Monthly Archives: May 2017

Practical advice on growing a church

Book Review: When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer, by Chris Sonksen

What does a pastor do when his church is not growing and the attendance is plateaued? What questions should he be asking? Where can he find answers?

Chris Sonksen has written a book trying to provide solutions for the problems related to church growth.

I want to encourage you to do the work necessary to create the clear picture and plan that God has for your church. God’s heart is for your church to win—to be a place of life change and transformation and to build a church that lives in the stage of increase.

In chapter one, the author lays the foundation for his approach to diagnosing and solving the problem of why a church isn’t growing. He explains the difference between the “God factor” and the “Leader factor.”

“Jeremy, there are two things you have to realize; there is the God factor and the leader factor. The God factor says ‘We can’t do anything without God.’ Would you agree?” He nodded his head and quietly said, “Yes, I agree.” I went on to say, “The leader factor says that ‘God doesn’t do anything without a leader.’ Now, Jeremy, we both know that God can do whatever he wants; he’s a miracle-working God. But when it comes to building a thriving local church, more often than not God looks for a leader. Would you agree with that, Jeremy?” Again, he quietly said, “Yes, I agree.” I said, “Jeremy, what this means is that we have to be willing to do our part. God will always do his part. He never lets us down and never quits on us. He will always come through. Our part is to be willing to change. Be willing to be honest about where our church is and willing to take it where it needs to go.

I found the second chapter to be the most helpful. Using the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:20-25), Sonksen lays out the principle, “God determines the talent, We determine the choices.” Success is not measured by results, but rather by whether or not we are faithful in using the gifts God has given us.

The bulk of the book identifies and explains 7 questions that pastors need to ask about their church:

  1. Mission: What do we do?
  2. Strategy: How do we get it done?
  3. Values: What are the guiding principles we live by?
  4. Metrics: How do we measure a win?
  5. Team Alignment: Do we have the right people in the right seats moving the in the right direction?
  6. Culture: How do we change the culture of our church?
  7. Services: How do we match what we say is important and what we really do?

The strength of the book is that it gives practical solutions to the difficult challenges of church growth. In that sense, it is a helpful volume. The weakness of the book is that it lays all the emphasis on human effort and tends to leave God out of the equation. While he stresses that success is not determined by numbers and size, he implies that if your church is not growing, then the pastor is failing. Since much of the examples in the book are of the author coaching another pastor through these questions, it tends to be a promotion of the author’s consulting service.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Books, Church, Quotes


Stay On The Path

How faithful do you have to be in order to be faithful? If your car starts two days out of three, do you think it is faithful? What if one of your employees skips works periodically without saying anything? If you miss a couple of house payments a year, does the bank say, “Ten out of twelve isn’t bad?” How faithful do we have to be in our Christian walk?

The apostle John wrote a letter to a church commending them for their faithful Christian walk and exhorting them to resist false teaching. He wanted his readers to be as dependable as the daily mail in both their actions and the beliefs. In 2 John, the apostle encouraged his readers to stay faithful by knowing (1-3), practicing (4-6), and protecting the truth (7-11).

Not only is truth an objective revelation from the Father, but also a subjective experience in our personal lives. The truth “abides in us and will be with us forever” (2). It helps point out that knowing the truth is more than an intellectual exercise. It means that our lives are controlled by a love for the truth.

While John was encouraged that his readers were obeying God’s commands, he wanted them to continue doing more of the same (4-5). He wanted them to think of truth as a lifestyle or a daily walk. To walk in the truth requires both belief and behavior. In addition, John wants the church to continue practicing love for one another (6).

John was equally concerned that his readers protect the truth (7-11). He wanted the church to be aware of false teachers that wanted to lead them astray and cause believers to lose their rewards (8). In a rather non-politically-correct statement, John instructs the church to practice intolerance (10-11). Like a protective mother bear, we should guard against false teachers.

To practice John’s advice today, we should ask two basic questions of any new teacher or teaching—What do they say about Jesus? and What gospel are they preaching?

Who is Jesus? Mormons believe Jesus is a created being; the elder brother of spirit beings and Satan. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is a created being; before his birth he was Michael the archangel. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet who did not die but bodily ascended to heaven. Only Christianity teaches that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

What gospel is preached? There is a “forgiveness only” gospel which proclaims forgiveness of sin without any requirement of discipleship. A “therapeutic gospel” focuses on self-help or self-esteem. A “prosperity gospel” preaches health, wealth, and happiness. A “consumer gospel” teaches that God is present to satisfy all our desires. Only the gospel of the kingdom teaches that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.

Following John’s instructions, we must be very careful about what televangelists we listen to and what bestselling authors we read. When cultists come knocking at your door, graciously refuse their literature and politely send them on their way. Do your research on what relief agencies you contribute to or what short-term ministry projects you support. Stay on the path of truth.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 28, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


The secret to revival

Why do those who want victory over sin struggle to say “No” to temptation? Why do those who want to walk with God seemingly spin their wheels and go in circles? Why is it that those with the greatest of intentions never move forward? Why is revival so elusive when it is desired so deeply?

The book of Ezra describes a revival that took place after the Jews returned from a 70 year exile in Babylon. Cyrus, the king of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple (1:1-4). Zerubbabel led the rebuilding of the temple (chapters 1-6) and Ezra rebuilt the people (chapters 7-10).

The secret to the successful revival lies in a simple three-word phrase, they “made a beginning” (3:8). Good intentions were not enough. Permission and encouragement was not enough. Passionate desires were not enough. Revival would never break out until they “made a beginning.”

Once they made a beginning, they laid the foundation for a new temple (3:8-14). Opposition rose up to test their resolve (chapter 4). They had to restart the work (5:2). They completed the temple and worship was restored (6:13-22). A beginning was needed to start and complete the building project.

Making a beginning was also needed for personal revival. Ezra “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra (1) made a beginning (set his heart) for (2) personal study, (3) personal obedience, and (4) teaching others to do the same.

The secret to a successful revival is taking the first step. Revival seldom breaks out until we make a beginning and set our hearts to study, obey, and share God’s word with others. Granted, we need to follow it with further steps of obedience and bathe the revival in prayer. But it never begins until we make a beginning.


Posted by on May 25, 2017 in Bible Study, Personal growth, Scripture


Jack Gilbert’s ordination

Below is a letter sent to our congregation this week letting them know about the exciting prospect of ordaining one of our own people for ministry. Exciting things are happening at First Central Bible Church.



How NOT to promote discussion

While it would stifle discussion, it might make business meeting more lively. 😉

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Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Fun


Don’t be consumed by worry

Rather than be consumed with worry, Christ followers are to practice the advice given by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:25–34, he said,

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

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Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Baby Blues, Scripture


Build your life on truth

Life is uncertain with few guarantees and little that can be depended on. Health, employment, investments, and relationships can all change in an instant. We purchase life, health, auto, and homeowners insurance to try to protect us in case of illness, accidents, and damage. In a world of uncertainty, we long for security and stability.

In his first letter, the apostle John encourages his readers and us to build our lives on truth. As he closes this letter (5:13-21), he gives four foundational principles that can give us a solid foundation. He also adds one final warning that will keep the foundation strong. To give us a sense of foundational certainty, John uses the phrase “you know” or “we know” six times in nine verses. We can have confidence about our salvation (13), prayer (14-17), victory over sin (18), and our identity in Christ (19-20). We need to guard our hearts against anything that tries to take God’s rightful place (21).

Our salvation is secure (13). John is writing “…that you may know you have eternal life.” The word “know” points to a settled and absolute conviction. The word “have” points to a present reality. Salvation is secure because it rests on God’s promises, not our performance; God’s faithfulness, not our faithlessness; God’s Word, not our works. Salvation is secure because it rests solely on God, not on us. David Smith stated, “Our security is not our grip on Christ but his grip on us.”

God answers prayer (14-15). When we pray, we can have confidence that God hears and answers our prayers. We can come boldly into his presence and present our requests to him. If our prayers are unanswered, it may be due to unconfessed sin (Psalm 66:18), strained relationships (1 Peter 3:7), lack of prayer (James 4:2), selfish requests (James 4:3), disobedience (1 John 3:22), or it is not in God’s will (1 John 5:14).

Intercession makes a difference (16-17). John gives a specific encouragement to pray that God would restore a fellow believer who is sinning. We’re puzzled by the “sin that leads to death.” It could be a specific deadly sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, total rejection of the gospel, or the premature death of a sinning believer. Rather than get hung up in debating the meaning, John’s point is to pray for those who are straying from God. We should pray for believers whose marriage is in trouble, for those who are becoming hard hearted towards God, for those who are impatient, for those who are becoming increasingly materialistic, and for those who are discouraged and ready to give up.

We can enjoy victory over sin (18). While we will never become sinless in this life, we should sin less. Sin should not be the predominant pattern or practice of our lives. Victory is possible because God protects us. Satan cannot touch us without God’s permission.

We are part of God’s family (19). While the world system resides under the control of Satan, we are free from its power. Having put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we are one of God’s children.

Jesus came so that we might know God (20). Being “in Christ” is the means by which we can enjoy fellowship with God. We can know God intimately and can abide in him and in his Son.

Stay away from anything that takes God’s rightful place (21). It is all too easy to “forget” God’s benefits and chase after shiny things. Work, bank accounts, happiness, comfort, family, retirement, leisure, personal preferences, and the desire for control can all become idols if we are not careful. We must be vigilant to guard our hearts.

Build your life on truth. Know that our salvation is secure. Know that God answers prayer. Know that we can enjoy victory over sin. Know that we belong to Jesus. Don’t let anyone or anything take God’s rightful place in your life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 21, 2017. It is part of a series on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


Live a life of submission to God

Book Review: Start with Amen: How I Learned to Surrender by Keeping the End in Mind, by Beth Guckenberger

If you asked a person about the word, “Amen,” most would respond by explaining it is a word you tack onto the end of a prayer. Most people think of it a form of punctuation. In contrast, author Beth Guckenberger views it as posture of life, or an attitude of the heart.

This is amen: hands raised, faces bowed, hearts at peace. There our metaphorical spiritual buckets get filled, and there is plenty to offer each other. Unity is felt among the church, and communion is a reality. Here, in this posture, I am always surprised by what God has for me.

If I could pray no other word ever again, I would be okay. Amen speaks affirmation and commitment. It says yes to a lifestyle where he is to be trusted and I can rest in him.

When I talk to God, I start with amen, and, with it, we communicate intimacy and a sense of knowing.

I know he’s got this.

He’s knows I’m letting him have this, whatever in the moment “this” may be.

As the author explains in the acknowledgements, her style is storytelling. Thus, it naturally follows that the book is a collection of stories loosely tied together to illustrate a principle. She weaves in personal stories, examples, principles, and biblical stories into her presentation.

While I appreciate and agree with the concept that we need to submit all the parts of our life to God, it felt like proof texting to base that principle on one word. While her stories were entertaining and encouraging, I didn’t really see how they were tied together. It felt a bit like stream-of-consciousness writing. This is not to say the book is a bad one. It just did not appeal to me.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on May 20, 2017 in Books


FCBC at the bat – Coed team

On Thursday evenings, First Central Bible Church fields a coed softball team in the Interchurch Softball league. While still competitive, the emphasis is more on fun, fellowship, and friendship. Not a bad way to spend a 95 degree evening.


Christianity is Rational and Reasonable

Contrary to popular opinion, one does not need to check one’s brain at the door to believe in God. Rather, the truth of the gospel can be known and understood. That is the argument presented by the apostle John in his first letter. Throughout 1 John, the apostle uses two Greek words for knowing to emphasize that the true knowledge of God is available to all.

1 John



2:3 This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands. There is no assurance apart from obedience.
2:4 The one who says, “I know him,” and does not keep his commands is a liar, and the truth is not in them. There is no true knowledge of God apart from obedience.
2:5-6 This is how we know that we are in him: the one who says, “I remain in him,” ought also himself to walk just as that One walked. There is no true knowledge of God apart from discipleship.
2:13 Fathers, I am writing to you because you do know the One who is from the beginning. Christian maturity entails personal knowledge of the eternal God.
2:14 Little children, yes, I write to you because you have known the Father. Fathers, yes, I write to you because you have known the One who is from the beginning. To be a child of God and to become a mature Christian means to know God truly.
2:18 Children … even now many have become antichrists, and so we know that it is the last hour. Knowledge of God provides discernment.
2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you know also that everyone who lives righteously has been born of him. True knowledge of God is the basis for Christian ethics.
3:1 For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know him. “The world” is all those who do not know Jesus.
3:6 Everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him. True knowledge of God requires obedience.
3:16 In this way we have known love, because that One laid down his life on our behalf. True knowledge of God allows true love.
3:19 This is how we will know that we are of the truth. Assurance requires true knowledge of God—that One “belongs to the truth.”
3:20 … whenever our heart convicts us. For God is greater than our hearts, and knows everything. True knowledge of God allows us to put our guilt to rest.
3:24 In this way we know that he remains in us: from the Sprit, whom he gave to us. True knowledge of God requires the Spirit.
4:2 In this way you know the Spirit of God. True knowledge of God requires true knowledge of the Spirit.
4:6 We are of God; the one who knows God hears us, [but] whoever is not of God does not hear us. True knowledge of God means accepting the teaching of his apostles.
4:7 Everyone who loves has been begotten of God and … knows God. True knowledge of God motivates love.
4:8 The one who does not love does not know God. True knowledge of God motivates love.
4:13 In this way we know that in him we live and he in us: because he has given to us of his Spirit. Assurance requires the Spirit.
4:16 And we have known and have trusted the love that God has for us. True knowledge of God means we know God loves us.
5:2 So this is how we know that we love the children of God. Assurance requires love.
5:20 We know that the Son of God has come and he has given understanding to us to that we might know the True One. We cannot know God truly apart from knowing the Son of God.

Chart taken from Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1, 2, & 3 John. By Karen H. Jobes. Grand Rapids, MI: 2014, p.239-240.

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Posted by on May 19, 2017 in 1 John, Quotes, Scripture, Theology