with me along the way. Hope says no matter the problem, we can find solutions.

Let’s be leaders that inspire hope in the people we work with.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

8 Ideas to Keep Joy in Your Board Meetings!

Many pastors and church leaders see board meetings as a necessary evil. It’s a meeting that has to happen once a month, so I will just endure every boring moment of it and get back to the real things of leading a church or organization.

I’m on the other side of the equation. I like my job and am serving in my calling, and so I enjoy board meetings and look forward to meeting together with key decision makers as we guide our church to a better future. This is the one time a month that you get to interact with the people who help you make the best decisions and look after the big picture of the church or organization you lead.

Here are a few ideas I rely on to make board meetings times of joy.

  1. Have the right attitude.

Some of us are naturally more interested in meetings than others. It might help to remind us that this is the group of people most invested in us leading well and moving the church forward. This is a time to look at the big picture of the organization and people that God has called you to lead, and entrusted to your care. What a privilege and what a responsibility! Prepare for your board meeting with an attitude of expectancy, as you seek to hear from God together.

2. Plan it.

Do not show up to a board meeting, whether you are chairing it or participating in it, without preparing yourself to be aware and ready for what will be discussed and decided. If you are participating, review materials that have been provided in advance. If you are leading, make sure you create a clear agenda and distribute it to each participant. Think through, even pray through, the agenda. Identify what needs to be discussed at this meeting, and what could instead be addressed in an email or a one-on-one conversation. The agenda will also remind you of remaining items left from previous meetings and identify how the success of the meeting will be measured. I sometimes put a suggested time marker for each item so the rest of the board knows if we are on time or starting to spend too much time on a certain issue. With effective planning, the agenda can even include an end time.

Sometimes the joy is drained out of board members because meetings drag on and on with no clear idea of when you will be done.

3. Provide information in advance.

Make sure that all pertinent information is sent out to the board members at least a few days before the meeting. Be clear which items are for information only and what will be discussed. Send minutes, agenda, and reports to everyone so time isn’t wasted reviewing these during the meeting.

4. Personalize your meeting.

Take time to be personable. It’s okay to schedule time to catch up with people and laugh at a story together. Some leaders suggest having everyone share a highlight and something they have been struggling with. The business of a board meeting has to be about people, so make sure the people on the board know they are not just decision-making machines, but appreciated for who they are and what they contribute.

5. Focus on your vision.

When you meet, make sure that you allow your organization’s vision and values guide what you talk about.

It should be a rare occasion to spend time on issues outside of your vision. If your vision is compelling and you are seeing progress, then it will be exciting to talk about what is going well. If things are not going well, then take some time to pray and ask God to give you creative solutions how to move forward.

6. Celebrate what is going well.

Celebrate something every meeting! Celebrations help add joy. Do whatever you want. Get everyone up to do a “happy dance” or high five each other. Maybe you bring in a cake and balloons. At minimum, recognize the wins and celebrate what God has accomplished through your efforts. And before you move on, determine if there is anything that can be done to continue to build on those wins.

7. Prayerfully plan how to address what is not going well.

Often there are things in your church or organization that are not going well. As a board, you need to decide how to respond to those challenges. Ask God to help you determine if there needs to be some tweaking or a complete re-think. Sometimes a small change can make a big improvement. Sometimes it may mean personnel changes or adjustments to processes.

8. Always look ahead.

Your meeting should leave you excited about what is next. Your vision should continue to compel you to move ahead. I hope you can leave each meeting motivated and encouraged to keep going. Ask God to continue to give you clear direction as you move forward.

Joy comes from knowing you are doing what God has called you to, seeing God at work in what has gone well, and prayerfully anticipating what God will do next as you move ahead together!

I hope you have great joy in your board meetings.

Keep looking up,

Andy

Pursuing Excellence: Plan Your Sermons a Year Ahead

Life happens at a pretty steady pace. In fact, unless you plan ahead, you will be dragging behind regularly, just barely keeping up. It is valuable to set aside time at regularly to do the work of looking ahead. For preachers, there is always another sermon to prepare. Unless you plan ahead, it is difficult to spend adequate time thinking through how to preach a biblically accurate, relevant, and creative sermon. The more you plan ahead, the more time you have to think through and improve each sermon.

1.Natural Blocks of Time

I begin by determining the number of Sundays between natural breaks. For example, if I was going to preach on Christmas through Advent, and typically think of the church “year” from September to June, that means I only have September through November for a longer series. I could preach through a book of the Bible with that many weeks. Or, I might do a series for September and make a change at Thanksgiving. After determining how many Sundays for natural blocks of time, I start praying through and listing what I feel I need to preach on in the next 12 months.

2. Congregational Needs

There are times in a church where it seems the congregation needs a certain topic addressed. For example, I am presently leading a church transition ministry, meaning I come into a church that is newly without a pastor and is looking toward hiring the next one. Sometimes the transition is a painful one, where people have been hurt by the pastor or each other. Many transition pastors preach a series on the “one anothers” of the Bible. (“Love one another” or “forgive one another” and so on). The hope is to help people to restore their relationships and trust in each other.

As you pray and think through the needs of your congregation, God will guide you to which books of the Bible or topics to address. You could invite your leadership team into the process by asking them to suggest needs they see in the congregation. If you know that most people are going to take holidays over the summer, you might want to plan a summer series in which each sermon doesn’t build on previous sermons but can be fully understood on its own. If people miss a sermon, they are not falling behind.

If you have a number of new people, you may want to address some of your denominational and local church beliefs and priorities. Or if your church includes many new Christians, you might want to introduce them to Jesus through preaching through one of the gospels over the next year. You could intersperse it with thematic series at Christmas or leading up to Easter, or just preach right through the gospel.

If there are themes you feel need addressing but don’t fit in your preaching schedule, you could address some of those needs in a class or weekend seminar.

3. Main Idea of Each Sermon

Once you have decided which of the books of the Bible or themes you want to preach on, begin breaking them down to what scriptures will be preached which Sundays. Make sure each independent sermon builds on the theme you have decided on. After identifying the scripture for each Sunday, develop the basic sermon idea. This will not necessarily be the final decision, because at this point you are just doing a quick survey of the material. You may adjust the main idea later, but you want an outline of the focus for each sermon so you can begin to collect supporting materials, ideas, and stories for that focus over the next year leading up to each week’s sermon.

Develop the main ideas well enough so that you can give the music and creative service planning teams about six months’ notice for them to gather material for that Sunday that will fit with the sermon.

4. Monthly Glances Ahead

Each month, spend time looking at the next month’s sermons, reminding yourself of upcoming themes and topics. This helps you watch for how things like the news or world events are speaking into what you will be preaching about, as well as how that sermon will speak to local needs. Keep in touch with those who will be leading music or adding other creative ideas into the service so you are working together and building one cohesive service.

Prayerfully start to define the main focus of each sermon more specifically. Ask God to give you and your team creative ways of speaking truth and applying it to each one who will hear.

5. Weekly Specifics

As you work through the details of planning the sermon and accompanying service for the next Sunday, work closely with any volunteers who will be part of the service. Communicate your theme clearly and make sure you are on the same page with all who will contribute. Pray about the applications you will include in your sermon, and ask God to direct your final preparation so that lives will actually be transformed through what God has helped you prepare.

It is a privilege to weekly stand before a congregation who is waiting to hear from God. Put in the time necessary to be biblically accurate and creatively relevant to your congregation. God will reward your efforts as you continually listen to His guidance right from the time you determine what book of the Bible to preach on to the time you wrap up the conclusion of your sermon.

Keep looking up,

Andy

Book Reviews: Andy’s 2022 Reading Experience

I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.


KEEP CHRISTIANITY WEIRD – by Michael Frost

Frost is encouraging the church to return to its counter-cultural beginnings. Instead of trying to blend in under the guise of being relevant, he encourages believers to be different. This is not about being strange to be noticed, but to do things differently than people expect. This is about actually caring for the needy, and being okay with doing things that the average person thinks is strange, if it means being more like Jesus. Frost writes, “Just as business and education is fostering greater creativity and innovation, the church is in a phase of rewarding compliance and conservatism and suppressing eccentricity.” (p. 16) We need to reward creativity, not “toeing the line”. We need out of the box thinkers and leaders.

Frost wants believers to come back to being different in a way that points people to Jesus and a proper understanding of God. “In a world of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, keeping Christianity weird involves recovering our strange belief in a scary God who can’t ever be fully known, who doesn’t need us, whose face we can’t look upon, and whose name we can’t utter.” (p. 158)

This is a great book for anyone who wants their mediocre Christianity challenged!

Pursuing Excellence: Plan Your Year

Pursuing excellence involves a number of different aspects. One of those is to plan ahead. The difference between mediocrity and excellence may come down to how well you plan.

Planning ahead gives you time to work on your project or event. When you start planning earlier, you have more time to think it through, prepare and determine the best way to complete the project. Giving yourself this extra time to think about your project means that you have longer to think about it and come up with ideas than if you are scrambling to get everything together last minute.

Pastors and church leadership teams, plan your upcoming year. While many people plan their years from January to December (I tend to plan my personal goals to begin in January), when it comes to working with churches, I suggest thinking of the year as starting in September and finishing in August. This is because church activities usually follow the school year, starting and ending about the same time the local schools do. In order to be ready for September, I suggest you actually do your planning in May.

Benefits of Planning Ahead

Planning ahead helps you improve whatever you are planning, because the earlier attention to the project results in more time given to consider it. This extra time can be used in numerous ways:

  1. You can gather the best team.
  2. You can train and equip your volunteers ahead of time.
  3. You can let life enhance your creativity – your reading and TV watching and living of life will give you ideas you did not have when you first began planning.
  4. You can find great ideas, not just good ones. Instead of settling for the first idea your team comes up with, consider how to improve on that idea. Your programs will go from good to great because of the time to percolate in the minds of the creative teams.
  5. You can build better resources and materials required for the project.
  6. You can spend more time in prayer, asking God to guide every aspect of your planning as well as the final implementation.

Plan Your Year – Start with the Big Events

Begin planning for your main programs of the year. Work with program leaders to determine the start and end times for their programs. If your programs start in September, leaders should be determined by the end of May, so they can start planning their programs and find their volunteers from June through August.

Are there a few big events or weekends your church celebrates? This could be a church camp or a family weekend, as well as Easter, Christmas, and a Fall Kickoff. Set the dates and work on developing themes. Decide who should lead each event and who should be on each team. Make sure that everyone involved knows the pertinent information, such as dates and themes, as early as possible. Plan when to do baptism and membership classes, as well as when to have the baptism and when to receive new members. Plan when and what you will do for evangelism and outreach activities throughout the year.

Once the basics of the big events are planned, start filling in the other Sundays and other activities. Pastors can work on sermon plans for the year ahead. (I’ll share more about how I plan my preaching year next week). Knowing in advance what you will focus on, give additional time to improve the sermons with good illustrations and pertinent information. By creating a year-long plan in advance, you not only give yourself more time for sermon preparation, but you also provide your worship and service planning teams that same additional time to create the best services they can.

The themes for each Sunday will come from the pastor after he plans out his sermons for the year. With a plan for both large events and sermon themes, add other activities to your plan. For example, identify when you should hold leadership meetings or training and discipleship events throughout the year.

After your yearly calendar has been filled, build in further detailed planning every quarter or so. Planning ahead involves a few stages: 1) Planning the year, 2) Planning 3-4 months ahead, and 3) Planning the week ahead. For example, begin developing detailed plans for Christmas by the end of September. Plan for Easter in January. Plan for September program starts in May.

As you plan ahead, the goal is not just to put on a great event or program, but that whatever we plan in the church will transform lives and bring us closer to Jesus. Pursuing excellence is not about performing flawlessly, but doing our best to help everyone involved become more like Jesus.

Have fun in you planning, pray for God to guide every aspect, and then rejoice as you see people impacted by God through events and activities you planned.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

God Repels Sin

“God is not repelled by our sin.

Our sin is repelled by God.”

Tony Kriz (Aloof)

Somewhere, many followers of Jesus have gotten the unfortunate idea that when we sin we push God away from us. In this way of thinking, because God is holy and cannot stand sin, God will not be anywhere near our sin – much less near us, the sinner.

Don’t lose sight of God while desiring to be right with God.

This thought causes us to develop a perspective of “working really hard not to sin.” That is a tiring and fruitless endeavor. We become people of the law, people of rules.

We memorize the “thou shalt not’s” and make up others. We say we want to get closer to God and yet our focus is intently on our sin. We work so hard to prevent sin that we forget why we try to avoid sin in the first place. We lose sight of God by the very effort we hoped would make us right with God.

If we find ourselves viewing life from this perspective, that’s a sign that it is time to reorient our thinking. We need to realize that God is not repelled by our sin. In fact, he came to face it head on.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

-Romans 5: 6-11 (NLT)

Jesus came to this earth to die for our sins. He willingly took all our sin on himself so that he could pay the death penalty for it for us. God arranged this in order for us to become right with him.

In his book, Aloof: Figuring out life with a God who hides, Tony Kriz adds, “We do not experience God by avoiding sin, we overcome sin by pressing into God.” We need to pay less attention to how much sin we have committed and pay more attention to the one who loves us and sent his Son to die for us, even while we were full of sin. Instead of focusing on what not to do, we need to focus on what to do to grow in relationship with God.

Trade information for relation

We need to shift our focus onto God. Press in to a relationship with Him in any and every way we can and get to know him. Bible reading is one way to get to know God. It’s important that we don’t just learn information but grow in relationship with him. Let’s listen and watch for how scripture reveals God’s heart for us. Allow scripture to be our conversation together.

As we focus on God and our relationship with him, we can read biographies and learn from Christian leaders of the past who have pursued God and how they experienced a relationship with Him.

We can read about Corrie Ten Boom forgiving her German captors. We can read of George Mueller and his complete faith in God’s provision for his hungry orphans. We can learn from those who had a relationship with God that allowed them to live boldly and confidently in the grace of God.

Trade monolog for dialogue

Rather than focusing on our sin and what we are not doing, we can shift our focus to God and what he has to say to us through regular conversations with Him. I learned how to talk to God from an early age. It started with a few memorized prayers for bedtime or before meals and graduated to imitating adults. Over time I learned how to express my needs to God with my own words, even pouring out my heart to God. But unfortunately, I was not taught how to have a conversation with God. To pursue God instead of living a life focused on “not sinning,” I need to be able to talk with him as a friend. Romans 5, above, says that through Christ we become friends of God. Friends have conversations. I needed to learn how to listen to God so that my monolog turned into a dialogue.

This does not mean I have quit sinning, but that I have quit dwelling on my sin and go quickly and regularly back to God and pursue Him. As I recognize sin – as God points it out – I confess my sin and renew my focus on God.

I encourage you to “press in” to God, dig deeper into a relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ, and as you focus more on Him you will be less inclined to be drawn into sin. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to both remind us of what He taught and to remind us of our sin. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you as you deepen your relationship with God.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Church Has to be Different -But How?

A number of church leaders are declaring: Church has to be different now. Church has to change. While Covid has been an accelerator of this, leaders were already declaring this earlier.

I understand. As culture and society change, we need to adapt how we do the work of the church in order to connect with people today. But what changes?

I don’t feel I have the answers to what that change looks like. Instead, I will share my questions with you who follow me and hope you have some ideas to respond with. I would love to hear your comments.

Worship Service Changes

Do we need to change how we lead the worship service? I believe many churches need to plan for more audience participation and less performance at the front. I am passionate about creating interactive and transformational worship services – so much so, that I am in the process of writing a book about it!

Do we need to change from a monolog preaching style to more discussion? I know of one church that is attempting to do exactly that. People come to the service, gather around tables, and a table host leads the discussion. What else needs to change in the worship service?

Program Changes

What might be some beneficial changes to the type of programs we offer? Do we need to reduce the number of programs we offer? Should we plan more opportunities for people to interact with each other? Do we need to have more Biblical learning opportunities because people are biblically illiterate today?

Online Changes?

One positive outcome of covid restrictions was more churches provided an online worship service option. The church I presently serve is continuing this option, and usually have a number of people tuning in to watch. How might we improve in how we deliver those? Do we need to have people who can interact with those who are tuning in online? Maybe we need to hire staff to be the online church pastor in the same way multi-site churches hire a campus pastor?

How can we have a better online presence beyond just a one-hour worship service? Does this mean creating a presence on social media?

Discipleship Changes

How can we improve how we disciple new believers? In the past the emphasis was on teaching them “how to do” the Christian life. Should we move to an emphasis of “how to be” a Christian living in the world? While Bible teaching remains essential, especially for those coming to church with no prior Bible knowledge, I wonder if we need to help people move beyond living right to really connecting with Jesus, to actually listen and hear God?

Children and Youth Ministry Changes

Could we move beyond entertaining children and youth toward teaching them, even at a young age, how to live a life that is totally dependent on a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, and tuned in to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Do we need to challenge youth with opportunities to serve both in the church and in the community and world? Do we need to add in more digital content, or do we deliberately reduce screen time in our programs to counteract all the time they spend online in their day? Would it be wise to help youth focus more on getting to know God rather on avoiding sin? I came across a great quote a while back that went something like this: “Sin does not repel God, God repels sin.” We often see it as the less we sin, the closer we can get to God, when it is probably better to grow deeper in our relationship with God and then sin will be repelled.

Philosophy of Ministry Changes

Should we refocus our energies on helping people to grow in relationship with Jesus and not just in information about God? Do we need to remind ourselves that God came to be “with” us (Emmanuel)? Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to come live “in” us. It is about growing in relationship, not about growing in knowledge.

Outreach and Community Involvement Changes

As we think about introducing people to Jesus, our first realization should be that the mission field is not overseas, but right at our doorstep. There are many people living right next to us, who are just like us, who have never heard the message of salvation. And rather than thinking we need to go overseas, realize the world has come to us. Instead of taking a mission’s team to Mexico, maybe we need to reach out to the growing Mexican population down the street. Maybe instead of going to Africa, reach out to the many Africans from many different countries that now live in our cities? Even many small towns are seeing an influx of foreign workers and new immigrants. We need to reach out to them, welcoming them to Canada and sharing Jesus’ love with them.

As we reach out to those around us, this often requires an improved sense of community involvement and community connections. Some churches do well at this. Some churches offer English classes or homework help. The church I serve has an annual free Clothing Bonanza, clothing many children as they head off to school. They also give away free Bibles, so many that one year they started grabbing the church’s pew Bible to give away. Unfortunately, other churches are so caught up in their own church they hardly even know any people who don’t already know Jesus.

Let’s help people practically, and ensure we share the gospel as well. What else needs to change in how we reach out?

Facility Changes

What needs to change about how we build and set up the places where we meet? Many churches have done a good job equipping their facilities to be more accessible for those physical limitations, for example, by building ramps and elevators. We also have screens with the words on them so people don’t have to flip through hymn books. Additionally, many churches have recognized the needs of their communities, and replaced pews with chairs to allow their spaces to serve in varying purposes throughout the week. Are there other changes? Do we need to add more coffee bars?

Other Changes?

What else needs to change in how we do church? How do we update and adjust our ministries to have a greater impact for God’s kingdom? What “sacred cows” need to be chucked in order to head in a more effective direction?

I’m guessing that many changes will be different from church to church. Every church needs to mull over this issue of how to change to be the best they can be in reaching out and discipling people in their walk with Jesus.

What else needs to change?

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe