I know what you’re asking. What is GSC? It stands for Gulf States Conference. It’s one of the smallest conferences in NAD.

Last weekend I had the privilege to be one the speakers at their Hispanic camp meeting on a sweltering upper 90’s humid Alabama countryside with no air conditioning in the main meeting space. This was no ordinary camp meeting. This was different from many of the others I attend. Here are three principles I observed:

  1. Intentionality.

In preparation for the camp meeting called “Sharing Hope” all the churches had evangelistic series. That resulted in over 60 new members to be baptized at camp meeting. That’s probably happened in other places, but I’ve never heard of it! As my good friend Richie Halversen likes to say: Evangelism works if you work it.”

Take away is this: when you plan events, what outcome are you after? I believe interesting programs are important, but they are not an end in themselves. Why have speakers that don’t call for people to follow the Jesus they are talking about?

  1. Excellence.

You have to understand something. Only some short years ago, the GSC had around 200 Hispanic members. Today they have close to 3,000. The influx of new members can provide challenges. One of them is the lack of experience in implementation of programming. This was not the case. From the professionally designed color coded programs, the awesome (and I mean awesome) food, decoration, quality of speakers, and so many millions of details others usually miss, the organizers proved you don’t have to have a multimillion dollar budget to provide excellence. Sara Garcia was superb in this. Three cheers for spouses that love ministry.

Take away: Excellence honors God and inspires people. Don’t slack on the details, because details matter. (and nothing beats great food!)

  1. Follow-up.

The camp meeting was not the end. That only led to the next stage that lasts until December. One of our weak areas in the Adventist church is retention. GSC has learned that the greatest apostasy preventer is to provide the new members with an opportunity to work. They are planning Season of Service fueled by Compassion for the fall and will finish the year with another reaping event.

Take away: in what ways are you providing the new believers in your sphere of influence and opportunity to serve?

If you want more information about the plan, the process and the purpose please contact the Hispanic Ministries Director Pastor Nilton Garcia, a young up and coming leader in our denomination.


I have always wanted to use a mystery guest, and it finally came true! I paid a young adult (in Thai food) to attend a church and fill out a survey (see below) about the experience. It opened my eyes about the benefits of having a mystery guest attend church. Here is why:

  1. Because it increases self-awareness.

After 23 years of working with churches of every size I have found that self-assessment only doesn’t work very well. We all have blind spots. The longer you’re at a congregation, the less you notice the imperfections, bad smells, and overtly quirky personalities that can drive people away. After a while deficiencies become normative and that’s not the best way to grow the kingdom. A mystery guest will provide a set of new eyes. Check out the reviews in the aforementioned church

Strong: Well-kept facilities, internet presence.

Growth: No one at the door greeting, no one sat by me all service. (Interesting because I was preaching about the importance of connecting with visitors, people said loud amens, and no one connected with the visitor they were saying amen about!)

  1. Because it can facilitate change:

It can help your case as a leader, as another voice pointing out areas of improvement as well as areas of strength. People in churches tend to be all or nothing many times. It’s either we are terrible or “nothing to see here everything is fine”. The assessment gives you areas to celebrate as well as confirmation where help is needed. Not everything can be fixed in a day, but several details can be fixed very quickly and that starts the momentum rolling the right way.

  1. Because it can help you track your improvements.

If I were to go back to a local church (believe me, it’s very much in my radar) I would have a mystery guest come twice a year, every year. It would be helpful to see how much we have grown in an area where a clear deficiency was present and what areas still need to markedly improve.

 

I’m a fan. Hope you can catch the bug.

Here are some resources that might be helpful:

Here is a sample form for a mystery guest. My thanks to Adam Flint for sending it to me.

http://www.slideshare.net/RogerHernandez6/secret-visitorquestionaire

Here is a company that does that sort of thing. Haven’t used it, would like some feedback if someone has: https://www.faithperceptions.com/MysteryGuestProgram.aspx

Here is a short version I created myself

http://www.slideshare.net/RogerHernandez6/mystery-guest-questionnaire

Recently a study came out about diversity and faith communities. This followed another report a couple years ago about the fastest growing denomination in North America. Guess who’s at the top?

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-18-Adventists_17_ST_N.htm

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/27/the-most-and-least-racially-diverse-u-s-religious-groups/

Does our church have areas it must improve? Sure, but it also has areas where we can praise the Lord and rejoice. I see three attitudes (or groups) that prevail in our midst:

1.The sky is falling, woe unto us, we can’t do anything right, camp.

2.The we are the remnant church and nothing is wrong, ever, and if there is we ignore it, avoid it or explain it away, camp.

  1. The we have issues, as well as inspiring stories, camp. One of the best ones is pictured above, when I baptized my mother in law, who 25 years ago said: I will never leave my catholic church. (famous last words :)

I don’t know where you would be right now. I pray to be in the third camp. I guess the best place to live  is within a healthy tension where in one hand you rejoice when you see God working and in the other hand you address deficiencies valiantly and decidedly. That’s why we need evangelists to draw us in, pastors to encourage us with good news, and prophets to call us out when we stray.

As I read the news of the diversity I felt three things:

  1. I rejoiced.

I never want to become so jaded with tragedy that I fail to enjoy the triumphs. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. Have we come a long way? Amen!

  1. I celebrated.

All is not awesome. All is not awful. It’s ok to rejoice. We don’t need “yes, but” attitudes. Maybe “yes. But” It’s ok to celebrate what God has done.

  1. I loved it.

We have all given the church grief. Our actions have been less than holy, our words have been less than kind. Conservatives and contemporaries, pastors and laypeople, young and old have fallen short of the glory of God. Yet God gently rebukes while making sure we know how special we are. What if we did the same? What about loving on the church for a while?

What if we used social media this week to speak about a positive story? What if we prayed for our leaders every day? What if we decided that its OK to celebrate God’s sovereignty and blessing?

Let’s give the church some love.

By Brandon Mowry (@miamimusicman)

 

I am not a pastor, but I have been called to ministry.

For all of my life, I’ve been connected to the world of Adventism. I grew up in the church. I attended Adventist schools. I’ve even taken collegiate Bible classes with a room full of future pastors.

I love the church, and I want to serve God.

My calling is different, though.

I’m a minister also, though my set of skills means that my area of ministry is not pastoral care.

I am a musician. And I believe that musicians and pastors must work hand in hand in the spiritual care of the church.

After all, that’s how the children of Israel did it.

The tribe of Levi included both priests and musicians. Both were deemed important enough to the spiritual life of Israel to be supported by the other tribes.

Thus, here are some things I wish pastors would understand.

  1. We can help you.

Everyone has areas of strengths and weaknesses. Pastors are good at preaching and pastoral care. Church musicians are good at knowing what music works for worship. A pastor might find a hymn or praise song that they believe complements their message. However, it may not be right for the congregation. The notes may be unfamiliar. The song may require more vocal technique than the amateur singers in the church can handle (ex.: does one need the range of Pavarotti to sing this song?). If you let us, we can help you find music that fits the theme AND the congregation.

  1. We need details.

 

On a related note, we will be able to better assist you in music selection if we know what the key points of your message are going to be. Rather than giving us a vague topic (ex.: “Our February messages will be about love.”), give us some details about what you want the congregation to take home with them. It will help us immensely as we plan to know what direction you want to take the church in the worship experience. It will also help us feel as though our contribution matters and helps to further the overall direction of the service instead of merely being “entertainment” that is unrelated to the theme.

By the way, we also need to know more information about the service than is often found in the bulletin. Is there going to be an altar call? A baptism at the end? A baby dedication? Do you need “walking music” as the children come forward for their story? Knowing these things in advance can help us to have music ready for these occasions.

  1. Give us enough time to prepare.

It takes time to learn music, especially for amateur musicians. A choir of volunteers cannot simply pick up a sheet of music and sing it perfectly. A praise team needs time to learn vocal parts and figure out the right notes to play. Telling us on Thursday night that you would like a specific song for the Sabbath service is usually going to end up with sub-par results. We want to give our best for God; help us by giving us enough time to prepare.

  1. We should be compensated.

Pastors have spent many years studying ministry techniques, biblical languages, interpretation, theology, and so on. Musicians have likewise spent many years learning about the structure of music, interpretation (classical music should sound different than contemporary music), and how to sing or play our instrument. For many of us, the practice room is our second home (sometimes, it feels like our first home!). We are dedicating a great deal of time to support the ministry of the church. The church should help us put food on our table as well. Pastors are not usually asked to volunteer; musicians shouldn’t be asked to either.

 

  1. Please don’t ask us to break the law.

Many churches today use modern praise music (sometimes known as Contemporary Christian Music, or CCM). Most, if not all, of these songs are still under copyright. Appropriate licenses need to be secured before performing these songs in church. Additional licensing needs to be arranged if the service is to be streamed live over the internet. Please don’t make us steal from our brother and sister musicians who are trying to pay their mortgages based on the royalties that writing these songs provide!

Also, please don’t ask us to photocopy printed music that is still under copyright. It doesn’t save that much money anyway (good paper is expensive), it takes a lot of time (not only are most church copiers VERY slow, one must then organize and staple fifty copies of music), and it’s still stealing, after all.

  1. We need a budget for music ministry.

Many churches set aside a little money for music. Most of the time, it is not enough. Make sure that in your church budget you are including money for licensing fees (see #5), instrument maintenance (when was the last time the pianos in your children’s Sabbath School rooms were tuned?), honorariums for regular or guest musicians (see #4), and sheet music acquisition.

 

  1. We need you to be a model for the congregation.

Picture the scene: the praise team is leading in worship. However, the platform participants behind them are sitting looking bored. The pastor is conferring with the elder next to him about something that may or may not be urgent. What message is the congregation receiving? Most likely, it is that the praise and worship time is not that important. David advises us to make a joyful noise to the Lord. If that’s all you can do, do it with gusto and a smile! Your congregation is looking to you to model worship for them. (PS: This applies to the rest of the service too. An appearance of disinterest will cause the congregation to feel the same.)

We’re not asking for much, right?

Most church musicians want to help fulfill the mission God has given the church using the gifts and talents He gave us.

And, the church will be greatly blessed by having pastors and musicians on the same team.

I love music. I consider myself a supporter of musicians in the church. I don’t subscribe to the doctrine of “you’re doing it for God, so you should give your music and talent away for free”. I also believe musicians, singers, praise and worship leaders can improve. Next week we will have a musician share their side. This week I speak as a pastor, about five things I wish music people would keep in mind:

  1. Please participate in the rest of the service.

I have seen it countless times. The praise team or special music presenter finishes their assignment and instead of sitting down and listening, participating and growing they go outside, set up the sales table, or hang out backstage. I have even had praise and worship leaders start to put away their instruments as I am starting to preach. It’s not over because your part is finished. Stay. Pray. Listen. Grow.

  1. Please don’t preach.

Let’s make a deal. I won’t sing, you don’t preach. This is especially important at events such as camp-meetings, evangelistic series or pretty much every event where there is a time constraint.

  1. Please be clear on what a “love offering” is.

This addresses full or part time paid musicians or worship leaders. Being clear and specific will, in my estimation, eliminate many of the misunderstandings. A love offering for some churches is $50, for others is $500. When the financials are fuzzy in the front end, they usually become complicated in the end. If you do this for a living you deserve a living wage and for people not to take advantage of you. Be clear. While on this topic, don’t call a pastor desperate for a date, have them change their calendar around and then complain when the offering wasn’t what you expected.

  1. Please don’t do the “good morning/I can’t hear you” routine.

It goes something like this: “Good morning everyone. (“good morning” says the congregation) “I can’t hear you, GOOD MORINING (louder and firmer)” The congregation increases the volume. This is usually enough to placate the person with the microphone, except when it doesn’t, where the “good mornings” are followed by “didn’t you eat breakfast this morning?” or the always nice “hasn’t God been good to you”. Here is a tip: Just say good morning, smile, sing your heart out, and end it. We love God. That is not measured by our volume.

  1. Please remember it’s not about you.

I don’t like to cut songs out, but sometimes I have to. I don’t like to cut my sermon, but sometimes I have to. Don’t you hate it when the speaker says “they gave me 30 minutes but I am going to take more?” Its irritating, isn’t it?  Be flexible, be patient and be willing to understand we are all means to an end. We are just the instruments, conduits, channels to spread the Good News. It’s not about you, or me, but Him.

  1. (Bonus) the aftermath

Please don’t insist on selling me the unbought CD’s after the concert. This should be initiated by the host, not insisted upon by the singer.

Next week stay tuned, as the musicians let us know their side. Should be interesting!


If you have spent any time online in social media or otherwise, you have encountered them. They pick fights, they insult, attack and seem they only have one job: to rub you the wrong way. During the recent GC session there were some that made it a point to enter into conflict instead of dialogue. Here are four items to consider, when considering the antagonists in your social media life:

  1. It’s not your job to change their mind.

Engaging antagonists is a waste of time. That is easier said than done. It takes some restraint not respond in kind. It takes much more restraint to not answer at all!

I find myself making two mistakes:

I want people to love me.

I want people to see the light.

Maybe because at one point I was an insensitive, unloving person and God found me, changed me (still is!) that I am hopeful He can do the same for others. I have to accept the fact that while God’s power is unlimited, He has given me the precious gift of boundaries. Boundaries help define your limitations and send a clear message to others about where you stand.

  1. Ask yourself why.

As always, questions to yourself about yourself are helpful. Especially questions that start with “why”.

Why the fixation on antagonists? I ask myself that question often.

Here are some others:

Why do I try to change people’s minds despite the continuous and copious examples to the contrary? Why do I struggle with criticism? Why do I think it’s my job to change others and save the world? Why do I feel that I have to respond at all?

Spend some time talking to God about this today. Maybe it’s because my identity is so tied up in what I do and what I believe that any criticism is seen as an affront to my core. I propose a better way. Wrap yourself up in Christ. Your identity is Him. Him! God likes you. That should be sufficient. Why isn’t it?

  1. Understand the main difference between a hater and a true friend.

I don’t want to be surrounded with yes-men (or women). I want to have friends that will call me out when they see a mistake, sin or slippery slope. True friends have three things in common:

It’s private. They don’t assume the worst. They prefer private conversation instead of public argumentation.

It’s helpful. They don’t only point out where you might be in error, they offer to stand by you as they provide solutions.

It’s balanced. They address you not only when you mess up, but often provide affirmation and congratulations.

Haters are none of the above. They relish public argumentation, care more about their case than you and usually comment only when they need to make a correction.

  1. You can see the other side without needless confrontation.

Here is another why. Why do you think it’s YOU who must confront, change and connect with people that only are looking for fights not relationships? You can read all about the other position without needless confrontation.

Hoping for a better way forward. Anyone can be a Christian. Not everyone can be a disciple.

John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

The vote is in. The global church has voted not to allow Divisions to ordain. Since the decision, personal friends who are godly women who serve in full time ministry positions have expressed disappointment and hurt at both the decision and the reaction following the decision. I want to take some time this morning to let my sisters who minister the following three things:

  1. I want you to know you are admired.

Your work does not go unnoticed. Even though the vote yesterday was not about women in ministry (we have and will continue to have them) some have taken to the internet and social media to attack and gloat. This might seem like a direct devaluing of your calling and ministerial aptitude. I am proud of your accomplishments and being able to put up with people that speak first and think later. Your reaction of grace, unity and forgiveness in the midst of the turbulence has been inspiring.

  1. I want you to know you are valued.

It is human nature to be discouraged when something that appears so clear is not understood by others. It is in times like these that you must remember who called you, why and for what. Whatever resources and support you may need, please don’t hesitate to connect. You matter. You are important, crucial, and valuable.

  1. I want you to know I am praying for you.

This is not platitudes. I mean it. Know that today I will lift up your ministry, family and faith to the throne of heaven. Simply stated, prayer helps us get through hard times. You have spoken to disappointed people often in ministry. Remember those counsels as you communicate with your father today.

 

I love my church. Even when I don’t agree with it, it’s my church and will continue to be my church. I understand that people on both sides of the issue will read this note. Will you join me in praying for women in ministry today?

I have a burden for church planting. After being involved in it for most of my ministry, I haven’t found many other better ways of growing the kingdom. Advent Project is a new church plant in San Antonio. I visited with my family last Sabbath and here are my impressions.

  1. Intentional guest process. You would be amazed at how many churches have no intentional strategy to assimilate, welcome and connect with guests. The moment you arrive at Advent Hope you are met at the door by Millennials who welcome you with a smile. Then two more invited us to join their Sabbath School (it’s called Essentials). They did not just tell us where to go, they went with us, and showed us to our seats. The whole service walked the fine line with guests:

They did not overwhelm us.

They did not ignore us.

  1. Apologetics. It was clear by their literature, discussions and message that the leadership team valued making sure we engage both mind and heart. We met a young man who ate lunch with us. He shared that he was a PHD Student at a university close by. He was searching for God, started reading his bible and looked online for a church that worshiped on Sabbath. He found AP. Has been attending ever since. Another guest used to be an atheist, now comes regularly. It’s no secret why they have gone from 12 to over 50 in 7 months. They take seriously the things the bible takes seriously and they don’t the ones the bible does not.
  2. Use of media. Their website is modern and attractive, their literature/brochure is as well. It doesn’t look from the 90’s and that’s awesome. Here, take a look: http://adventproject.com/#/home/home How many church websites look like that?

This is a church to keep an eye on. If you want to connect with the pastor, here is his twitter: https://twitter.com/PastorGabePerea

When will you plant? Here is their desire:

We believe in…

Creativity over complacency.

Relationships over results.

Prayer over programs.

Christ above all else.