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Evangelism and Church Growth - Part I

This story about evangelism and church growth compares two churches in New York City.  Apple Church and Orchard Church are not their real ...

Monday, May 16, 2016

When Friends are of the Opposite Gender

A little over twenty years ago I heard the following question asked on a Christian radio station, “What do you do when friends are of the opposite sex.”  Because I was riding in my car I couldn’t write anything down so I listened attentively.  I was interested because I had a friend of the opposite gender and we wanted a friendship free of controversy.  Since we are both married we definitely didn’t want anything to interfere with our marriages.  I especially wanted a Christian perspective.

The radio announcer listed several things people could do to keep the friendship from moving in the wrong direction.  I jotted down what I could remember as soon as I could.  Some of those things were:
  •       There are no individual ambitions
  •       You enrich each other’s life
  •       Motives are kept pure (no temptations by being alone together)
  •       You value the friendship more than anything else
  •       You don’t send sexual messages

I showed the list to my friend and we talked about it and added to it.  For example:
  •     If either of us knew of someone in our circle of friends and acquaintances who was “fooling around” we would not mention it at all.
  •       There would be no off color jokes or conversation and no flirting.
  •      If just the two of us are alone in a room or office the door would be wide open and we would be at an appropriate distance from each other.  Appearance is important.
  •      When we meet for breakfast or lunch we pray together.  We never meet for dinner.  That’s too intimate a setting.
  •       We always let our spouses know when we have any type of meeting or even just a phone call.

We were both in the financial services (insurance & investments) industry working for different companies, then the same company, then different companies again.  Our friendship began when we were with different companies but active members of the Bronx branch of the NYC Association of Insurance & Financial Advisors.  Eight of us, members of the Bronx AIFA, formed a study group that met for the purpose of encouraging and motivating each other.  We represented different insurance and investment companies.  We met regularly at a diner for lunch and discussion.  Over time the group of eight dwindled until there was just two of us.

Once while we worked for the same company, there was a sales representative meeting on Long Island (NY).  Four of us, co-workers, were going to car pool using my car.  Two of the co-workers decided to drive their own cars because of their schedules.  So, only my friend and I rode together.  There was no car pool for the next monthly meeting.  At that meeting a co-worker remarked to me that it was unusual to see my friend and I arrive in separate cars.  Actually, only once did we ever arrive in the same car.  But, people create stuff in their own minds for their small minded reasons.  All he had to do was mention that untruth to one other person and the rumors would begin to fly.

Now my friend and I talk on the phone occasionally but rarely meet anymore since I am now retired and she is busy running her own insurance agency.  Before she opened her agency she sought my advice and we talked about it on the phone and exchanged email on the subject.  I had opened my own agency a few years before I retired.  Our conversations on the phone and in person have always revolved around business.

Having a friend of the opposite gender really shouldn’t matter unless you have impure motives.  It can be complicated if one or both are married.  If a spouse objects or is uncomfortable with the friendship, then the type of relationship has to change.

Here is my idea.  The word sex has several meanings and connotations.  Your wife is of the opposite sex.  All other women are of the opposite gender.  In the final analysis your spouse is your best friend and cannot be replaced.  <><

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Evangelism and Church Growth - Part I

This story about evangelism and church growth compares two churches in New York City.  Apple Church and Orchard Church are not their real names, but I am familiar with both.  They are Christian churches of different denominations.
When the new pastor came to Apple Church 25 years ago there were 350 members.  Today there are 370.  When the new pastor came to Orchard Church 25 years ago there were 350 members there also.  Today there are 5,000.  During those 25 years the pastor of Orchard Church taught a course, Evangelism and Church Growth, at a local seminary to members of Apple Church’s denomination.  The denomination’s leadership in New York City never took advantage of that.  The men and women who took the course were treated as though they were unwanted invaders of an exclusive domain … an area of the church whose gate keepers kept their noses high in the air determined to keep those who are not as educated as we are away from pastoral servant/leader opportunities.
Another difference between the two churches is that many members of Orchard Church are regularly involved in service outside of the church building.  They participate in prison ministry, Habitat for Humanity, City Harvest, volunteer at homeless shelters, nursing homes and mentor young people in the community just to name a few.
A small number of Apple Church members are involved with prison ministry and mentoring on their own and are not church sponsored.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast in Mississippi and Louisiana and devastated New Orleans in 2005, Orchard Church members traveled to that area to assist.  A pastor from New York City (Apple Church’s denomination) took a truck load of donated clothing items down to help folks in Mississippi.  Other members of Apple Church’s denomination in New York City made one trip to the area to assist in the cleanup and recovery effort.  Only one member of Apple church volunteered to go.  Prior to Katrina, members of Orchard Church had been helping with cleanup and restoration from previous storms in hard hit areas like Galveston, Texas as well as Louisiana and Mississippi.  They rarely met anyone else from New York City.  Yet the work they were doing was under the auspices of Apple Church’s denomination.
Members of Orchard Church are frequently out in their own and other communities serving and leading.  Here is what I believe happens in the field.  Let’s say it’s Habitat for Humanity NYC.  Volunteer groups are fixing up houses damaged by Superstorm Sandy.  A conversation between two volunteers meeting for the first time might go like this:
Volunteer, Carl, puts his hammer down and looks over at volunteer, Dave. 
Carl: “Hi, I’m going to get some water.  Can I bring you a bottle?”
Dave: “Oh, Yes.  Thanks.”
Carl returns and hands Dave the water.
Carl: “My name is Carl, by the way.”
Dave: “I’m Dave.  I’m with the Uptown Volunteer Association.  What organization are you with?”
Carl: “I’m with Orchard Church.”
Dave: “Oh?  Where is your church?”
Carl: “We are at 972 Elm Street at the corner of Maple Avenue.”
Dave: “Hmmm, maybe I’ll come worship there some Sunday.”
Carl: “Well Dave, worship service is at 10:00 AM.  I’ll be looking for you and I’ll make sure you get a bottle of cold water.”
Dave laughs and says: “Thanks buddy.”
Carl was careful to give Dave the exact location of the church and the time of the worship service.  There was no preaching.  There were no questions like, “Do you know Jesus?”  Carl jots down Dave’s name on a card and put it in his wallet.  He looked at the card every Sunday and said a prayer for Dave.  One Sunday Dave came to worship and was welcomed by his new buddy.  That’s a way of doing evangelism which leads to church growth.
When you are out doing God’s work, your presence is your witness.  “Can I bring you a bottle of water?” is more evangelistic than, “Do you know Jesus?”
Every church has good stuff going on and not so good stuff going on. Church membership in Apple Church’s denomination has declined over the past 25 years.  But membership at Apple Church has not.  Apple has some good stuff going on after all.
“How can we serve more people in the community, the nation and the world?,” is an essential question every church should ask.  Most churches ask the question, “How can we get more people to come to our church?”    Carl would have never met Dave at a church committee meeting.  When you are going from committee meeting to committee meeting you don’t get to meet non-church folks and invite them to your church.
The increase in Orchard Church membership is a consequence of members having an evangelism and servant attitude.  They weren’t out trying to build up the membership.  They are out trying to improve the living condition of others.  <><

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts After Father's Day

Fathers!  What have you planted in the minds of your children, especially your sons?  I say, “especially your sons,” because boys need special attention.  If fathers are not available there needs to be a substitute.  There have been 74 school shootings by boys and young men since the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy in December 2012.  While men make up 49 percent of the U. S. population, they make up 92 percent of the prison population.  Boys need special attention indeed.
Have you wondered if you are raising your son and daughter right?  Do you ask yourself, “Am I demonstrating the right example?”  “Have I said the right things?”  “Am I responding the right way?”  How would you like to be sure that your son and daughter are headed in the right direction?  You can, using God’s perfect example.  You will reduce the number of times your child will disappoint you.
The perfect example is found in Matthew 3:17 and 17:5.  It’s also in Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22 and 2 Peter 1:17.  It’s what the Father said of His Son.  “… This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus had not yet begun his ministry or performed his first miracle, changing water into wine.  He did not yet have any disciples nor had he been tempted by Satan.  He had just been baptized by John.  He had not yet taken on the role of Messiah.  Yet the Father was already well pleased with His Son.  What else could the Son of God do but go around doing good.
Think back to the day your children were born.  You loved them immediately did you not?  They had not done anything except poop in a diaper.  They had not yet done anything to please you.  But you loved them and that big grin on your face told the world that you were well pleased.  Suppose as soon as your son could understand, you introduced him to a group of your friends saying, “This is my son,   (name)  , whom I love.  I am very well pleased with him.”
Your son or daughter has heard you say, “I love you” at home in private.  This is different.  They need to hear you say to others that you love them and you are well pleased with them.  That is huge.  It is no longer private.  It is announced to the world (your group of friends).  The world knows of your love for your child and that you are already pleased with him or her.  More importantly your child knows that the world knows.  Hearing you tell others in their presence is a tremendous character building experience.  Remember, God said this of His Son not to His Son.  He said it to the world.
Raymond, Zair & Lloyd Johnson - Three Generations
Most parents wait until their child does something good before complimenting them.  “What a good boy.  I’m proud of you.”  That is after the good deed is done.  God used it before the good was done.  I did this at my church with my own son.  I don’t remember the exact circumstance but I remember using the words of Matthew 3:17 in introducing him.  He was either a teenager or young adult.  What were the results?  You will have to ask him.  When I look at or think about my son, Raymond, I see a man … what the Jews call in Yiddish a mensch (i.e. - a person of integrity and honor) a loving husband and father.  I see a God fearing man in whom I am more than pleased.  I feel the same way about my daughter, Ericka, too.
Before I pat myself on the back for something I might have done, I am reminded that two of us raised our son and daughter.  I love them both and I am well pleased with both.  But I did not do it alone.  Alongside me was my wife, their mother, Dora.  With us were grandparents, aunts, uncles, God-parents, church family and close friends.  Most importantly, God is at the center of our lives.  We are guided by God the Holy Spirit
As soon as you can, tell your friends in the presence of your son and daughter that you love them and that you are well pleased with them.  It will remain planted in their hearts forever.  <><

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Real Solution Scares Politicians

     Here in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk,” policy (government sanctioned racial profiling) was the main topic the mayoral candidates addressed during the primaries in September 2013.  It was a diversion from the real problem in New York City and in America.  The Real Problem: The national unemployment rate for August 2013 was 7.3%.  For whites it was 6.4% and for African Americans it was 13.0%.  In 1954 the unemployment rate for whites was 5%.  For African Americans it was 9.9%.  For at least the past 59 years the unemployment rate for African Americans has been double that of whites.  [FYI: August 2013 unemployment rate for Hispanics 9.3%, Asians 5.1%.]
     The unemployment rate for the “stop & frisk” target group (African American males ages 18 to 29) today is about 20.9%.  If we lower the unemployment rate for that group to the whites’ rate of 6.4%, there would be no one to stop and frisk.  The target group would be at work instead on the street.
     The unemployment rate gap in America has to close.  (See Black Unemployment Rate Consistently Twice That of Whites)  Federal, state and local governments need to commit to that.  What we hear from politicians is, “We’ve got to create more jobs.”  Something needs to be done about access to the jobs.  Whites control access to most jobs.  White men dominate almost every industry.  As long as that is the case, whites will continue to have the lower unemployment rate and the higher paying jobs.  Magazines like Ebony and Black Enterprise make it seem as though things are better than they are.  They do encourage entrepreneurship and that is the best direction.
     On November 30, 2009, the New York Times published an article, In Job Hunt, College Degree Can’t Close Racial Gap,” saying that race remains an obstacle in the job market.  Having an MBA from a top school doesn’t help your chances if you are African American.  That has got to change and politicians need to step up and show they have the backbone to make some bold recommendations.  But, Democrats are too afraid to tackle this problem.  Republicans are too ______.  They want to keep “stop& amp; frisk,” in New York City.  It feeds the prison industrial complex.
     A white friend of mine told me what he witnessed several years ago.  A young Black man walked through the doors where he worked, college degree and resume in hand, looking for a job.  This was a small Wall Street stock brokerage firm in Manhattan.  My friend told the young man to have a seat and summoned his boss.  The boss talked with the young man right there in the lobby and had him complete a job application.  My friend overheard his boss tell the young man there weren’t any openings but he will keep his application and resume on file.  “You’re just the kind of person we’d like to have here,” the boss was heard so say.  When the young man left, the boss tossed the application and resume into the waste basket and went back to his office.
     The Black job seeker did not know that he had just been discriminated against nor how many times that happened to him during his job search.  Just as we, African Americans, were told by our parents that we have to be ten times better than the white guy in order to be considered equal, we have to apply for ten times as many jobs in order to get one serious consideration.
     I recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama, citing the statistics I mentioned and asked what he intends to do to close the gap.  I know he won’t do anything.  Unfortunately, the Conservative Tea Party Republicans are waiting to crucify President Obama as soon as he even hints that he wants to do something that specifically helps African Americans.   He knows that.  We know that.  He needs to risk it.
     To my knowledge no one has ever worked on the real solutionClose the Unemployment Rate Gap.  I have never heard an African American politician or any politician say anything about it.  Will you step up the plate or ask your local, state and federal legislative representatives to read this and take action?  &lt;>


Saturday, December 29, 2012


Learning from Terrible Tragedies like Newtown CT
     Adam Lanza killed twenty-eight people on December 14, 2012 in Newtown CT.  He murdered his own mother at home.  He murdered twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  He committed suicide.  There was an immediate rush to answer the question, “Why?”  “Why did this happen?”  “Why did this happen to these innocent young children?  “Where does the blame lie?”  “Is it mental illness?”  “Do we blame it on guns?”  We all feel powerless because we don’t know why.  If we knew why, we could prevent something like this from happening again.  It has happened too many times since the Columbine High School Massacre on April 20, 1999.
     Had Adam Lanza not committed suicide would the people of Connecticut be angry that earlier in 2012 they voted to abolished the death penalty?
     People flocked to churches the Sunday following the tragedy.  The clergy in Newtown, CT must have been deluged with questions about why this happened.  Someone came up with what is called “The T-Shirt of the Year” now circulating around social media.  The t-shirt reads, “Dear God, Why do you allow so much violence in our schools.  Signed, A Concerned Student.  Dear Concerned Student, I’m not allowed in schools.  God.”  But, tragedies have happened in churches too where God is not only allow … is worshiped.  So taking praying out of the schools isn’t to blame.
     But I believe prayer or the lack of it plays a role in what does and doesn’t happen in our world.  I think absence of prayer played a role in the life of Adam Lanza and subsequently all of our lives.  We read in the Book of Job 42:8b, “My servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.” (niv)
     We often hear people talk about their prayer life and how they prayed and made promises to God that they would change their ways.  “Lord, I’m going to give up drinking.”  “Lord, I’m going to stop doing this or that.”  “Lord, I going to church every Sunday from now on.”  And on it goes.  Does this sound familiar?  You’ve either said it or heard it said.  Did you ever stop to consider that somebody else was praying for you?  Bill Withers wrote and recorded the song, “Grandma’s Hands.”  Somebody needs to write about grandma’s prayers.  Many grandmothers have prayed for their grandchildren and God accepted grandma's prayers and not dealt with the grandchildren according to their folly.
     Some men in church whose marriage and family life is going well will tell you, “We are a family that prays together and worships together.”  And on it goes.  I once heard a preacher say, “Marriages would be a lot stronger and last a lot longer if husbands prayed for their wives as often as wives prayed for their husbands.”  In other words, brother, did you ever stop and think that before you became so churchy your wife had been praying for you for a long time?
     After meditating on that Bible passage from Job I am certain that others have prayed for me.  My father, my mother, my wife, my pastor and my friends prayed for me and God accepted their prayers and did not deal with me according to my folly.
     This twenty year old murderer, Adam Lanza, probably had no one praying for him … caring about him … developing a loving relationship with him.  Did he have positive male role models?  Did he have positive male relationships in his life?  I don’t believe so.  Positive male role models and wholesome male relationships are essential for young men to grow into manhood.  It was reported that Adam hadn’t spoken to his own father or brother in two years. “He was a loner,” folks said.
     I focus on male relationships because, have you noticed, women and girls don’t do this?  I don't know of any exceptions and pray there won't be any.
     As one who believes in the efficacy of prayer I’m convinced that the lack of prayer also contributed to this tragedy and others like it.  Nobody prayed for him.  Nobody thought about him.  Nobody reached out to him.  Everyone who knew him left him alone … ignored him … cared only for themselves.  Everyone who knew Adam Lanza was himself or herself mentally ill to some degree.  Mental illness has always existed.  The way we regard and treat mental illness and the mentally ill has changed.  We are too concerned about being politically correct.
     We can try to blame it on guns.  I played with cap pistols when I was a kid.  My folks bought me the Roy Rogers six shooters.  I think I was eleven years old when I shook Hopalong Cassidy’s hand in front of the Daily News building in New York City and received a cardboard replica of his six shooter.  My grandson, Zair Emmanuel Johnson, pictured with me above will probably never play with guns.
     Guns have existed for a long time.  The proliferation of guns has changed.  The types of guns have changed.  Demonstrations of their use have changed.  It seems the availability of guns does play a role in these types of tragedies.  The company that sells the type of weapon used by Lanza, advertises it as a “... Gun for a Man’s Man in an Era of Depleting Testosterone.”  In other words, you are not a real man unless you own one of these.  The second amendment to the United States Constitution says I have the right to bear arms.  Do I have a need to bear arms?  The answer for me is no!
     Psychologists tell us this type of event will happen again.  We don’t want another Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, etc.  There are other men (I hope not women) out there like Adam Lanza or Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris of the Columbine Massacre.  They may or may not be easy to spot.  Be alert.  Be concerned.  Genuinely, care about the people around you and when you suspect someone around you is “different,” pray for him daily.  Develop a relationship.  Tell him the story of Jesus.  Real men pray for others.  Somebody prayed for me.  <><

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) - My First GA

      I had the privilege of attending the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It was held in Pittsburgh, PA from June 30 through July 7, 2012. When anyone asks me about it I tell them, “It was wonderful!” And it was. The music was wonderful. The preaching was wonderful. Working for God in this, new for me, section of his vineyard was wonderful.
     I had the privilege of representing the Presbytery of New York City as a Ruling Elder Commissioner. There were eight of us from New York City who got to sit in the inner sanctum … holy of holies … inside the dark blue curtain on the Assembly floor. We were six commissioners … Teaching Elders Jose Gonzalez-Colon, Lonnie Bryant, and Mieke Vandersall … Ruling Elders David Ofori, Annie Rawlings, and me … one Young Adult Advisory Delegate Joshua Narcisse and one Theological Student Advisory Delegate Ruling Elder Deborah Mahaney.
     Every committee meeting, plenary session and worship service began with the reading of the scripture, Isaiah 40:38-31.
     Six hundred eighty-eight commissioners and two hundred thirty-one advisory delegates were assigned to twenty-one committees which dealt with one hundred twelve overtures of presbyteries and synods included in the approximately eight hundred items of business the assembly had to deal with.
     When the assembly convened in Plenary on Saturday evening, our first order of business was to elect the Moderators of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who is The Reverend Dr. Neal D. Presa from nearby Elizabeth Presbytery across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
     We did have the unfortunately incident of the moderator’s choice for Vice Moderator, the Reverend Tara Spuhler McCabe, chose to resign amid some controversy surrounding a same-gender wedding in Washington, DC. Personally, I think it is unfortunate that some Presbyterians can’t disagree without being nasty … can’t act more like Jesus. Some of us walk around with rocks in our pockets ready to condemn. The new moderator reluctantly accepted her resignation and named The Reverend Tom Trinidad of the Pueblo Presbytery as the new Vice Moderator.
     In trying to organize a Presbytery of New York City delegation dinner on July 4th Interim Executive Presbyter Tony De La Rosa guessed there may have been at least thirty people from the Presbytery of NYC.
     On Sunday morning twenty-nine Presbyterian congregations invited GA attendees to worship with them. There was luxury bus service to take us to churches not in walking distance of the convention center and hotel area. Approximately sixty of us went to Bidwell Presbyterian Church. While there The Reverend James Foster Reese told everyone that Bidwell is the place of his very first sermon over sixty years ago.
     I was assigned to the Committee on Confessions of the Church. Six members of the committee brought a minority report to the Assembly floor after it failed as a substitute motion in committee. I spoke against in committee and on the floor of the assembly. Speaking at a microphone on the floor of the General Assembly is something I thought I would never do. Never say never.
     What impressed me was the passion and sincerity of the commissioners and advocacy groups. There weren’t the angry outbursts I expected. As far as I could see people treated each other with courtesy and respect. The person who led the group bringing Minority Report came to me later and asked that I forgive her if her action hurt me in any way. We hugged.
     The committee report that took used up the most time was the Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues. Discussion on Friday, July 6th lasted from 1:30 PM through 8:30 PM with time out for dinner. There were Minority Reports, amendments, and so on. The Assembly voted to neither re-affirm nor change the denomination’s definition of marriage as “a civil contract between a man and a woman.” The Assembly approved a proposal generated from within the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues calling for two years of “serious study and discernment” regarding Christian marriage.
     Earlier that day, Interim Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of New York City, Tony De La Rosa, had the honor of being the only Ruling Elder to preach at one of the worship services.
     Working on the committees and in plenary was really hard but rewarding work. We all met new friends on the committees and sitting near us on the assembly floor. On the final evening, Friday, July 6 our work in plenary didn’t end until 1:30 in the morning. Some committees still had to meet after that. Trying to keep our eyes open and attention focused some were singing praises to Jehovah Java while others want to bow to El Shut Eye.
     What greatly impressed me was the Young Adult Advisory Delegates. They give me hope for the future of the church. Although they were all over the church political landscape they showed the older adults out to live together in harmony and how to work today and worship together without condemning each other.
     There were two other things that greatly impressed me. One was the COLA people … Committee On Local Arrangements. Members of the congregations and staff in Pittsburgh volunteered their time to be present everywhere to help anyone attending GA220. Wearing bright yellow vests with the PCUSA symbol on the back they were at the airport, in the hotel lobbies (and the GA used more than seven hotels), they were on the streets near the convention center, they were all over the convention center. You could ask them anything and they would find a way to help you. The other thing that greatly impressed me was the people in the red t-shirts … the back of the t-shirts read, “We are praying for Yinz.” Yinz in Pittsburgheese means the same as Ya’ll. If you needed prayer you just have to walk up to one of them and they would pray with you or take you to a convenient prayer room for prayer.
     Someone asked me if I would go again. The answer is yes. As a matter of fact my wife and I plan to attend the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, MI in 2014. And yes I would recommend it. Don’t put it on your bucket list. Put it on your Must Do List.
     Just as every session was opened with scripture from Isaiah, every sermon used the same sermon text, Mark 2:1-12. It’s the familiar story about the men who dug a hole in the roof to let down the crippled man to be healed by Jesus. The text ends with Jesus saying, “I say to you, stand up, take up your mat and of to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
     And I say of the 220th General Assembly, I have never seen anything like this. It was wonderful! Praise God. <><