All posts by Stan

Are We in Danger of Hoarding?

This article was written for TMS Global’s Activate Post and was published there on March 20, 2019.

If you subscribe to cable or satellite television, I am sure you have come across the television series “Hoarders.” This show depicts the real-life struggles and treatment of people who suffer from a compulsive disorder that drives them to secure and hold on to material things, even though they may never use them.

I know someone who suffers from a compulsive hoarding disorder. Her house is so full of things she has bought or collected over the years that it is difficult to find a place to sit. Entire rooms of her home cannot be utilized because they are so full of possessions. Her response to the dilemma has been to pay monthly rental on storage units to hold her ever-growing collections.

While this is tragic, there is potentially a greater problem of hoarding that exists in far more people than those affected by compulsive hoarding disorder. A recent report by the Barna Group (January 2019) indicated that 51 percent of US churchgoers have not heard of the Great Commission. An additional 25 percent said they had heard of the term but could not recall its meaning.

That means 76 percent of churchgoers have little grasp of the Great Commission. Given that the expression “Great Commission” is so ingrained in the vocabulary of Christian mission, one can only wonder the degree to which the 76 percent engage in any way in reaching the nations with the gospel.

The irony is that all of these churchgoers are recipients of a Great Commission culture. The gospel came to them by those who were moved in response to the Great Commission as described in verses found in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, and Acts 1.

The Good News of the gospel was never meant to flow into the life of a believer and remain there for personal security and blessing alone. The thrust of the Great Commission is that we are to pass on what we have received. Thus, we are not to hoard what has been given to us. For, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

If you feel your church could use some guidance in understanding and engaging in the Great Commission, the TMS Global church culture team offers training and coaching that will move your church to greater mission involvement. Find out more by contacting our church culture department at activate@tms-global.org.

Stan Self is a training consultant for TMS Global.

The Hardest Task

This post first appeared on the TMS Global website as the November Activate Post. It may be seen in its original context here

I was coaching a church missions committee in the northern part of Florida. We were engaged in a discussion of how short-term missions should be conducted for maximum benefit to all involved. One of the attendees interrupted by saying, “How do we discontinue support for some people and groups without hurting feelings and causing havoc?”

Fast forward a few months, and I am meeting with a church mission team in eastern Pennsylvania. To get a feel for where they were and what they were doing, I opened by asking them to tell me about the various ministries they support. One man began to tell me of a missionary couple they supported. He was stopped short by another team member saying that the couple was no longer on the mission field. As another one told me of a ministry, they too were informed that the ministry was now defunct. Before the first hour was up, I heard of five ministries that were no longer viable, yet they were still listed as being supported. In fact, the church was sending financial support, though it was obviously not going where they thought or intended.

A couple of months later, I am meeting once again with a mission committee in North Georgia. The same question came up. How do we stop support of missionaries and mission groups we no longer feel led to support?

This was only the beginning. In varying ways, this issue came up again and again in the ensuing years. So much so that I came to the belief that stopping support must be the hardest task a local church mission team faces. Consequently, far too many choose not to face it at all and just live with the dilemma.

The problem begins rather innocently. Someone in the church knows someone going into missions and it would “be nice” if the church could help them out. A missionary comes in to speak and an emotional decision is made to support them based on a one-time encounter. A ministry seems to be doing “good work and needs our support.” The list goes on.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way to ensure the support list is current and reflects what God desires. And it can be done in a way that is simple, relatively painless, honors God and the ministry, and eliminates this issue for all subsequent missions committees/teams.

The church culture team at TMS Global can begin immediately helping your church deal with this task. Contact us at activate@tms-global.org for more information.

 

Avoiding a Chicken House Approach to Outreach

The gist of this article first appeared as a devotion given to a group of mission administrators and missionaries. It later appeared as an article in Unfinished  magazine (Summer 2008, Issue 41) under the title, No running, please.  It is presented here, in updated form, due to my ongoing work in my own local church in the area of outreach.

As a teenager, I worked for a period of time in my uncle’s chicken house. I recall the preparation for the arrival of the chicks. Workers brought in fresh pine wood shavings to spread over the entire floor of the chicken house. Heaters were lowered from the rafters to keep the chicks warm, and circular tin walls about two feet high were put in place to keep the chicks under the heaters. After they were safely put in these brooders, I took much pleasure in playing with these cuddly, yellow-down chicks.

Continue reading Avoiding a Chicken House Approach to Outreach

Why I Love Small Groups

In a couple of weeks, we will be starting small groups up at St. James UMC here in Athens and I am stoked. I harken back to a time in Clay, AL, when a group of us young marrieds in our late twenties and early thirties formed a small group to gain spiritual maturity and foster community. We named the group, Foundery Fellowship, after the first Methodist meeting place in England. We also patterned the meeting on a blend of the Wesleyan class and band models. Continue reading Why I Love Small Groups

His Name Is (SS Presentation SJUMC 08052018)

Several people have asked if I could share the powerpoint from the Faithbuilders Sunday School class presented at St. James UMC in Athens, GA on August 5, 2018. The purpose of the lesson was to call attention to the large number of people who have yet to hear the good news of Jesus. This in spite of the fact that some 2,000 years ago He gave directions to his followers to go into all the world and make disciples.

I have added two items to the presentation:

  1. A brief description of the three stories I told in movie blurb format to help you recall
  2. A list of sources of the information  I used in the preparation for those who would like to go deeper.

The presentation can be accessed below by clicking on the link. This will lead you to a thumbnail that you can download to your computer or you can click on the thumbnail then start the slideshow to see the presentation online.

CLICK HERE>>>>  https://1drv.ms/f/s!ApRDmPCbOtZ4jV5SMAiZjZn5mPpi

Note: If you were unable to be in class Sunday but would like to know more, please call or text me at 404.538.0628. I genuinely love talking about this topic.

Veterans Day Vignettes

On Veteran’s Day 2017, I wrote a series of eight vignettes of some of my experiences in Vietnam some 50 years ago.  I posted them every two hours or so on Facebook. For posterity, I have compiled them into one document and posted them here. On Memorial Day 2018, I added a ninth vignette to honor those I served with who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

 

Veterans Day Vignette #1:
My point of entry into Vietnam was Cam Rahn Bay. Following the evening mess (meal) on that first day, I took a stroll and found myself on the western perimeter where a young private was walking guard. During our conversation, I noticed he didn’t have a magazine in his weapon. Upon closer scrutiny, I discovered he had no ammunition at all. My first thought was, “What kind of war had I gotten myself in?” Continue reading Veterans Day Vignettes

Telling, Teaching, Training: What the Church Needs to Get Right

There is a splendid three-minute scene in the movie Glory, the Oscar-winning film about the all-black, volunteer 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment led by white officers during the Civil War. In the scene, Colonel Shaw walks up on target practice being led by Major Forbes and observes Private Sharts very deliberately and methodically hitting bottles with his rifle shots.

Shaw compliments him to which Sharts ascribes his proficiency to squirrel hunting. Shaw then tells Sharts to reload and as he does Shaw keeps telling him, in ever-increasing volume, to go faster. Finally, a fumbling Sharts gets the shot off, but we see no bottle broken. Again, the Colonel tells him to reload and then asks the Major for his Colt 45. This time, as Continue reading Telling, Teaching, Training: What the Church Needs to Get Right

That time God. . .

I am an introvert. Always have been. Those elementary, junior high, and high school moments where I would have to stand before the class and quote a poem, summarize a book, or give a report were sheer agony for me. As a teenager, I was asked speak before my home church on Laity Sunday as one of three other speakers. I had prepared and felt I had something good to say. As the Sunday got closer, my confidence got weaker. It was so weak by Sunday I begged off claiming a sore throat. Every personality test I took during my career confirmed that I was and am a bona fide introvert. Continue reading That time God. . .

Finding a Church

I have a peculiar trait. I rarely return from an auto trip, no matter how short, the same way I went. Such was the case when seeing my neurologist. Upon leaving her office, I turned left at the tee instead of the normal right. I quickly left the area of shops and fast-food restaurants and entered a lovely residential area. After a mile and a half, I came upon a church that was off my radar screen because it was outside our 15-minute radius of churches we were considering as a church home.

Just for kicks, I glanced at the clock on the dashboard and set my GPS to get me home the quickest way. I was surprised to find that the church was only 12 miles from home and the trip took 19 minutes. Deborah and I decided to visit the church the next Sunday.

Upon arrival at the 11:00 service we were greeted by ushers who seemed genuinely glad that we had joined them for worship. We settled into a pew and shortly a dapper gentleman approached and engaged us in conversation. He recognized that we were new, asked us how long we had been in the area, where we lived, and a few other non-invasive questions.

I particularly noticed he had taken out a paper and jotted down something as we spoke. I later found out he had written our names down so he could remember them and to give to the pastor in case we did not fill out the guest information in the pews. Shortly thereafter, another gentleman came over and introduced himself. I remember him well for he was holding a shofar. I made a quip about how nice it was that he was welcoming us with the sound of horn.

Several things stood out in the service. One was the energy of the congregation and the joy on their faces.  Nothing contrived here, just authentic worship. Lest you think I am only speaking of the music, the authentic worship was evident in every aspect of the service.

The next afternoon, around 6:00, the doorbell rang. Two men had stopped by with a  small gift and a word about how much they appreciated our visit. Over the next several weeks we were contacted by the senior pastor and executive minister of the church. They encouraged us to get involved in one of the classes the church offered. We were invited by a church member to the Wednesday night supper. More and more church members were engaging us and little by little this church was drawing us into relationship.

The worship services continued to impress. One thing that stood out was the worship leaders seemed devoid of ego. The senior pastor readily shared the pulpit with the executive minister, even doing a tag team message on one occasion. He often utilized lay people from the congregation to share experiences as illustrations of points in his message. The same selfless approach could be seen on the worship team as various skilled musicians and singers move in and out of spotlight roles.

Within my bailiwick, I was delighted to see an Acts 1:8 model being played out, whether by design or chance I do not know. I was especially impressed that they have singled out a roughly one square mile urban area within their Jerusalem and are in partnership with a church there. Would that more churches would intentionally identify and engage in ministry in a strategic and specific way to make a difference in their community.

After more than a year and a half of searching for a church we could call home, we are delighted to have found one. One that will challenge us spiritually, allow the development of deep and dear relationships, and provide an outlet for the gifts and graces God, through his Spirit, has given us. So, this Sunday, we will be transferring our membership to St. James United Methodist Church in Athens, GA, and we look forward with eagerness to see what God has in store.

 

In Search of a Church

In 2010, I wrote an article titled, “We are a Friendly Chuch.”  That was the oft-repeated response from churches in which I was speaking when I asked what was their identifying mark as a church.  The gist of that article was that a church may be a friendly church if one visits them, but they may not be so friendly to those that do not seek them out. I took them at their word that they were indeed a friendly church. Events over the past 18 months indicate I may have been a little too trusting in their perception of themselves. Continue reading In Search of a Church

Uncomplicating Evangelism

On many weekends, I have the privilege and blessing of being in a local church delivering TMS Global’s Activate Conference. These churches have invited me to either help ignite a passion for missions among the membership or to assist in taking their existing missions program to a higher level.

In the context of these weekends, the issue of evangelism has been increasingly raised. Continue reading Uncomplicating Evangelism

Reclaiming an Overlooked Missions Strategy

Those of you who fly are very familiar with the pre-departure instructions. “In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you,” the flight attendant announces, and then, after more operating instructions, tells, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” Continue reading Reclaiming an Overlooked Missions Strategy

We Are a Friendly Church

Over the past sixteen years, as I have visited churches around the country, I often asked the parishioners what is the distinguishing characteristic of their church. By far and away, the most common response is, “We are a friendly church.” They are not alone. If you do a Google search for that specific phrase, you will get over 18,000 hits. It seems like a lot of people think they attend a friendly church.

A closer look at those 18,000 Google hits reveals that if you want to experience this “friendliness,” in most cases you are going to have to seek them out. Over and over again you see phrases such as: Continue reading We Are a Friendly Church

A Kingdom Approach

I was watching the President’s Cup Golf Tournament when a commercial grabbed my attention. The ad explained how a professional basketball court is always 94 X 50 feet; an Olympic swimming pool is always 50 X 25 meters; a tennis court is always 78 X 36 feet, but a golf course is different. No two are exactly alike. In other words, no matter the city in which LeBron James plays, he can count on the court being the same as all of the other courts he plays. Whether Serena Williams is at the US Open, Wimbledon, or any other venue, the Continue reading A Kingdom Approach

Of Shade Trees and Fruit Trees

Back in the day when short-term mission ventures were a novelty, I, along with two of my cohorts, received an invitation to speak about one such mission at the morning worship service of an historic denominational church.  The church building itself was lovely with four massive columns at the front, beautiful woodwork on the inside, and a seating capacity for some 400 worshippers. On the morning we were there, the congregation Continue reading Of Shade Trees and Fruit Trees

Beer, Slugs, and Picasso Petunias

Late in the afternoon, you can find my wife walking around the yard with a can of beer in her hand. This is unusual given that neither she nor I imbibe in the brew. In fact, the strongest thing we drink is Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale, Birmingham, Alabama’s premier soft drink.

What has driven her to this is war? An ongoing battle to defend her ubiquitous flowers from the onslaught of slugs that slime their way up the pots and plants to nibble away at the tender leaves and petals. After trying a host of deterrents, beer seems to be the most effective and it matters not the brand or cost. The cheapest beer possible works just fine.

Upon entering this battle, she thought it would be a few quick skirmishes and she would wipe out the invading horde with overwhelming firepower (or in this case hops-power). Not so.  This has developed into a protracted war.

Every day, just before dusk, you can see her walking around the yard with a can of beer in hand.  She fills the 14 or 15 little bowls she has strategically placed among her cherished plants and then awaits the next day. She should have kept track of the body count, for every morning there are 3 to 7 dead slugs in each bowl. They crave the beer so much they crawl into the bowls and drown.

The moral of the story: Don’t be a slug! Drink responsibly or don’t drink at all. We choose to do the latter.

March Madness. . . then POOF!

Just like that…POOF!…March Madness is over. After four weeks of buildup, filling in brackets, 63 games, it’s all over. I went to ESPN online and the lead story was about Tony Romo leaving the NFL for a CBS broadcast booth. The next story had a photo of John Calipari. You read that right- John Calipari, not Roy Williams. CBS always ends the championship broadcast with the song, “One Shining Moment.” How appropriate… because this morning there is Continue reading March Madness. . . then POOF!

Marriage, Music, and Mental Models

Today, March 26, marks the 47th anniversary of my marriage to Deborah Anne Hurtt. It has been a good marriage and it keeps getting better. Rough patches in a marriage that couples, pastors, and marriage counselors speak of are not something we can identify with. Fights are not something we have. What few disagreements we have had were minor (color of paint to use in the bathroom, what restaurant to eat at, etc.) and have been calmly and sanely discussed and an agreement reached. We go to bed each night content. However, we realize not all marriages are thus. Continue reading Marriage, Music, and Mental Models