Sizing Up a Congregation (Book Summary)

Sizing Up a Congregation (Arlin J. Rothauge, 1986)

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This book is extremely useful for pastors, church leaders to understand how to adapt leadership style and strategies based on congregation sizes. A Program Church pastor cannot shepherd the same way as he did in a Family church. Understanding these differences is crucial for ministry success.

Each of the four types of churches are grouped by number of active members. Rothauge defines active membership as the average attendance at worship over a one-year period. His key hypothesis states:

The most effective means  of carrying out a new member ministry varies with the size of the congregation.

I have listed the advantages and limitations for each category of churches. Remember, there is no right or wrong size of churches – just different types. Each type if handled properly can attract and retain new members.

Family Church (0-50 members)
+ Very close ties and bonds.
+ Every member knows each other well.
+ Needs to specialise their program due to limited
resources.
+ Danger signals are easily spotted.
– One-cell structure (lesser talents, resources).
– The patriach/matriach are the main figures, not the
pastor.
– Slower to gain acceptance except through
gatekeeper and patriach/matriach.
+/- News passes fast through the grapevine.

Pastoral Church (50-150)
+ Emergence of central pastor
+ Multi-cellular structure (more talents and resource)
+ Easier for newcomers to enter
– Members need to be friendly to newcomer. Easier membership but not inclusion.
– Central leaders need to delegate authority, assign responsibility and recognise accomplishments.
– Strong demands on central leader.
– Conflict management is survival.
– Newcomers need to relate to the pastor. Pastor only has limited time so growth might be limited.

Program Church (150-350)
+ Team leadership, no more central leader.
+ Many programs, resources, facilities.
+ Can create bridges with unchurched through many
types of programs.
– Clergy cannot know members well and mostly relate to leaders. Need to train “Member Care Teams” to do ministry.
– Superficial relationships between members except
through cell groups.
– Leadership need strong public relations to ensure whole church knows what each group is doing.
– Need good administration process for entry of
newcomers.
– Easy for newcomers to leave. Require close
monitoring to guard the back door.

Corporation Church (300-500+)
+ Fuller expression of Program Church. More complex.
+ Governing boards and a “legendary” head pastor.
+ Sense of belonging, pride and loyalty to huge church.
+ Some find their way into small groups, some prefer to remain anonymous.
– Impossible to know members except through small  groups. Great efforts needed to ensure incorporation.
– Significant changes in membership out of leadership control. External factors shake the boat easily e.g. charismatic leader, cultural shifts.
– Need to start satellite churches in population centers to keep with population growth.
– The greater the size of the congregation, the more intentional effort will be required for each function.

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Perfect Imperfections

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Totoro came in my mailbox last week. His ears are off-centered, his face out of shape, some fur falling off. I’ll name him “Roroto”! Thankfully, AliExpress gave me a full refund after I complained about poor quality control. But Roroto free to keep. I don’t think I want to buy another again.

I wonder how many Roroto(s) there are in this world. How many people are rejected just because they don’t meet a certain expectation of beauty, wealth, or behaviour? Maybe you feel like Roroto too. Who would accept you as you are? Have we set unrealistic ideas of perfection on ourselves or others? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we don’t have the right to judge someone as ugly.

One of the most moving portraits in Scripture is Ezekiel 16. It speaks about God adopting an abandoned baby girl in the field. The baby was rejected by her mother the day she was born.

On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die.

Ezekiel 16:4-5

We are all like this abandoned girl, wallowing to die in our sins. But God took notice, adopted and loved us.

But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel. Your breasts became full, and your body hair grew, but you were still naked. And when I passed by again, I saw that you were old enough for love. So I wrapped my cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you, says the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.

Ezekiel 16:6-8

God loved Israel in all her imperfections. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. He didn’t demand that we get right before he died for us. He knew we couldn’t. If God loved us this much, shouldn’t we love others and ourselves too? Can we love the Rorotos in this world with the love of God? A beautiful song captures this idea:

Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections

John Legend, “All of Me”, 2013

Is God Your Last Resort?

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In life, it is good to make plans whether it be long-term or short-term goals. But what happens when it doesn’t go the way we want it to? Do we have a back-up plan? Do we have a back-up of a back-up plan? A sudden illness might change your plan to save up money for an early retirement. A job retrenchment might cause you to downsize your apartment. A low grade means you won’t make it into the course of your choice. What do you do then?

There was a king whose life was threatened by a deadly injury. What does he do? Let’s see:

One day Israel’s new king, Ahaziah, fell through the latticework of an upper room at his palace in Samaria and was seriously injured. So he sent messengers to the temple of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether he would recover.

2 Kings 1:2

Ahaziah, whose parents were the notorious Ahab and Jezebel, immediately turned to consult a pagan god. This is similar to consulting a Feng Shui specialist, a fortune teller, a horoscope or a Ouija board. God is not pleased when we turn to demonic divination (Deut 18:10). I can hear you saying, “I don’t do that!” Fine. But we’re not scot-free yet. I think the issue is who do you turn to when life doesn’t go the way you want it to? Do you treat God as a last resort? Ahaziah immediately thought of god but not the right One. Anything that we believe can save us from our troubles becomes our god.

God wasn’t happy with Ahaziah. The narrative continues:

But the angel of the Lord told Elijah, who was from Tishbe, “Go and confront the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is there no God in Israel? Why are you going to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether the king will recover? Now, therefore, this is what the Lord says: You will never leave the bed you are lying on; you will surely die.’” So Elijah went to deliver the message.

2 Kings 1:3-4

“Is there no God in Israel?” appears three times in the chapter. God was grieved that he was not sought first. Do we make the same mistake of turning to other sources to save us rather than the Saviour? Let’s turn to God everyday of our lives, whether in good times (thanksgiving) or bad times (petitions). God loves you very much. Will you run to him?

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

2 Peter 5:7

Attending the whole church service

In church, it is a common sight to see latecomers straggling into services. Some leave early during the closing song or after taking Holy Communion. They may have their reasons but from a liturgical standpoint, it short circuits the worship experience. 
What is worship? Worship is not the only part where we stand to sing worship songs or hymns. The whole service is worship – greeting, prayer, sermon, communion, benediction. It can be argued that our entire life should be a worship to God, but that’s another issue. 

When people come late or leave early, they miss out on experiencing full worship. Also, what does it imply to our family or other church members? Does it imply that church/God is not that important? That it’s okay to leave earlier if the kids need to rush for tuition? It’s okay to come late since the first part is just “singing”? 

Let us honour God with our time and attention by staying for the whole church service.

“I sat where they sat”

Last week, I accompanied my pastor as he conducted a funeral and cremation service. I was caught by surprise and only had a white T-shirt dotted with cartoon dogs. Unfortunately I had to wear it. Mental note: Keep a black collar shirt at all times ready.

The funeral service was rather short and we travelled to the crematorium. There was a Committal service conducted and that’s when the family started crying. Somehow, reality hit them hard at that moment when they realised their family member was really gone.

But it puzzled me.

They are all Christians. They know that the one who believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life. They know that death has lost its sting. Has it really lost its sting? Then why do they cry so much?

Well, love hurts. Crying is good, even necessary for healing. My pastor said that it takes roughly two years for grief closure. They often need counseling after the funeral to deal with their grief.

In ministry, we need to walk with those who are experiencing loss. I am struck by Ezekiel’s reaction when he came to his people in captivity.

Ezekiel 3:15

Then I came to the captives at Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar; and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.

The phrase “I sat where they sat” is so powerful. That is often all we can do – meeting them where they are. Ezekiel sat with them seven days. I’m not sure if he said much but his presence spoke louder than words. So too as we bring the presence of God into people’s brokeness.

God understands grief. The Father experienced his son’s death. Jesus suffered a cruel painful death on the cross. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isa 53:3). We need to usher those who are hurting into the arms of One who truly identifies with them.

As I left that service, I realised it’s okay to be sad. Jesus wept for Lazarus even though he knew he would be raised from the dead. Why? He “sat where we sat”.

Hair for Hope 2017

I went bald today. It’s the first time I’ve participated in Hair For Hope 2017. HFH aims to raise awareness and funds for children suffering with cancer. These kids often need to undergo chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells but as a side-effect lose their hair. Another side-effect is getting weird stares and being ostracised by “normal” kids.

By shaving bald, I can hope in some small way to emphathise with these kids. If you would like to support this worthy cause (especially if you can’t bear to lose your hair), do click on this link HERE and support me. It doesn’t need to be a big amount. The thought counts! I am so encouraged that many friends came to support us today.

There is a special type of cancer that resides in us all. The cancer of “sin”. Sin are the wrong things we do that separate us from God. Sin stays within us and unless treated, we will die. Not just physically but spiritually!

But there is a remedy. The Bible says that while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. He died and rose again to life so that this sin cancer will be eradicated. By believing in Jesus, your sin cancer will be eradicated. Don’t you want to be cured of this disease that we were born with? If so, pray this prayer:

The Christian Atheist

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My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NIV)

In this passage, God tells Ezekiel that people aren’t going to listen to his messages of rebuke and repentance. They are eager to listen to the message though. They even speak of love for God but nothing affects their hearts. Their hearts are still “greedy for unjust gain”. Their lives are still a mess but they aren’t bothered to put any of God’s words into practice. Ezekiel’s message is likened to a good singer belting out a beautiful tune that brings tears to the audience’s eyes. But they walk away unchanged.

Today, this problem still occurs. I call them the Christian atheist. Let me define it. An atheist is one who doesn’t believe in God and lives as if God wasn’t present. But a Christian atheist is one who believes in God but lives as if God wasn’t present. There is a disconnect between the mind and the heart.

Much like Ezekiel’s audience, Christian atheists go to church, they sing praises to God with unbridled emotions, they say “I love you God” but their lives are no better than a non-Christian. You can recognise them by their fruits. A bad tree bears bad fruit. Some examples:

  • Randy leads a youth Bible group study in the day but delves in pornography at night.
  • Sandra sings on the worship team but sleeps with her boyfriend on weekends.
  • Lionel gives tithes generously to church but doesn’t give a needy relative a cent.
  • Marie is hospitable to newcomers in church but abuses her maid at home.
  • Victor says he surrenders his whole life to God, but doesn’t dare to give his job to go into full-time ministry.

See the disconnect? We can confess the Apostle Creed or Nicene Creed without displaying God’s character. The only way is to put what we hear into practice. That is the key to growing in our faith. Just like Jesus’s parable on the Wise and Foolish builders, the secret to weathering the storms of life is to build it on the word of God. The next time we hear a sermon, ask God to show you ONE thing to put into practice that week. If we just faithfully do ONE thing consistently, our life can be transformed.

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ (Madame Guyon)

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ was written in 1685 by a French mystic Madame Guyon. She teaches how one can seek and experience God through prayer. It is not meant to be theoretical but practical. The first steps that form the backbone are outlined below. Once these two methoda are practised for a considerable time, higher levels of prayer are available. Lectio divina reading has similarities to her method.

Method 1: Praying the Scriptures

– Choose a Scripture passage that is fairly simple and practical.

– Come to the Lord humbly and quietly.

– Read a small passage slowly, tasting it.

– Stay with it until you sense the heart of the passage.

– Take what touches you and turn it into a prayer.

– Once you feel you have grasped the passage, slowly move on to the next portion of the passage.

A beautiful quote from her book:

“Praying the Scripture” is not judged by how much you read but by the way in which you read. If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar. (p. 16)

Method 2: Beholding/Waiting on the Lord

Making use of Scripture to quiet your mind.

– Set a time to spend with the Lord.

– Come quietly in faith, believing that you have come into God’s presence.

– Begin to read a portion of Scripture.

– As you read, gently pause.

– During the pause, set your mind inwardly on Christ.

– If your mind wanders, return the focus on Christ.

– After quieting your heart, you will sense an impression of his presence.

– Keep your mind rested in God and savour his presence.

Reflections: Methodist Young Leaders’ Conference 2017

Being a first time attendee and mentor, I wasn’t sure what to expect at MYLC 2017: Amazing Grace. I was worried that I could not connect with my group of 12 brilliant young leaders. Here was an opportunity to speak into their lives and I didn’t want to waste it. At first, the interactions were awkward as we barely knew each other. However, through the meal times and games, our group discussions improved. Before we knew it, the camp was over and we parted ways.

Although it was a short camp, I thank God that a few of these youths encountered God. Some encountered God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ, while others felt the call to full-time ministry. Allow me to share a few takeaways from MYLC:

1. Ministry is tough. We need to rely on God and not ourselves. Allow God’s mighty power to shine through us so all may glorify God (2 Cor 4:7-9). As Warren Wiersbe says, if you can explain it, God didn’t do it!

2. Ministry problems aren’t unique. When we share problems, we learn from each other. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says, “It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.” My group members were comforted when they realised they weren’t alone in their troubles. Elijah thought he was the only one left who was fervent for God. God told him how wrong he was – 7000 others hadn’t bowed their knee to worship Baal yet.

3. Ministry takes time. Being faithful is more important than getting results. Growth is in God’s hands, not ours. We only help to plant and water the seed.

I pray that these young leaders will continue to support and encourage each other for the years to come. There is no retirement from the Lord’s service! Two verses that encapsulate my sentiments are:

Hebrews 10:24-25

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

and

2 Timothy 2:22

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Staying within God’s Sphere of Protection

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Protection is important. I can think of several examples:

  • An umbrella protects us from being drenched and possibly catching a cold.
  • A SPF 100 Suntan lotion prevents us from getting skin cancer.
  • A well-dug trench protects a soldier from getting shot by enemy guns. If you’ve played any shooter games, you know the importance of taking cover.

We often forget that God protects us from many dangers. Many blessings that we enjoy in life are because of God’s hand. Don’t take it for granted. King Solomon was the richest and wisest man who ever lived but he made some of the silliest mistakes. God’s coverings of protection were removed as a result.  I want to help you stay within God’s sphere of protection.

When did King Solomon slide into decline? He broke the three rules that Moses wrote about in the law. Solomon imported horses from Egypt, acquired many wives and accumulated an insane amount of wealth (cf. 1 Kgs 10:23-29; 11:1-6 Vs Deut 17:14-20). To the world, Solomon looked like he made it to the highest echelon of success. But to God, he was a law-breaker. Similarly, we may look successful in the eyes of the world (buying your third Porsche, owning a mansion by the sea, becoming partner of a prestigious firm). But we can’t fool God. God is only impressed by obedience. Once we think that no matter what we do we can still be successful, our protection is starting to crumble.

What happened to Solomon as a result? In 1 Kings 11:9-13, God promised to “tear the kingdom away” (v.11) from him and give it to another. (God’s promises are not always nice to hear!) As God is the giver of good things, he has the right to take it away anytime. There was a school boy who was addicted to computer games. As a result of playing so much, his grades plummeted rapidly. So his mother had to do something. Whenever she left the house, she took the keyboard also! God can also take away our “keyboard”. Are we obeying God fully? God’s grace cannot be taken for granted. He can take away all you have to teach you to depend only on Him. Corrie Ten Boom, a holocaust survivor, said, “You don’t realize Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

Solomon’s disobedience had several repercussions. The kingdom was divided into Northern and Southern. God raised up three enemies against Solomon (Hadad, Rezon, Jeroboam). Peace and rest was gone. God no longer protected Solomon from danger. Unfortunately, Solomon didn’t repent. In 1 Kgs 11:40-43, he wanted to kill Jeroboam as a threat to his throne.

When we sin, God may cause us problems (failure, sicknesses, relationship problems) so that we come back to him. He wants us to realise that all the blessings we had earlier is because of his grace to us. When we disobey, we are no longer under God’s protection anymore. We have rebelled and are now exposed to enemy attack. Will you repent of your sins and return to God’s sphere of protection?