Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Military Chaplaincy

Dr. Page Brooks

Being both a minister and an army reserve chaplain, I have seen how the skills I learned being an army chaplain applied to my civilian ministry. In fact, I would say that my civilian ministry has been significantly sharpened by my military education.

Through my military education I was taught leadership, organization, motivation, and decision analysis. At the same time, my civilian education significantly impacted my military ministry and career by equipping me with much needed skills and qualifications.

What about those ministers who have previous military chaplain experience and want to pursue further education? Or what if a chaplain who is currently serving on active duty or in the reserves wants to pursue an advanced degree? New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) has a solution! The professional doctoral programs office has recently approved advanced standing for qualified applicants with previous military education.

If you have completed the O-3 level chaplain’s course, or higher, for any branch of the United States military, you may be able to receive up to 9 hours credit in the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) program at NOBTS. This credit may be granted for either active duty or reserve status educational training. NOBTS is also a participant of Veteran’s Administration Financial Assistance and Tuition Assistance programs, so military members may use their G.I. Bill and other monies toward the degree.

NOBTS recognizes this valuable education and allows you to strengthen your skills by receiving credit for your military qualifications. The chaplain military education credit may be used for any of the D.Min. specializations at NOBTS. Please consult with our Professional Doctoral Programs Office for further questions or to start your application today. Call the Professional Doctorate Recruiting Administrator (800) 662-8701 ext 3728 or complete the D.Min. application request online at http://www.nobts.edu/cme/DMin/dmin-application-request.html

About the author: Dr. Page Brooks serves as assistant professor of theology at NOBTS, and is a Louisiana National Guard Chaplain currently serving with the 139th Regional Support Group. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ten Trends Impacting American Churches, Part 2

Dr. Randy Stone     

6.                  Evangelism Explosion! (…Not) Christians like to get together…with one another. We like to “Rally to Worship” but distain “Reaching the World”. The passion and urgency, once primary characteristics of the evangelical church, are all but gone. Fear is the new emotion of the church. Church growth is now collecting the disgruntled members of a neighboring congregation. We rely on transfer and biological growth rather than regenerative growth to sustain our churches. The New Testament church was known for their unwavering witness of Christ.

7.                  Celebrity Pastors Replacing Congregations. Decades ago, churches were known for their geographic or sociological identity. Neighborhood churches were meeting significant social, spiritual, and educational needs within the community. Pastors had positive relationships inside the community but depended on the laity for program and ministry leadership. Now it seems pastors, rather than the people, are the face of the church.  Church attendees seek out celebrity pulpiteers. High profile pastors as well as television and radio preachers have become the primary spiritual leaders for many disconnected and disenfranchised members. With the rise of the celebrity pastor we often see a congregational dependence.  Congregations expect the pastor to “draw” new people to the worship services with sermons. A personal responsibility to share their life and faith is abandoned.

8.                  Technology Turmoil. A new generation of church goers has come of age. The millennial age bracket is digitally dependent. High tech teaching, social media access, and smart phone interfaces are changing the way people connect, relate, worship, and communicate.  As a whole churches have not learned how to incorporate the new technologies into their communication strategies, worship planning, and educational models. Older generations are fearful and uncertain of new technologies and fail to recognize their value. Recent generations are seemingly dissatisfied with the purchase and integration of new technologies. Finding the right balance between spiritual authenticity and technology savvy is a real challenge for the modern church.

9.                  Seismic Social Shifts.  Four key areas should be considered. A. Social Structures. Families are undergoing radical changes. The traditional nuclear family is a distant memory for many. Communities are seeing a dramatic change in the ethnic makeup. The world is coming to America bringing with them different moral attitudes, economic expectations, and political beliefs and values, not to mention languages. B. Schedules. We live in a twenty four hour a day, seven days a week world. You can shop, eat, go to school, and be entertained all day every day.  The constant world doesn’t exclusively fit our Sunday morning (and Sunday evening) schedules. C. Education. We are seeing a revolution in the educational systems in America. From a new wave of home schooling (and non schooling) to online college and graduate education the delivery methods, teaching/ learning styles, and schedules of education are changing at every level. D. Entertainment. Entertainment is paramount. Despite the fact that we are in severe economic times, movies are attaining record receipts. Music downloads, video games, etc. seem to be higher priorities than clothing or even food.

10.                  Denominational Downfall. Churches and their leaders have allowed the two extremes of creedalism and liberalism to drive wedges of division. The unifying virtue of selfless abandon to fulfill a shared mission would be a worthy alternative. Where did the quest to reach the lost, proclaim the truth, and disciple Christ’s followers go? Denominations have become known more for their fights and feuds than a radical love for one another as part of a spiritual family. We are more determined to “get my way” or push others “out of the way”, than to lead those far from God “to the Way.” Conventions and assemblies have become places that personal projects are promoted and pet peeves remedied. Committees are formed and function to serve the desires of a few rather than the laity mobilized to accomplish the unimaginable. We have spent too much time and money majoring on the minors.

These are just a few of the conclusions I have made about the direction of our churches. They are my opinion, I welcome yours.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ten Trends Impacting American Churches, Part 1

Dr. Randy Stone

The following list was assembled not as a detailed research project, nor was it the product of a survey of the largest churches in America. This list is merely the simple observations of a single staff person. Through conversations with colleagues, countless conventions, and tireless training events, I have surmised that the following are true. You be the real judge. I welcome your opinion.

1.               Church Size. Churches are making decisions concerning what type of church they want to be….Supersize or Boutique. [1],[2] Churches are mimicking business models. Just as businesses are choosing to specialize only in selected merchandise, a number of churches are directing their focus so that they may be good or the best at a few things.[3] Once refined, they often “franchise” to additional locations. Other churches are choosing “to be all things to all people”.  This model requires massive staff, organization, facilities, and of course, money. Both approaches seem to work.  Big and small churches are healthy and growing, while at the same time, midsize and neighborhood congregations are disappearing. Incidentally, reports are that… a growing number of Southern Baptists attend churches with more than 1000 in worship each Sunday, about 7% of the 45,727[4] congregations in our denomination.

2.               Institutional Internalization. The mission of the church has been lost. For a vast majority of churches, the overwhelming goal of the local congregations seems to be “preservation of the institution”, rather than the “pursuit of the mission”. The energy and resources of the churches have been increasingly directed to staying alive or preserving status quo. In the last 50 years the number of churches has increased by 50% while the number of baptisms has plateaued or declined.[5]  Church splits and starts seemed to have weakened congregations as the evangelistic zeal has faded.

3.               Crisis in the Clergy.  There are three sub trends in most clergy issues. A. Moral and Ethical Failures. The integrity of pastors, staff, and denominational leaders has eroded with each new scandal in the local or national news. People desire to trust and believe their pastors, but it becomes a challenge with the growing number of moral and ethical failures. B. Theologians vs. Leaders. I see a growing desire for pastors to be strong theologians rather than strong leaders. I have discovered that you can educate a leader, but you can not always develop a leader from an educated person.  Our seminaries are producing a great number of excellent theologians who unfortunately do not understand how to direct a local congregation toward spiritual health and vitality. C. Competence vs. Expectations.  Local congregations want pastors like Adrian Rogers, who can evangelize like Billy Graham, who are on call 24 hours a day, and are able to lead the church into dynamic health without changing anything. Pastors can not realistically achieve what most churches believe they want.

4.                  Dropout, Disillusioned, and Disengaged Christians. I personally know hundreds of people who have withdrawn from the church. Their reasons vary from change fatigue, irrelevance of sermons, worship wars, group life issues, and spiritual complacency to name a few.  Whatever the reason, I see a growing number of people who profess to be committed Christians, but find their church life increasingly unfulfilled. They want to follow Christ personally, but have chosen other options like staying home, starting house churches, and church hopping.  

5.                  Search for the Supernatural. Libraries, book stores, and the internet are experiencing phenomenal growth in topics about the spiritual and supernatural. People are searching and seeking to discover meaning and purpose. They desire to find a life that transcends the ordinary ones they live, but rather than engaging a culture and society that is hungry for truth and spiritual realities, the Church is absent and silent. Now is the time to speak to the metaphysical and epistemological vacuum that is evident.

To be continued……

[1]Oliver Libaw, “More Americans flock to Mega Churches”  http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93111&page=3 Accessed 9/21/11
[2] Ed Setzer, “Mega Churches keep Growing” www.edstetzer.com/research/ Nov 22, 2011
[3]Chris W. Tornquist and John B. Aker, “The Shadow of a Megachurch” http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1990/fall/90l4094.html?start=5, Accessed 9/15/11
[4] Russ, Rankin, “Southern Baptists decline in baptisms, membership, attendance”  June 09, 2011,
[5] Bill Day, Leavell Center for Church Growth, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Navigating Through a Crisis

By Dr. Reggie Ogea

In his recent book Catastrophic Crisis, Steve Echols asserted that “leadership is always on trial, but never more so than during a catastrophic event.”1 With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 upon us, and all of the recent catastrophic storms interrupting communities and congregations in the United States, it is good time to consider the impact of decisive leadership when navigating through a crisis. 

Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City when the crisis of 9/11 emerged.  Giuliani demonstrated that during times of crisis, leaders must excel in four areas:  Be highly visible, composed, vocal, and resilient.2  We can make the application to congregational leadership during times of crisis.

High Visibility.  A crisis is not a time for leadership retreat, but leadership visibility.  People in the midst of a crisis want a leader who “shows up.”  Those of us who live on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico understand hurricanes and their aftermath.  Chaos and destruction is everywhere.  Several days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, my pastor visited me for advice.  He knew that I had experienced a similar catastrophic storm in an earlier pastorate.  “What’s the best action I can take as the pastor of our church?” he asked.  I responded, “Have a church service on Sunday in the parking lot for those who will come, and take charge.  People will appreciate you for showing up.” 

Composure.  When navigating through a crisis, leaders must maintain poise under pressure.  Emotions must be kept under control.  A calm demeanor exudes confidence.  Peter Steinke defines this leadership trait as a “nonanxious presence.”  “Leaders today cannot be as anxious as the people they serve.” 3  In the midst of a crisis, a leader’s face and voice tone determine whether or not people panic or remain calm, give in or maintain hope.

Communication.  A key component in crisis intervention is public communication.  People need to hear the facts from the leader early and often.  Perception and presumption can be minimized by simply telling people the truth.  John Baldoni studied the communication secrets of great leaders after concluding that leadership failure is not attributed to lack of vision, ambition, or desire, but lack of execution.  And lack of execution can be traced directly back to lack of communication. 4

Resiliency.  God has so wonderfully designed the human spirit with the ability to rebound from sudden trauma and interruption.  Leaders who express high levels of visibility, composure, and communication in a crisis also must exhibit resiliency.  The ability to “spring back” into action soon after the shock and shudder of a crisis produces leadership leverage.  Soon after a crisis, people want to know if they are going to make it through the crisis.  They will embrace the confidence of the leader.  The Apostle Paul demonstrated resiliency throughout his itinerant ministry, summarized in his challenge to the Corinthians Christians: “Be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”5  Being steadfast and immovable personify resiliency.

Storms interrupt.  Crises explode.  But life must go forward.  Navigating through storms and crises requires leadership visibility, composure, communication, and resiliency.

1Steve Echols and Allen England, Catastrophic Crisis: Ministry Leadership in the Midst of Trial and Tragedy (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2011), 132.
2Rudolph W. Giuliani, Leadership (New York: Miramax, 2002).
3Peter L. Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous no Matter What (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2006), xii.
4Jack Baldoni, Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), xv.
51 Corinthians 15:58, Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Characteristic Excellence

By Dr. Randy Stone
NOBTS  has five core values . This year the faculty, staff and students have been asked to focus on the value of Characteristic Excellence.  The past few months I’ve been visiting a number of churches across the south and have discovered that mediocrity rather than excellence seems to be the core value for most churches. I really try to participate as a worshiper but I find myself distracted by the inattention to details and how little changes could dramatically improve the worship, communication, organization, or general presentation of the church I am attending. I’m certain my experience as a staff person and church leader push me to watch and listen more critically than I ought. In some cases I’m embarrassed by our churches and what we are communicating to the casual attender who enters our doors. Responding to Jesus’ ministry the crowds said, “He has done all things well.” Mark 7:37 Here are a few thoughts about some basic principles that can help any church “pursue ministry excellence.”  

Purpose.  Know the purpose of each action, activity, ministry, or program. You must ask “Why are we doing the church pot luck dinner?”  We expect the “Youth rally to accomplish….?”  Every song selection, media presentation, announcement and prayer should have a purpose.  

Priority.  Too many churches do too many things with too little results. The new motto seems to be “Busyness is next to Godliness.” What are the most important things you do? Invest in them! Use your resources (people and money, time and attention, commitment and communications) wisely!  What produces spiritual and or numerical growth?  Don’t clutter up your Sunday mornings with too many programs.  Don’t fill your week with activities that distract from one another and compete for resources. Allow your people to breathe spiritually.   

Planning. Take the time to map out what you want to accomplish. Projects and ministries need to be considered weeks, months, and even years before you do them. Think about the seasons in your church. Some activities will flow much better at certain times in your church. Don’t forget to think about personal, school, and community calendars.

Preparation.  After your purpose is determined, a priority is established, and planning is considered. Make a commitment to prepare.  Invest the time preparing the details. Make sure you have included elements for success. Think about space, resources, leadership, or training. The little things make a big difference.  

Participation. Consider how to engage people in the ministry activity? Who are the leaders? Who is the target group? Who needs to be part of the experience? Think about worship teams, ministry teams, the congregation, committees, age groups or small groups.

Presentation. How does this “look” and “feel” to the audience.  We take a lot for granted. Guests do not know your congregation. When someone is on stage…introduce them.  When you have an activity that targets  guests, make sure you communicate time and location. (Not “Joe’s house regular time”.) Ask  staff or leadership teams if something is too “internalized.”  We may value something because we are “family”. Outsiders may be frightened by the lack of competency they see.  Telling personal stories can overcome this to some degree. Make yourself “presentable” to guest who are considering your congregation.

Productivity  What did the activity, ministry, program, experience produce?  If you plant a crop you expect some produce. If you practice the piano you expect to play. What is the effort you’re expending in ministry producing? Sometimes it’s not what we believe.  Sometime the fruit we get is not what we thought we planted.  Is our activity producing spiritual fruit (new believers, spirit filled Christians, servant leaders, healthy families) or just tired and angry church members?

Evaluation  Review regularly and determine whether or not you should continue to do an activity, program, or ministry.  If you were not already doing something….would you start doing it now? Why should you continue doing a certain ministry or activity? If resources were limited could you eliminate this program or ministry and not impact your evangelical effectiveness or discipleship efforts? The smaller the church the more selective it must be. Better to do fewer things well than a lot of things poorly.

These are few of my thoughts. Your comments are welcome.   Check back regularly for contributions from our faculty.  Press on in the pursuit of excellence!