(Source: https://pixabay.com/en/writing-write-writer-letter-41354/)Years ago a friend and colleague of mine decided that we needed to have some regular and meaningful accountability in our lives.  Jeff and I were both church planters, both bivocational and both somewhat isolated from other ministerial contacts.  We began meeting weekly for prayer on Saturday mornings and added a series of questions that we would ask each other.  One of the first keys to a successful accountability relationship is to give each participant permission to ask the tough questions.  The second key is forgiveness.  And the third key is trust and confidentiality.   What is said between the participants stays between the two, unless it is something obviously illegal, in which case they need to resolve the situation in a likewise legal and ethical fashion.  So, all of that being said…here are the seven questions we asked each other every month and which we each carried printed and laminated in our wallets.

  1. How has God blessed you this week?
  2. What was your biggest disappointment this week?
  3. Have you read God’s Word consistently this week?  What has God been teaching you through reading and prayer?
  4. How have you been tempted this week?  How did you respond?
  5. How are your finances doing?
  6. Have you put yourself in (or been put in by someone else) a vulnerable position this week?
  7. How can I pray for you?

There you go…my hope and prayer is that these questions will be a starting point for your own accountability relationship.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

(source: http://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=AwrB8o_At4lVVEEAZuCjzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBtdXBkbHJyBHNlYwNmcC1hdHRyaWIEc2xrA3J1cmw-/RV=2/RE=1435117632/RO=11/RU=http%3a%2f%2fwww.richmondpriesthoodmm.com%2fpage%2f481949612%3fpage_610306992%3d2/RK=0/RS=c9YYgTqQPXYeFvbZ.Tr13g20GBY-"It is rare you can talk to someone and offer them a short and sweet solution to their biggest problems.  That is especially rare in the context of the church.  So when someone offers you a bumper-sticker length bit of help you probably want to take it with a grain of salt.  That being said, this is exactly what I am going to do here today.

Most of the problems in the church are easy to define.  Lack of finances.  Lack of leaders.  Too many debates about inane issues.  Too much ‘gazing at belly buttons’. Lack of vision.  Lack of focus. Lack of involvement.  No new people.  New people leaving through the infamous ‘back door’. These are issues every church has, whether averaging 20 people in Sunday worship, 200 people, 2,000 people or 20,000 people.

There are two keys that you can use to solve these issues, or at the very least put a serious dent in them.

1)  Prayer, prayer, prayer!  Prayer is the ‘engine’ that drives everything in the church.  Prayer is our connection to the Father, made possible by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The closer we get to God, the more we hear His voice and the more we will have a heart for people.  I cannot stress this enough.  If your church was to die tomorrow, what would be on it’s tombstone?  “This was a praying church!” or “This church did a lot and accomplished little.”  Pray for your church.  Pray for people outside the church by name, and ask God for opportunities to minister to them and to tell them the Gospel story.

2) Get out of the church!  Yes, you heard me right.  Leave.  Go to the park.  Go to the beach.  Go to Walmart.  And get your people out, too.  The sad fact is that we have bought into a model that says evangelism must bring people in to the church so they can be told the Gospel and get saved.  The reality is that these days unsaved people will not come in to the church in any significant numbers (at least in places like my native New England) to hear the Gospel.   Kids who go to VBS are likely from churched families.  Kids who come to youth groups are most often from churched families.  Men’s groups are populated by men from the church and Ladies groups are as well.  Bible studies are predominately for Christians, not the unsaved.

The hard part is we as the church are stuck in our old ways.  As bivocational ministers we already have broken one mold…the view that the pastor is available to the local church body 24 hours a day, and is the primary evangelist (“That’s what we hired him for, right?”)  We also have the advantage of being able to take the Gospel out into the so-called marketplace…where we work.  In doing so we can model the behavior for our people.

I think, though, we have to take it to the next step to be truly effective.  This is an area I am struggling with.  We need to place less priority on our in-house ministries and more emphasis on ministries conducted outside the four walls of the church.  When we do this the church as a whole can start connecting with the community.

Now, the question remains.  Do you have the desire to reach people?  All of those problems you have in the church…too few leaders, too little money, not enough people being saved…they can all be solved by these two simple elements, prayer and focusing outward.  Do you have the desire, and will, to make a difference?

 

Jesus on the Mountain by Giovanni
(Guest Article by Steve Beagles)
“ One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12, NIV).

One of the major hallmarks of Jesus’s earthly ministry was His personal prayer life. He understood His dependence on the Father for the power to live a perfect life. As a result, He spent a large part of His time in private prayer pleading to God that He would fulfill His mission to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. If we want to live as Jesus lived, and have the same power that He had to minister to others, then we must pray as He prayed. Jesus always found time to be with His father even if it meant sacrificing sleep.

Many ministers, especially those who are bi-vocational, neglect personal Bible study and prayer in order to minister to the needs of others. But these pastors will often burn out under the weight of their responsibilities. Their ministry lacks the power and effectiveness that it should have, because they have gotten “too busy” to spend personal time in Bible study and prayer.

The most successful ministers and evangelists in history have always been men and women of prayer. John Wesley gave prayer first priority in his ministry and stated unequivocally that “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.” Oswald Chambers also acknowledged the power of prayer in ministry by proclaiming “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” When the Apostles found themselves getting bogged down with the details of ministering to the needs of other people they delegated authority to other people to free up time for prayer and evangelism: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 4:6, KJV). Prayer was their number one priority.

Dr. O.S. Hawkins gives the following advice in his book, “The Pastor’s Guide to Leading and Living”: “The pastor’s first priority is to be found in his own private life. This is the part of his life that is hidden from the church and even his family. It is spent alone with God in the secret place. Here he takes in daily from the Word and the Spirit in order to be able to give out in his duties to his family and his church. The wise and effective man of God gives priority to his own relationship with Christ and meets Him daily in the place of prayer, devotion, and Bible study.”

If Jesus is our example then we need to follow His direction and spend quality time away from distraction to be in personal communion with God. As a result, our ministry will be empowered to bless the needs of others in the power of the Holy Spirit.

[Stephen Beagles is a Christian writer living in San Antonio, Texas. He has been published twice in Good News Unlimited Magazine, and contributes regularly to his ministry website at Shamea Ministries .]