Category Archives: Church Inside Out

Physical fitness tests and the church

I’m blessed to have the opportunities to talk to church leaders about their congregation’s outreach. If you’ve read Church Inside Out, especially the workbook, then you know that much of the book is focused on self-evaluation. It calls a church to look at what it’s doing well and what it’s not doing well.

Today I was remembering the Presidential Physical Fitness test from my youth. If you went to school after Eisenhower and before Obama, you had to do these tests in some form or fashion. I remember the tests as being 600-yard run, 50-yard run, chin-ups, sit-ups, standing broad jump, and softball throw. Since I didn’t get my coordination until junior high, those tests were a nightmare. I could nail the sit-ups, do okay in the broad jump, and would be totally humiliated in the other categories.

We would take those tests once a year, then forget about them. We did nothing to try and improve our performance. We merely ignored the existence of the test until it came around again.

In an ideal world, when those tests revealed my lack of upper body strength, someone should have helped me develop in that area. (Poor Mrs. Jenkins was dealing with 50+ kids in P.E. class; there was no way she could have paid that kind of individual attention to one student. She did well to keep us from killing one another.) Then the next year’s test would have been an interesting evaluation of progress, rather than merely confirming the previous year’s results.

When churches look at their strengths and weaknesses, they should be looking for how to improve in the areas where they are weak while taking advantage of their strengths. It’s not about criticizing nor ridiculing; it’s about finding areas where improvement can be made.

The same goes for each of us personally, of course. We seek outside evaluations of our spiritual lives, not to swell with pride or wither in despair, but in order to learn to strengthen the areas that need fortifying.

Review of Church Inside Out

I’m very pleased to see that the Christian Chronicle has published a review of my Church Inside Out books. I’m especially grateful to Paula Harrington for her thoroughness in studying the material and writing her review.

Juan Antonio Monroy was the first to write a full review of the books. His review was written in Spanish for the website ProtestanteDigital.com. Unfortunately, a review in Spanish about a book in English has a very limited audience.

The Chronicle review is the first “real” review of any of my books. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

The review can be found here: https://christianchronicle.org/review-church-inside/
The book can be found here: https://www.21stcc.com/viewproduct.cfm/resultstable/tblItem/prodno/9780890989159/startrow/1
A link to the workbook is on that page.

Time spent with other Christians

I was blessed to attend the Red River Family Encampment for the first time this year. My parents attended years ago, and I’ve had many friends go regularly; I had very much looked forward to being there. I got to go this year representing the Hope For Life (Herald of Truth) ministry.

And my expectations were met. It’s a wonderful gathering of Christians in a beautiful place.

On Saturday, I led three sessions in Spanish. Despite some technical issues at the beginning, we had a great time.

Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I taught classes in English. There were several glitches there, I’m afraid. I was invited to speak back in November, then my invitation apparently got lost in the shuffle. Early promotional material listed the usual 10 classes, but not mine. Later they added a class by “Tim Harris” to the website. When I got there, I found that they had squeezed me into an 11th slot. (Which I’m very grateful for; I’m sure that involved renting one more tent than usual)

Not having been there, I asked the organizers if I would have the ability to use PowerPoint. I was told yes, but apparently they were only thinking of Saturday. The tents for the classes don’t have electricity! I’ll admit my first class was sub-par because I was planning to use some videos and visuals that weren’t available.

Attendance at my class was very low. On Monday, I ran into one of my cousins. He said, “I’d love to go to your class, but I don’t speak Spanish.” It’s possible that he’s not the only one who thought I was only teaching in Spanish. More likely is the fact that I was a relative unknown in the midst of some very talented teachers.

That said, I had a great time. I heard some great teaching, saw several old friends, made numerous new friends, and got to share some about Church Inside Out. All in a beautiful setting in the mountains.

I had to leave a bit early because our ministry was participating in the Summer Celebration in Nashville. We had out ministry breakfast on Friday morning, then I taught one session on Church Inside Out. I wish we’d had more time there, but it’s hard during the summer to be everywhere.

I love getting to share this material that I think is important. And I especially enjoy the time spent with Christians from other places.

Relationships and outreach

Studies done back in the 1980s showed that anywhere from 78-90% of those that came to church for the first time did so because of a friend or relative (The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples, Arn and Arn). Other studies have shown that approximately 95% of those that become Christians have friends or family in the church.

What does that mean? Here are a few thoughts:

  • We, as Christians, need to be developing relationships with non-Christians.
  • The best chance that our relatives and friends have of hearing the gospel is to hear it from us.
  • We need to focus less on programs and more on people, less on showmanship and more on relationships, less on head knowledge and more on knowing our neighbors.

The unique mission of the church is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. There are other groups that can do much of what we do in interacting with our communities: building houses, sharing food, providing clothing. These good works and others can be done by those who don’t know Jesus. But only Christians can effectively share the gospel.

And we are the best ones to do that with those in our immediate circle.

Ministry for non-ministers

No tengo alma de cura.” Translation: I don’t have the soul of a priest.

That’s how one church member in Argentina explained why he wasn’t more involved at church. He wasn’t a preacher. Wasn’t a song leader. Got too nervous to lead prayers or direct singing. There was nothing for him to do.

Hopefully we can see the folly in this reasoning, but I also hope that we can see that the view isn’t uncommon. We hear it a lot in gender discussions. We should be aware of it in all of our church discussions.

Church members need to see that they can and should have a ministry outside of the Sunday assembly. Here are some suggestions on how to go about that, taken from my book Church Inside Out:

  • Leaders expect to be positive and affirming when faced with ministry proposals. The church needs to develop an atmosphere where members can try new things; that’s the best way for people to discover their gifts.
  • Priority is on “outside the walls” ministries. It’s too easy to fall back into thinking about what is done in Bible class or the worship assembly when we’re thinking about how God has gifted us. We need to see that the ability to feed the hungry and clothe the poor is a spiritual gift, and teaching young kids to read is as much a ministry as teaching Ladies Bible class.
  • When someone describes something that isn’t right, it’s taken as an offer to help. If someone wants to talk to the leaders about something that needs improvement, that person needs to know they will be actively engaged as part of the solution.
  • Members need to be aware of needs in order to meet those needs. Part of the job of being a leader is awareness of needs in the community and in the church. Leaders need a mechanism for communicating those needs to the body.
  • The church will not and can not meet every need. But we can expect God to use members to meet the needs that best fit their gifts, and we can expect him to provide gifts for the needs the church is best able to meet.
  • Ministries have to be given the freedom to die. People need to know that there is no shame in moving on from a ministry that is no longer fruitful or no longer needed. People need to have the opportunity to try something and honestly evaluate the results. If what is tried doesn’t work, the church members must have the freedom to let it go.

What suggestions would you offer? How can we help our members to identify and use community-oriented gifts?