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Every year, Valley Life takes part in an annual Christmas offering for international missions called the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Knowing only the title, however, if you aren’t familiar with this offering you could have some unanswered questions. In order to serve you well, we would like to share the history of this offering, its purpose, and why we think it’s important.

Who Is Lottie Moon?

Lottie Moon, born Charlotte Digges Moon, has become quite a legend in the Southern Baptist world. But in her time, Lottie was a passionate, humble missionary who gave her life to sharing the gospel with the people of China. Beginning at age 32, Lottie spent 39 years learning the language and traditions of the people she served in order to identify with them. While serving, she began writing letters challenging American Christians to send more workers and support to the mission field. After her death, Southern Baptists’ support of missionaries was formalized by the creation of the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

What Is the Offering For?

With Lottie’s life serving as a reminder of why we give, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering continues to this day with 100% of funds raised going toward missionaries. The International Mission Board keeps none of this money for administration needs but rather sends it all to the mission field. By giving, we are helping real missionaries in hard places have the resources they need to share the gospel with those around them. And with the support of the IMB, missionaries can spend less time fundraising and more time serving in the mission field.

Why We Give

As we give through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, every person at Valley Life has a real opportunity to make disciples and plant churches throughout the world. The theme of Lottie Moon this year is simple: Every Church. Every Nation. At the core of this offering is the belief that every church—and every church member—has a critical role to play in bringing the gospel to the world. And we hope that as members of Valley Life, you will consider contributing toward this cause this year.

How to Give

Giving is simple. If you would like to donate to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this December, simply visit valleylifegive.com, select your church, and follow the instructions. Thank you for giving joyfully and sacrificially to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and helping take the gospel to unreached peoples around the world.

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I’ve learned something about growing as a leader, and I always enjoy sharing things that I have learned. When you want to get better at something—anything—force yourself to be around people that already are better.

Struggling to be kind in your relationships? Spend time around very kind people. Aware that you’re not the kind of parent you want to be? Hang out with parents who excel. Let’s be honest, some do.

Do you want to be better at leading your church and the teams within it? This is the area I found myself needing to grow in. In order to do so, I needed to put myself in close proximity to people who were doing what I wanted to do.

Learning to Lead

I had come to a leadership lull as pastor at Valley Life Church. I decided that I had implemented all that I know, and the best way forward was to simply grow. My first step took a lot of courage. I admitted to my assistant that I was not the caliber of leader that I wanted to be (which was no surprise to her), and asked her to help me be around people that would really stretch me.

Growth is hard, and I wanted a model. I decided to force myself to be around people that weren’t already in my circle. That meant some awkward meetings with men I had admired from afar and even paying for a leadership coach.

Is It Worth the Work?

You’ll find that it’s not that hard to find people who excel at things that you do not. You’re likely noticing them regularly. You’ll find that it’s not very difficult to get closer to people who you want to emulate. That’s part of what makes people like that admirable; they’re often selfless and interested in others.

You’ll soon discover why you aren’t where you want to be yet. You’re already doing what you want to do. This will be an exercise in doing what you don’t want to do. You’ll decide if it’s really important to you to change. It very well may not be worth the trouble to grow, but it was worth it for me and continues a fruitful pursuit.

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Recently, in an elders meeting, it dawned on me that we have a church with nearly 1000 in weekly attendance, and no one who works on our staff has served in a full-time ministry position prior to coming to work at our church. Let me say that again, no one on our staff has served in a full-time ministry position prior to working at our church!

Furthermore, in the past four years we have gone from a ministry team of three to 14. And they are the best, most productive, and hardest working team I’ve ever been a part of.

So how do you creatively and effectively build a ministry team for your church?

Hire People You Know

Trust is key when it comes to staff. If you can hire someone that you have already built trust with and who already knows you and your vision for ministry, then they will hit the ground running. Of our 14 staff members, I had a previous relationship with 11 of them!

Look Within Your Church

Clearly, when you hire from within your church you are hiring people that you already know. But more than that, you are hiring people who love the church and have been serving faithfully. They know your values and vision. They also know your people. Again, they will hit the ground running. Of our 14 staff members, eight of them came from within our church! What a great sign of church health when people inside your church aspire to work there!

Don’t Be Afraid to Hire Young People

I love to platform the young eagles in our church. They are usually hungry to learn and grow, and anxious to make a big difference in the Kingdom. The benefit of hiring young people is that they are teachable, and I will let you in on a little secret—they are cheap. Of our 14 staff members, five of them are under 25!

Don’t Limit Your Search to Seminary Graduates

We want to hire faithful disciples that have a solid grasp on the Bible. However, we have yet to make seminary education a requirement for employment.

Timothy Keller writes in his classic piece, Leadership and Church Size Dynamics, regarding hiring staff in a larger church environment: “Studies show that churches of fewer than 800 members are staffed primarily with seminary-trained ministers, but the larger a church gets, the fewer trained ministers are on staff.” Of our 14 staff members, only two have any formal seminary training.

Hire Part-Time People

Hiring part-timers is a great idea for several reasons. Part-time employment gives you a chance to try them out before hiring them full-time. They are easier to get rid of if they don’t work out.

Also, part-time employees are still in circulation in the “real world.” They will be more likely to bring new people with them to church. Of our 14 staff members, four of them are part-time employees.

Think About Utilizing Quasi-Staff

This is a trick I learned as a church planter. Having no personnel budget should not keep you from having a sizable staff. There are people who will be attracted to the vision and mission of the church and are willing to work for free. Give them a job and give them a title. Treat them like paid staff. Require them to come to a once-a-week staff meeting. Make them a business card. List them on the church website. Give them an official church email account.

In some cases these individuals will out-work some of your paid staff, and then they will become prospects for that next open paid position! Of our 14 staff members, three of them are quasi-staff.

Trust me when I say, there are many ways to creatively and effectively grow a ministry team without breaking the budget.

This post was originally published on Jackie Allen’s blog.

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Church planter: before you ask if something is good, you must ask what it’s for.

You already know this. You have talked to people who view themselves as good without giving a second thought to what they are for. Colossians 1:16 tells them that they were made by God and for God, but they don’t mean that they are good in light of fulfilling that purpose. They mean to say that their goodness, or badness, is seen by comparison to other people using measures they may have seen on a Facebook survey. It’s chaos when you really think about it.

What Is It For?

If you entered my office right now, you would see a book sitting near my front door. It’s a large book that was given to me as a gift. I didn’t ask for it, and I am not particularly interested in reading it. If you asked me, “Is that book good?” I’d have to get more information about what you actually want to know. Right now it’s being used as a door stop, and yes, for that purpose it’s a great book. It’s much better than Mere Christianity which, quite frankly, can’t hold a candle to this one in terms of door stopping.

The question, “What’s it for?” is everything for the church planter. At Valley Life, the answer was and still is, “Make disciples. Plant churches.” In our earliest days, the first disciples that needed to be made were the people that were in our core group, and the first church that needed to be planted was ours. Well-meaning people had all kinds of exciting ideas for us, but we couldn’t tackle the needs of the homeless or start a summer camp for youth because we hadn’t planted a church yet.

Stay on Mission

Asking, “Does it help plant the church or make disciples of my new friends,” kept me from wasting a lot of time. Someone who isn’t dying to get that church planted is all too willing to throw out ideas about brightening a person’s day or “just being Jesus to someone.” They will say, “We may be the only Jesus that some people will see today.” That may be so, but pretending to be Jesus while you hand out bottles of water at the bus stop just doesn’t move me like putting a real church in our community that those same people can join. Then we can do water bottles. The only problem with water bottles is this: they aren’t for planting a church. They are something a church does that’s for being nice to the community.

Don’t Fall into the Trap

The truth is, it’s a trap. It’s the trap of finding something to do. Making a real church and discipling new believers to faith in Christ is hard. It’s a lot easier to call up some churches to help you do a service project in an impoverished neighborhood or hold a backyard Bible club for kids in your community.

You’re an anxious church planter, new to the area, and you want to feel like you’re doing something good while you wait on your church to magically occur. And the mission team from the church in your home state needs something for their youth to do this summer since their church is already planted. Maybe it will be great or maybe you will pour your time, money, and heart into teaching those kids Bible stories for 5 summer days only to find out their dad is on the finance team at a church that someone already planted. He’ll be really thankful that someone cares about his kids, and he might even feel obligated to tell you that his family will try your church out once it gets planted.

Don’t Stop Planting

It seems odd to say, but the best advice I received when planning Valley Life Church was to spend my time actually making a church, instead of all the other things I would see or read about church planters doing. After our church was established, an older pastor built on that good advice by encouraging me, “Don’t stop planting. The things that got the church started are the things that will make it strong.” To make disciples and plant more churches is what everything we do is for, and that is what makes us believe they are good.

The work of a church planter is varied. You may find yourself meeting people at their workplace for lunch, scoping out a quiet place to prepare a sermon, or walking around a shopping mall to meet business owners. There are innumerable ways to go about making friends, discipling them to faith, and organizing them into a church. Any thing you do to get that done is a good thing; just remember, not all good things plant your church.

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The most nervous I have ever been while leading worship was during chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I fretted for weeks over what songs to sing, finally settled on a set, and practiced as much as I could. The day came, and I got on stage to play the songs I had planned. Everything went great. I made no mistakes and people sang along well. A couple of weeks later I asked the guy who plans chapel if anyone had any feedback. He said, “Yes. Dr. Akin (the school president) said you sang fine, but you didn’t actually lead us.”

I was devastated. And he was right. I was given the responsibility to lead a gathering of people in worship to our Great King, and I failed. From that day I took to the task of studying what it meant to “lead worship.” I was a competent singer and musician, but I was not a great worship leader. When I lead worship now, I know that it is critical to lead, and these are some of the things I focus on weekly.

Refocus Hearts

I say it nearly every week as we begin each Sunday morning service—we are created to worship and the focus of our worship drifts easily. One reason we gather is to refocus our hearts and minds. Worship leaders should be deliberate in beginning each service. When you really think about it, it’s ridiculous to start a church service with, “How we doing this morning?!” If I’m honest, most weeks the answer to that question is, “Not great!”

The beginning of a church service should be a time of preparation for the work the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish. I lead everyone in a few moments of focussed prayer. We pray that God would lay aside distractions, we confess that we have sinned, but that His grace is great, and we pray that our hearts and minds would reset our worship back on God.

Know What You’re Going to Say

Worship leaders have a pretty bad reputation for highjacking the pulpit in their set, and often they come by it honestly. Few things are more distracting than a worship leader rambling between songs with no real focus, just random platitudes about God. Our job on Sunday morning is not to preach a sermon. At Valley Life churches, our job is to re-preach the sermon. This is primarily done through the songs we sing, but as the worship leader, I know that people are quickly and easily distracted. They need to be reminded of what was preached only minutes ago. I use this as an opportunity to bring in a Psalm to echo the sermon.

Brian, our pastor, and I work closely together in working through the sermon, which shapes everything I say during the music. Everything I say is prepared in advance. Little to nothing is off the cuff. This protects me from accidental heresy or rambling like I mentioned above. As much as you prepare the music, prepare how you will lead between the songs.

Engage with Your People

I have a strong temptation every week to close my eyes and focus on the chords I’m playing and words I’m singing. I naturally sing and play that way. But I know that I have to make eye contact with my people to encourage them to worship without inhibition. This creates a natural connection with people and helps them recognize that you have an agenda, somewhere to lead them. Keeping your eyes closed, or constantly looking at a confidence monitor or music stand creates a barrier. It also helps me as a worshipper to look around the crowd. I know people’s stories. It encourages me when I see a husband and wife singing together about God’s love and grace when I know that they are depending on His love and grace to restore their marriage.

Worship leaders have a unique opportunity every week to lead people to respond to the gospel of Jesus. If you simply stand on stage and sing three songs, you’re not really leading. Encourage your people, engage with your people, and lead your people to respond to the gospel.

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Upon reflection, marrying a beautiful woman isn’t that hard. I was an underemployed, college dropout when Brooke married me.

We later found out that someone literally planned to interrupt the ceremony when the pastor asked: “If anyone has a reason for these two not to wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.” When I learned that he hoped to stop our wedding I was, at first, offended and angry. Now, 21 years later, I’m thankful that no one drew attention to the fact that I had done nothing to win her. Marrying such a treasure was more of an act of larceny than of love.

Brides Are Chosen, but Wives Are Made

But if marrying a beautiful woman turns out to be relatively easy, making her into a more confident, lovely, and godly woman over many years is the kind of savvy work best left to real men. Here’s why: brides are chosen, but wives are made.

Wives are made of spots, wrinkles, and blemishes. Any clown can choose a beautiful bride, but can that same clown deal with the spots of a painful childhood, the wrinkles etched by being a working mommy, or the blemishes of selfishness and self-doubt? Of course not.

Behind every surly, insecure, sexually unavailable, nagging, sarcastic, and wounded/wounding wife is usually a man who simply doesn’t have what it takes to deal with spots, wrinkles, and blemishes. He will blame her, her family, or claim he just fell out of love. But in truth, he is just not very good at this game, and he doesn’t want to play anymore.

The Making of a Wife

Making a more lovely wife over many years requires the kind of man who handles his own spots, wrinkles, and blemishes while leaving the emotional margin for his dealing with his wife’s.

He is not a tired man.

Not a busy or hurried man.

He is a present man.

A tender man and sturdy man.

He is a prepared man.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

— Ephesians 5:25-27

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When I was in the fourth grade I wanted to ride a horse. So, I got my little brother Alan to lure one underneath a tree where I would hop on and take off bareback like in the movies. I remember being surprised by the width of his back beneath me and the violence of my crash to the dirt as the gray animal smirked a few feet away. Some may call that a failure.

But was it really? I learned lessons about courage, planning, and even the nature of skittish animals. Now I have a great story to tell for the rest of my life. I enjoyed sweet fellowship with my little brother.

That’s silly. Of course the horse ride was a failure. There is power in saying a plan failed. There is not a need to parse out whether or not I rode the horse long enough to technically be a success. And it doesn’t take away from all of the lessons I learned to say that I planned to ride a horse, and I failed.

A Story of Failure

In 2004, I left a very solid church in rural Oklahoma to plant a brand new church in Portland, Oregon. That church plant failed. After four years of trying, our family packed everything up and moved back to Oklahoma.

There are a lot of good stories that could be told about our four years in Portland, and there is a way to talk about it that highlights the disciples made, the new Christians, and even the thriving church that formed out of the collapse of the church that I planted.

But the truest version is that God’s plan was not thwarted, and the church that I planted failed. When people ask me about the church in Portland it’s clear that some have been conditioned to avoid asking about failure and success. Most often they ask, “Is that church still meeting?” The truth is part of that church is doing great and part of it is in ashes. But I think what they want to know is, “Did it work?”

“Did the church you moved across the country to plant take root? What happened? Did it occur? Or did it fail?”

Here’s what I’ve learned about failure.

Acknowledge Failure

When something fails you’re not changing anything by calling it something else. When something fails and you call it a success you’re actually threatening one of the pastor’s greatest tools—credibility. Everyone knows it failed. Don’t be the last person to say so.

Fail Fast

Here’s what happens when a church planter won’t allow things to fail: the failure continues to take up time, money, and attention while not producing. This is how churches find themselves manufacturing energy for events and projects that no one believes in.

On the other hand, a planter with the courage to fail is equipped to fail fast. He can call a failure early in the process and move on to something that can be called a success.

Fail Small

It’s far better to allow things to fail, to allow things to fail fast, and to fail in the small things. The outreach event that was poorly organized. The Sunday sermon that didn’t land quite right. The new giving platform that no one uses. If it didn’t work according to plan, say so and say it quickly.

The courage necessary to fail comes from the knowledge that God’s plans will not be thwarted and his love for his children is not dependent on the attendance at your next Newcomers Dessert.

There is a kind of church planter that never fails. He finds the successes in all of the small events, projects, and ideas no matter their outcome. When everyone on his team thinks that something didn’t work, he spins it to show the lessons learned, the witness displayed, or just the “sweet spirit of fellowship.”

Some planters never call anything a failure right up until the failed church closes her doors (and sometimes not even then). An unwillingness to say that something didn’t work smells a lot like pride. We are not the people that never fail — we worship that person.

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I grew up in a little church in Oklahoma. Every week I picked up our burgundy hymnal with gold embossing, looked in the weekly bulletin for hymn numbers, and sang along with the choir, all ornately adorned in golden robes (notice the theme). This was the ritual I grew up with and grew to love. Some of my greatest memories include sitting in the congregation and hearing the tenors belt out, “Then sings my soul/my savior God to thee…”

I still love singing hymns with our church. The setting has changed. We don’t need hymnals anymore. We’ve got our LG TVs. No more bulletins, our people know what we’re singing from the Spotify playlist. And you won’t see any golden robes. Those have been replaced by plaid button ups. But we still sing the hymns and with good reason.

Hymns Tie Us to History

One thing I try to remind our people of frequently is that our faith is not new. We are joining in with saints of old who have finished their race as we heap songs of praise upon Jesus. We also sing along with those two or three generations above us who, by virtue of time and experience, naturally have more wisdom. When we sing hymns, we sing songs that act as a natural tie to these heroes of the faith.

Hymns Come with Great Stories

In a few weeks, we will re-introduce the hymn, “It Is Well” to our church. The writer, Horatio Spafford, penned the hymn after his four daughters died in a tragic accident while they were crossing the Atlantic. The reason they were on the boat? The family was moving to Europe after The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 took both Horatio’s son and his business.

When we sing hymns, we sing songs that act as a natural tie to these heroes of the faith.Click To Tweet

Yet when he received the telegram that notified him that the rest of his children had died, he wrote, “When peace like a river attendeth my way/When sorrows like sea billows roll/Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say/It is well, it is well with my soul.” It is good for us to hear stories of God’s work in tragedy and triumph, and many of our hymns are birthed out of those circumstances.

Hymns Are Generally Filled with Rich Theology

Now, this is not always the case. I would never say that in every case songs in hymnals are more theologically sound than songs written today. The Baptist Hymnal is not infallible. But in many instances, the songs that have made it down through generations teach us much about God.

Our church sings loud every week. But it is hard to miss that when we sing hymns, people sing louder, and I think these three points are good reasons why.

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While I am not a fundraising professional, I have learned a few things as a church planter. If you are going to plant a church as well and eventually purchase a building, you will most likely need to raise money. Here are some practical tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Know Who to Ask

Who do you know that can give money? Who do you know that wants to? Who believes in you, your church, and your vision? Make a list of potential financial partners including individuals, churches, associations, and institutions and pray through it, but don’t contact them just yet.

Know the Number and the Numbers

Before you reach out to potential partners, you need to know the overall cost of your project. This is the number. The majority of people on your list will not be able to give you this amount but don’t be afraid to put it out there. Let them see it and feel it. It’s a big number. It’s too big for you, and it’s more than likely too big for them. You have God-sized vision. Get it on the table. Then, break it down for them. These are the numbers.

God’s people generally like to help if they are able. Breaking it down into smaller chunks demonstrates how they can help and that you have done your homework. If you know the numbers on plumbing, electrical, sound equipment, flooring, and furnishing costs, you will be taken more seriously. Be prepared and know your numbers. Donors don’t give money to those who don’t.

Know Your Plan

When looking for partners, I like going to groups over individuals. It’s great if an individual wants to support you, but if a group partners with you, it gives you credibility. Don’t be afraid to tell them that other people are on board. It will show them that others have seen merit in what you are doing, and people want to be a part of something that others are already a part of. They want to be in on it.

Call and Make the Ask

This step is pretty self-explanatory. It can be intimidating to ask people to invest in you, but this is where the rubber meets the road. No one will do it for you.

Expand Your Network

When you ask someone for support, make sure to ask who else they know that could help. If they can set up a meeting for you, even better.

Pray as You Leave

When you’re fundraising, most people are not going to give you money on the spot. They are going to consider it, talk about it, and get back to you. Pray as you wait. God knows your needs. Trust Him.

When you're fundraising, most people are not going to give you money on the spot. Pray as you wait. Click To Tweet Follow Up

It is your responsibility to follow up. You are the one asking for money, so don’t get lazy now and expect them to contact you. Make an appointment to follow up with them. They will expect you, so put it on your calendar and make it happen. Write it down and don’t forget it. Doing so screams that you don’t really need their help.

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Several weeks ago we introduced a new song to our congregation. It’s a well-written song that is rooted in Scripture and focused on Jesus. But for some reason, it did not “click” with our people. As a worship leader, this is frustrating because we only have a limited amount of time to engage with our people every week, and I want them to leave singing the songs we lead. That didn’t happen with this song. In fact, several people came to me afterward and told me they didn’t really like it. When I asked why most couldn’t give me a straight answer. It is a little more difficult to sing, but we sing songs like that often, and the whole congregation belts out the lyrics. So why didn’t this song work?

Good Songs That Don’t Work

I asked myself that question the rest of Sunday and into Monday. And then I thought about our people. Valley Life | Tramonto is a notoriously broken church. By that, I mean that we have addicts, adulterers, and Pharisees singing with us every week. We recognize our desperate plight. We know that we have no hope for real peace in this world, except by the grace of God through Jesus. When we sing “Oh trampled death/Where is your sting/The angels roar for Christ our King” we know that we are a people of hope because the tomb is empty and our great enemy, Death, has been soundly defeated by the resurrected Jesus.

Our people want to sing songs of desperation. The song we tried to introduce recently is not a bad song. It’s actually quite good, and I’m sure people in other churches sing it with passion. But the message is, “Jesus sustain me. Correct me when I go off course.” This is not a bad theme to sing about, but right now, our congregation is transfixed on the truth that Jesus has saved them out of their filth. That’s what they need to sing about.

Get to Know Your People

I know this because I know our people. Every week I hear stories in my office, at the coffee shop, and in our community group. I must lead our people to respond to the gospel of Jesus every week. I need to know what words to put in their mouths that will support the sermon and the Scripture for that week and send our people out as missionaries in Phoenix.

Worship leaders, get to know your church. Spend time with them and hear their stories. It is critical that we know what is going on in the lives of our people so we can lead them well. Understanding what people need to sing every week will make you a better leader and fill every Sunday with excitement and anticipation about what the Holy Spirit is doing in your church.

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