Thursday, June 26, 2014


Growing churches hire evangelists, not just pastors

I think every healthy church needs both evangelists and pastors.  I believe there is Biblical evidence for churches supporting people in those roles.  It is healthy for a church to have shepherds.  They may be men who serve as elders, or they may be widows, or they may be parents.  They may be older men and women who mentor/teach younger men and women.

Pastors help churches grow spiritually.  They help Christians thru the difficult times of sickness and death.  They give spiritual advice and counsel for those battling sin and temptation.  They help people overcome their sin and failure.  They help warn of spiritual dangers.

But I don't think Pastors grow churches.  They may keep a church healthy and thriving spiritually.  Good pastors may keep a church from losing members.  They may be the key to not having a dying church.  But they do not grow a church.

Evangelists grow churches.  Evangelists do not have to be older and spiritually more mature.  Pastors/shepherds do.  Every Christian is an evangelist the moment they are born again into the Kingdom of God.  Some men and women are gifted evangelists.  I believe there is Biblical evidence to support evangelists/missionaries/reachers of the lost.

They grow churches.  They lead people to Jesus. They inspire people to talk to friends and neighbors.  They help new Christians tell their story to friends and family.  And bringing new people to Jesus is how churches grow.

So if you want your church not to die, have lots of pastors.

If you want your church to grow, have lots of evangelists.

If you want your church to be growing and healthy, you better have both.

And most of our churches hire pastors.  Very few hire evangelists.

So if you are worried about why your church is not growing ... take a look at where you spend your money.  Most of us are spending our staff money on pastors.  And not all of them would be pastors as described in Scripture.  Nor are many of them evangelists.

But be careful about changing this pattern.  If you start hiring evangelists, then you are going to have a lot of new Christians that need shepherding.  It would mean that parents will have to take responsibility for the spiritual care of their kids.  Church elders would have to meet less and shepherd more instead of letting the staff do it.

But if you really want a growing church...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Just Don't Quit...

I spend a lot of time dealing with sin.

Personally, as a preacher, and as an elder.

I look back at some of my personal struggles and wonder how come it was so hard to defeat the "sin demons" in my life.  And as a preacher, I find myself giving advice ... over and over and over again about the same thing.  Even as an elder, I have sheep who struggle with the same temptation for years.

Sometimes people ask me why I am willing to spend so much time with them when they can't seem to get it right.  Addictions, marriage problems, anger issues.  I have literally helped friends battle the same issue for years.  Years.

Sometimes I look at my own life and try to figure out what it was that finally helped my break free from the same old struggle.

Maybe you've been there.  Working.  Praying.  Vowing to quit.  Or vowing to start.  Or promising God you will do better.

And I think I have identified one of the keys to becoming a mature Christian.  Here is the answer to how to have a better marriage.  Here is how to break free of your addictions.  Here is how to find healing, deliverance, and restoration.

Here is the thing I look for in deciding to spend hours/years helping people.

Never give up.  Don't quit.  Keep trying.

That's it.

The battle is only lost when you retreat.

It's pretty hard for Jesus to do much in your life when you give up.

Never surrender.  Keep fighting the battle.

And one day it works.  There are lots of reasons why it takes some of us longer than others to get it together.  But the one common factor is that we never gave up.  Never quit.

So here is my spiritual word for today to those of you who seem to be on an endless treadmill of sin and struggle.

Don't quit.  Keep repenting.  Keep asking God to forgive.  Intentionally live forgiven.  Keep getting help.

And one day it works.  Someday the battle is won.

Just don't quit before the finish line.

And thanks God for not quitting on me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Why I Don't Like Church Buildings

Most people that know me know that I am not a huge fan of church buildings.  But obviously most churches are huge fans.  Almost every church I know has just finished, is in the middle of, or is about to start a building campaign.  Here are some reasons I worry about our "edifice" complex.

We spend a lot of the Lord's money on bricks and mortar that really cannot be used much for kingdom business.  I know we all dedicate our buildings to the Lord... but is it really a smart way to use our resources? Youth complexes that are used just a few hours per week.  Children's wings that are used maybe twice per week.  Big auditoriums that are used once per week (and rarely more than three times).  Any church that has to say no to missions or helping those in need because of building projects and upkeep is sending a strong message about priorities.

And buildings are mainly for us.  Selfish ministries and projects seem to contradict the way Jesus did ministry.  
Buildings encourage a "come and get it" mentality instead of a "go and share it" passion.

Buildings enable a mindset that sees Sunday morning assembly (and class) as the focus of church life and ministry.

Buildings discourage real fellowship.  And our auditoriums make it very difficult to have communion together.

Buildings really lend themselves to an entertainment model of church life.

And buildings don't last.  Every church building I know will not survive forever.  Church will, buildings won't.

And as much as we say that we know the difference... buildings are often confused with the church.  Holy sanctuary instead of holy lives.

Buildings make it easy to show up, shut up, and never grow up.

So am I against any kind of church buildings?  Nope.  I live in a church building.  Except we call it our home.  We are church and our living room is a place where our everyday worship is lived out.  Kingdom business happens around our kitchen table and in our living room.  On our back porch.

And I think the next great wave of church growth will happen in our homes, not in our buildings.

Maybe worth thinking about.  And praying about.

Where your treasure is will be where your heart is.

And maybe that is why so many Christians love their church buildings.  It is where we have put our treasure.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


My brother Rigoberto Vargas is home for good...

Rigo was one of those guys you just hit it off with.  His English was not real good, tho better than my Spanish.  But we managed to communicate pretty well.  He was a preacher in Honduras and helped out with a number of our Herald of Truth Central America projects.  He was a graduate of Baxter Institute and his real passion was prison ministry.  There are five active congregations that meet in the national prison system of Honduras.  Rigo is the one God used to plant those churches.

Two of my most vivid spiritual memories happened when I was with Rigo.  One of them was preaching on Easter Sunday in the prisons.  Talking about Jesus, watching Rigo talking to his friends in the prison, seeing them baptized into Christ.

The other was in the Juvenile prison when we baptized almost 20 young men into Christ.  Watching Rigo act as a father figure, seeing his love for the Lord and for those kids, listening to him asking their story as he baptized them.

And he cared about them when they were released from prison.  Rigo worked with the Reinsertion church of Christ, made up mostly of ex-offenders and families of prisoners.  I've preached there several times also.  Many of the congregations in Honduras have preachers that were converted by Rigo while they were incarcerated.

Rigo and I loved a lot of the same things:  eating at Pizza Hut, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and dogs.

But we also shared a love of Jesus, a love of lost people, and a love for those trying to follow Jesus in hard circumstances.  We shared a passion for our world to know Jesus.

One of our favorite phrases was "work, work, work."  And he did for the Kingdom.  Every day.

He was sick most of last year.  Seriously ill.  But he was doing better we thought.  I was with him for a few days about a week before he died.  We talked about Jesus, we made plans for projects to reach them, we ate together, laughed together, prayed together.

And someday we will live together for ever.

See you then Rigo.  I'll keep work, work, working, for both of us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


And now it's Bobby's birthday...

So last Saturday was Bobby Gilbreth's birthday.  Bobby is married to our daughter Julie.  And is my custom, here are some reasons why I love Bobby.

He prays with Jake and Avery every morning when he drops them off at school.

He had a Bible verse embroidered on the caps of Jake's baseball team that he coaches.

He he unfailingly patient, encouraging, and gentle with every player on the team.

He treats every kid the same, just like he treats Jake.  Tho if you know him well, he may get a little more excited when Jake gets a hold of one.

He is President of their Little League this year.  It really is a position of service for him, not one of power.

I have heard some harsh things said around the ball field.  When I ask him about it, he never speaks ill of the person.  He instead points out some good quality -- even if the only one he can think of is that at least they came to support their kid.

He really does remember it is about the kids.

I got to pray over Bobby on his birthday.  Our whole family was down at the lake for some time together and we all prayed for him. So just like last Saturday... I thank God for Bobby.  I pray that God will bless him as he grows in his faith.  I pray that he will lead his family in paths of righteousness.  I pray he, Julie, Jake, and Avery continue being blessed.  I pray that God uses Bobby in ways that we haven't even thought of yet.

So Bobby... here's to another year of Jesus, family, baseball, and fun.

I love you.

Thursday, June 05, 2014


Thoughts from my Dad's funeral

Most of you know by now that my Dad died just over a week ago.  He died on a Sunday morning -- just about the time we were singing the song Someday at Southern Hills.  I thought that fitting when I heard the news.  Buried him on Wednesday of last week.  And here are a few thoughts from his funeral.

He made a difference for the Kingdom in this world.  There were at least 6 men who had served as elders that told me Dad was their model of what an elder should be.  And at least that many missionaries and preachers who talked about the encouragement and support given by him.  There were people there who are Christians today because of his influence.  Lots of people who called him Daddy, Uncle Joe, and Pap.  They were all part of his extended family.

Friends matter at times like these.  There were people from my sister's church who came.  The turnout from my folk's church was amazing.  Especially when you consider that they have not been involved for at least four years because of Dad's Alzheimer's.  And I was amazed at the support from my friends.  Elder buddies who drove four hours one way from Abilene just to support us.  Close friends from Abilene and close friends from when we were raising kids together.  Best friends from childhood days.  Sons in the faith.  All there to love, support, and bear witness to a life well lived.

Generational faith is so powerful.  My Dad was committed to following Jesus.  His greatest legacy is that he passed that down thru the generations.  My son Joe Don and I did the funeral.  I kept reflecting on the fact that the Joe Ridgell a generation ahead of me was a man of God, and the Joe Don Ridgell a generation after me is a man of God.  Faith passed thru his children, his grandchildren, and it is being now passed on to his great-grandkids.  Lasting legacy.

We were also celebrating my Mom.  One of my Dad's "sons", Jerry Christian, led the singing.  I remember him talking about how he always thought of my parents together, never separately.  65 years of faithful marriage.  Not perfect, but always striving to honor God.  Faithful witness.

And I must really look like my Dad.  Every time I tried to introduce myself, the person would say they knew exactly who I was because I look just like my Dad.  Even long time friends I hadn't seen in a while knew me instantly.  Because I look just like Dad.  Even all the relatives in Arkansas who haven't seen me much knew who I was.

And here's what I realized.  It's pretty cool to look like your Dad.  But way more than I want to look like him, I want to be like him.

So we put him to rest.  We looked at the face that belonged to his earthly body.  He is seeing the face of God.  We will too.

Because he taught us to believe in the one who is the Resurrection and the Life.

So till then... well done Pap.  See you soon.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


Julie's birthday...

Our daughter Julie turned 38 Sunday.  And yes, she knows I will put her age on here.  Like all the women in our family, she doesn't get hung up on age.  After all, it is just a number.  There are so many reasons I am proud of Julie, but here a few of them.

She is a faith fighter.  By that, I mean that she never quits and never gives up on her faith.  It has been a hard three years for her health-wise.  She struggled with a lot of misdiagnosis and mystery symptoms.  But she hung in there.  Kept praying.  Kept believing God would get her thru.  Lived Philippians 4 and worked hard to give her worries to God.

And he answered her prayers.  She is well on the road to recovery and feeling better than she has in a long time.  Still tests to go, still praying, but here is why I am proud of her.  She thanks God constantly thru for the good.  Asking God to heal is an act of faith.  So is thanking him when he does.

She is a great Mom.  I watched her last summer when her son Jake had Kawasaki disease.  She prayed, loved, cried when he couldn't see, and ignored her health to focus on him.  And I love the way she is molding Avery.  Raising kids to have faith.

I watched her this past week at my Dad's funeral.  Saw her care for my Mom, saw her taking care of Marsha, saw her with her brother, and with her cousins.  Saw her cry.  Saw her faith that we will be together again.  Loved her for worrying about how I was doing.

Love her heart to share Jesus.  She cares about those who are hurting.  She believes Jesus is the answer.  And she tells people that.  Invites them into God's story.

She is a great nurse.  Mostly because she really cares about the kids at her school.  And they love her.

So much of her Granny and her Mom in her.  And I love that.

I am proud and blessed to be her Dad.

Love you Jules and so glad to see what God is doing in you and in your family.

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