Invisible Fruit

The Brammers and the Millers

45 years of Ministry

Do you ever look back over your years of ministry and wonder what it all means? In recent months, nearing retirement and looking back over our years of ministry has made me reflect on its significance. My father, Ray Allen, pastored churches for 45 years from the 1940’s to the 1980’s. This summer also marks 45 years of mission ministry for my husband and me as well. If you’re feeling discouraged in ministry today, I hope my reflections will encourage you as much as they have encouraged me.

Right now, Art and I are traveling through Northwest America on what will probably be our last regular furlough. We’re visiting churches who have been hit hard by Covid and other stressful circumstances over the last few years. Our travels have also given me opportunity to visit some of the churches that my dad pastored so long ago. Some are in serious decline, but I found a delightful surprise in a church I’ve never been in before.

My Dad pastored his first church in the tiny town of Worthing, South Dakota in the 1940’s. When Art suggested we visit this church, I wondered if it would be worth it. The church no longer met in the same building as in the 1940’s and I wouldn’t know anyone. Why should we drive out of our way and give up a furlough Sunday to see a church my dad pastored before I was born? But what I found touched me deeply.

We drove up to the storefront church building on main street and went in to meet Jerry and Crystal Miller, Continental Baptist Missions missionaries who were revitalizing the church. Soon we sat in the second row, just a few seats away from a man named Mick. Pastor Jerry opened the service by introducing us to the congregation of about 25 people. My mom, he said, led Mick’s mom to the Lord 80 years ago! Lorraine, Mick’s mom, is now 94 and lives in a retirement home in town. She still remembers my parents.

Tears streamed down my face as I realized that my parents’ ministry lives on, 80 years after Dad pastored the Worthing church, 33 years after he passed on to glory. It lives on in Lorraine, and her son Mick who grew up in a Christian home because his mom came to Christ during their ministry.

Dad’s ministry in Worthing was unusually fruitful. Though about a hundred people attended the church when Dad became their pastor, only 4 had assurance of salvation. The previous pastor had preached about salvation, but never challenged people to actually go ahead and make a salvation decision. In Dad’s first year there, 65 people were saved! Imagine the trickle-down effect those initial decisions made in the families and friends of those 65 people who just needed a little encouragement to become saved.

And that was just the beginning of my parents’ ministry. Over 45 years, my parents influenced hundreds of lives. As a result, many were saved and grew in the faith. Lives changed as my parents offered biblical counsel. My parents mentored couples as they got started in ministry. As my parents became true friends of their people, some of their hearts rubbed off on others. Their lives mattered.

Are you discouraged today because your best efforts to serve the Lord are producing little visible fruit? Take comfort in this precious promise.

 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:58. (NKJV)

 We need to grab a hold of this promise because, when we don’t see visible results, it’s easy to get discouraged. We give our lives hoping to make an eternal difference. When we can see God working mightily, it’s easy to keep going. It’s always easier to remain faithful to God if we can see some evidence of the effectiveness of our ministry. But when we don’t see spiritual change in the lives of those we serve, it’s easy to give up.

We need to remember that the Lord often works in ways we can’t see. When a person “suddenly” gets saved, most often it’s the result of a variety of people praying, planting seeds, and being faithful friends. Other life changes also take time. The changes may seem sudden, but may be caused by the Lord’s quiet work in them over many years. God may be using us to do his work in them. When we see change, that makes all our efforts worthwhile. When we don’t see change, we still need to be faithful.

Today take courage in God’s promise. Our labor is not in vain. Even when we see few visible results.

May the Lord bring you fresh encouragement today. God sees your work and He is working even when you can’t see it.

Your work matters.

“For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward his name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” Hebrews 6:10 (NKJV)

How to gift a Kindle ebook

Does this Christmas season leave you worried about the $$ you’re spending or searching for s gift for the person who has everything?

Here’s an idea that:

  • Is inexpensive
  • Is easy to wrap
  • Is available immediately
  • Doesn’t cost for shipping
  • Doesn’t clutter your home
  • Fits inside a Christmas stocking
  • Provides hours of pleasure
  • Moves the heart in a way that honors God

What gift could fit all these descriptions? If you guessed “a Christian ebook” you’re absolutely right. My husband and I love to give ebooks for all these reasons. It’s also a great way to support authors.

Don’t know how to do it? It’s easy. To buy a Kindle book to gift to others, this is all you do:

  • Sign in to your Amazon account
  • Bring the book you want to gift up on your screen
  • Click “buy for others” on the far right of your screen
  • Fill in the information
  • Click on “buy now” and you’re done!

Want something to wrap up or slip into a stocking? Here’s a copy of a stocking stuffer printout I used for my book Short Poppies. You can print out this image on letter size paper if you want to gift this book, but you can also change this image by cropping out the cover of Short Poppies and replacing it with another book. Or make your own image that fits on the top of a letter size paper. (After printing, trim the extra paper off.) Copying the cover of a book to use in this way doesn’t violate copyright laws. Just click on the image, right click, and copy image.

May the Lord bless you and your family as you seek to honor him this Christmas.

Christmas Season for Ministry Couples

I often hear complaints on Facebook about how early stores begin decorating for Christmas and selling products for it. Somehow, it seems like a silly thing to complain about. People can always walk on by and focus on something else. Some people appreciate the early Christmas roll-out because they need to ship presents to loved ones who live far from them. Crafters may need to start projects so they will have time to enjoy Christmas when it comes. Some just enjoy decorating for Christmas early because they love decorating. Where’s the harm?

Maybe I see this differently because I’m an overseas missionary who lives in a country that celebrates Christmas with far less fanfare than America does. My husband, Art, and I have lived in New Zealand now for twenty-five years. Since it doesn’t get dark until about 10 p.m. at Christmas in our city, most people don’t bother putting Christmas lights on their homes. Though New Zealanders cook up a grand Christmas dinner, they don’t decorate nearly as much as Americans. I suppose most countries don’t decorate as much as America does. Some people object to an emphasis on decorating at a time when Christ’s birth should be first and foremost, but I love the decorations. I love it all.

Since our youngest daughter left home early in 2000, our family has only been together for four Christmases. We fly back to America for furlough on November 17, so this year will be the fifth Christmas together. We can’t wait to be together again. We love to cut snowflakes, decorate gingerbread houses and Christmas trees, and drive by lighting displays at night. This year we hope to attend some Christmas programs our grandsons are in. One of my daughters and I share birthdays close to Christmas and that gets thrown into the mix as well. Our other daughter’s church hosts a live nativity scene and lighting outreach each year and this year we get to help. (Maybe they want us to be camels or donkeys??) So. Much. Fun!

Most years we are in charge of the Christmas activities for our New Zealand church. In 1998 our daughter, Lori, played the parts of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future in my play “No Room for Jesus.” I found ways to include nearly all of our church children and teens in the play, as well as the church choir and a few adults. In more recent years, parents haven’t been as eager to help their kids memorize parts or bring them to practices. It works better to keep it simple: Choir song, gospel message, Christmas Dinner. At first, I found these changes hard to accept. As we moved from an evening program with many participants and a fellowship afterward to a very small program and a dinner, it felt wrong. It felt like no one cared about the programs I worked so hard on, that many just came for the food. On the other hand, this newer model made it much easier for me since I always lead the programs. Most of our church people lead extremely busy lives and driving kids to practices and helping kids memorize lines just adds to that. Having a big dinner together seems to be more what Asians do than children reciting parts, and we have many Asians in our church. I had to accept that our church had changed in many ways over the last twenty-five years. We’ve had to flex with it and find new ways to do ministry.

What’s happening in your church? If you look back a decade or two, you’ve probably had to make changes as well. If you’ve had to simplify Christmas programs and services, you’re not alone. I can tell this from the hits on my website. Every year they multiply rapidly from September to December because people in ministry are searching for ways to involve their church people in an effective outreach. After decades of presenting the Christmas message every year, they are looking for something that gives a fresh slant to Christmas.

I offer nine programs on my website.  Eight of them are free. I also offer three Christmas puppet scripts. They vary greatly in the range of difficulty. Which ones do you think get the most hits?

“Christmas Disaster,” the only program you have to order from a publisher, is a longer play with a few parts that have many memorized lines. At the opposite end of the level of difficulty, “Sounds of Christmas,” a re-enactment of the Christmas story that involves audience participation with rhythm instruments, has no parts to rehearse. If you guessed the simple program gets the most hits, you’re correct. “Sounds of Christmas gets more hits and comments than the others, partly because it is unusual, but also because it takes little work to organize. Sometimes we just have to keep it simple.

The Christmas season is busy and hectic for many people in ministry. For others it means being lonely and far from family. Either way, it can be challenging. We need to balance the ministry expectations of ourselves and others with joy of the season and rejuvenation.  Of course, we all need to focus our thoughts on Christ’s gift of salvation during this season. Christmas gives us unique outreach opportunities. Family and friends are important. But most of us also need to search out some quiet time to rest.

Where can you find that quiet time in a noisy season? How can you rest when your to-do lists seem endless?

We need to make time for rest, and that means different things to different people. My husband and I put jigsaw puzzles together, watch a Christmas movie, and read Christian novels on our e-readers when we need rest. I’m always looking for a new author to follow.

If you’re looking for a new Christian author, right now I’m in a promo with fourteen other Christian authors. If you enjoy reading, consider these Free Clean Christian Reads that will help you find new authors. You’ll find two of mine in this “Light in the Darkness” promotion. All books are free in exchange for joining the author’s newsletter.

Comment below to tell us what your biggest ministry challenge is during this year’s Christmas season. What activities do you do to rest your body, mind and spirit?

 

 

My New Fiction Book about Ministry

If you’re a fiction reader, maybe, like me, you’d like to read a novel about ordinary people in ministries like yours. That kind of book would interest me and since there’s so few of them, I decided to write some. All three of the books in my New Beginnings series are about Americans partnering with New Zealanders in small church ministry. Today I’m going to share what kind ministry themes you’ll find in these books.

 

Short Poppies

Last December I launched Book 1 in my New Beginnings series, Short Poppies.

What’s it about? New Zealand sounds more like a tourist destination than a mission field, but when Levi is thrust into a short term ministry there, things aren’t as easy as he expected.

These themes are explored in Short Poppies:

  • Finding God’s will in marriage and career
  • The differences in leadership styles for big and small churches
  • How to measure your ministry when you see few results
  • Servant leadership

I am waiting until Book 3 is published before I release the print book, but you can buy the ebook version of Short Poppies here for 99 cents during September 2022. (Sometimes Amazon raises the price a bit, and authors have no control over that.)

Give It a Go

This week I’ve released Book 2 in the series, Give It a Go.

 What’s it about? Pastor Greg needs a new wife, but how can he begin to date when he lives in the goldfish bowl of a mission church, ten thousand miles away from his home in America?

These themes are explored in Give It a Go.

  • Finding God’s will when life changes direction
  • Being sensitive to God’s leading in relationships
  • The need for accountability and encouragement (Isolation is dangerous.)
  • Taking risks and stepping out in faith

I am waiting until Book 3 is published before I release the print book, but you can buy the ebook of Give It a Go here.

Pop In for a Cuppa

I have already written the first draft for this book and hope to release it in 2023.

What’s it about? At fifty-two, Jennifer has never felt called to missions, but dating veteran missionary Greg Fischer makes her rethink almost every area of her life.

In this book, Jennifer chooses to work with two women from very different backgrounds.  One of the women has escaped from Gloriavale.

In 2019 my husband and I became aware of a couple of families who had left Gloriavale, a “Christian cult” commune, had become Christians, and were attending a sister church of ours. We began to pray for others to leave the commune and find true salvation by faith alone. This year, after finishing my first draft, Gloriavale has been thrust into the media spotlight. Right now the court is considering a second case that challenges whether the residents, who give all their income to the church and work almost like slaves, should be treated as employees or volunteers. You can read more about it in this article, one of many on the topic.

The Joys of Small Church Ministry


My Experience in Small Church Ministry

 Back in the 1970’s, as a student at Faith Baptist Bible College, I was part of a debate team that debated the benefits of small churches versus large churches. I don’t know if a winning side was declared, but I came away feeling like our team won. Of course, large churches have their own advantages, but I had grown up in small churches. None of them had an attendance of over 150 people. Some had less than 100. I knew from experience that small churches often provided more opportunities to serve than large churches.

As a teenager, I taught Bible stories to kids, played the piano for church, helped with children’s church, and sang in church choir. My pastor dad started several churches during those years and I didn’t just sit on the sidelines. I got to do stuff.

My husband and I served as missionaries in Taiwan from 1980 to 1996. We learned to speak Taiwanese and we helped start two Chinese churches. In that ministry I not only taught ESL Bible classes, I wrote lessons which continue to be used today as ESL ministries download them off my website. That was small church ministry, but it was quite different from the average American ministry.

Since 1998 my husband and I have served as pastor and wife of a mission church in New Zealand.  This ministry is a lot like small church ministry in the States. I got to start our Discovery Club from scratch, and direct Christmas programs and puppet shows which I wrote. During our “What a World of Wonders” theme, Art and I got to dress of as an Egyptian Pharoah and princess. For the short time they were living at home, our daughters got to do stuff at church too. Lori led our puppet team for a year and a half.

Why wouldn’t you want to do stuff?

 Serving the Lord is a privilege. Why wouldn’t every Christian want to do stuff for God in a church ministry? God equips us with spiritual gifts to serve him. He prepares us for ministry and leads us to opportunities to serve him that make a difference. Yes, we need to balance the areas of our life, but It makes no sense to throw all that away when we can seize the opportunities before us.

 Benefits of Small Church Ministry

While small churches don’t fit everyone, this is what I see. Working with small churches is a very personal ministry. You can get to know, at least to some degree, every person who attends church regularly. The pastor and his wife know every child or teenager and have a personal relationship with them. Several of our church people in New Zealand have told us something like this: “Our children will always remember you. You’ve taught them a lot of things that have changed their lives.” Words like this make serving in church ministry worth all the effort.

Encouragement for Small Church Ministry

Of course, all churches have ups and downs. Maybe you’re in one of those down times and you see few visible results for your ministry. How can you stay encouraged at times like this?

In my book, Short Poppies, Levi comes to work in a small church ministry in New Zealand. His background in ministry is very different from this mission ministry and he has to deal with several issues that are common in small church ministry. One question haunts him from the beginning: How can I be sure my ministry is effective if I can’t measure it?

At the risk of spoiling the plot, I’ll give you a pastor’s answer: Pouring your life into people is always worthwhile, whether you can measure the results or not.

If that’s not enough, remember God’s promise in 1 Corinthians 15:58. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (NKJV) As we do God’s work in his way, he is using our labor, even when we don’t see visible results from it.

Short Poppies, Book 1 in my New Beginnings series, deals with small church issues on a mission field similar in many ways to the US. It is available during September 2022 for 99 cents. See my next blog when I launch Book 2 on September 22.

You can buy Short Poppies here  on Amazon and here at other online stores. (I have set the price at .99, but sometimes Amazon changes prices on authors without notification. Thanks for understanding if the price is slightly higher.)

How about you?

Which of these ministries have you performed in a small church setting on a regular basis? How do you keep the joy in your ministry?

  1. Preached a sermon
  2. Taught a class
  3. Played the piano or another instrument
  4. Led game time
  5. Served as a Deacon, Trustee, or other church officer
  6. Entertained groups in your home
  7. Provided transportation to church activities