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You are Needed on the Mission Field

designWouldn’t it be great to pastor or attend the perfect church? Imagine a church where everyone loves the Lord, loves each other and loves the pastor! Everyone is a tithe-paying member. Everyone attends every worship service and everyone always volunteers for every ministry opening. Too many nursery workers, not enough work to go around on church workdays and everyone agrees on the kind of music we sing.

This may sound like the perfect church, but this side of heaven, it will never happen.

The truth is, we are not called to the perfect church; we are called to the mission field. Our communities are full of hurting people. The people attending our churches have been hurt by life. They are far from perfect. God did not ask us to find people who have it all together, He told us to find the sick and minister to them. Jesus Himself had to clarify his mission: Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The church is not a gathering of perfect people – it is a place of hope for the hurting.

We make a mistake when we expect our place of service to be easy. When we get frustrated with the sinful nature of the people we serve, we misunderstand the call into ministry. Your town is your mission field. The county where your church is located is your harvest. If everyone in the city limits already knows the Lord, you can feel free to move on. However, God never calls a missionary where everyone already knows Him. Working for God in today’s culture is hard work and sometimes frustrating. But “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:24)

You are needed right where you are. Those within walking distance of your church need Jesus. Broken families and rebellious teenagers and strung out street people need the Lord. Successful businessmen and lonely homemakers and hopeless senior citizens need Jesus. THEY are our mission field!

Please don’t undervalue the people you serve. God loves your community. He has placed you where you are and He expects you to love them as well.

You are called for a purpose. Jesus asks you to join Him in His Mission. You are needed in the mission field – in the mission field where you are right now.


Gotta’ Keep the Preacher Hungry

designA long time ago, there was a wicked little statement going around some churches that indicated that it was to the benefit of the church members to keep their pastor poor. Sometimes used as a joke, there were cases where no one was laughing.

I absolutely believe that purposefully keeping anyone in poverty is evil – but that is not the focus of this article.

Preachers need to stay hungry. By “hungry” I mean having a strong desire or craving. If I do without a meal or two, I feel it. My empty stomach complains and I start focusing on my next meal. As in any line of work it is easy to become complacent in ministry. Pastors can become apathetic toward their calling. This isn’t because they are lazy or otherwise unfit for the ministry. We simply get weary. And sometimes disappointment can lead to stagnation. When we don’t see progress like we envisioned, it is easy to allow discouragement to cloud our passion. This discouragement morphs into impassivity.

Preachers – stay hungry! We can’t do what God called us to do if we are bored with our calling.

We stay passionate when we:

  • Keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t get sidetracked with peripheral stuff. Know what God called you to do and do it.
  • Stay in close relationship with colleagues. Isolation is dangerous and lone wolves get outnumbered.
  • Practice the spiritual disciplines. Pray. Read Scripture (outside of ministry preparation), fast and give.
  • Read. If you don’t have time to read current books and articles on ministry, you may dry up.
  • Access resources: conferences, podcasts and live video feeds can be a great source of inspiration.
  • Take time off. Sabbath is not a suggestion – it is a Command.
  • Regularly renew your experience with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that keeps us passionate for the work we do. Stay in His presence.
  • When you feel yourself growing cold – pursue God. We don’t stay hungry for ministry by pursuing ministry. We must pursue God!
  • Know that regardless of how talented you are or how hard you work, you simply cannot be effective in ministry with the power of God at work in you. This keeps us hungry for Him!

Here is the main point I am making: it’s normal to lose your hunger! It happens to everyone. You can’t do ministry very long without struggling to stay passionate. But we don’t have to stay in that rut. It is not a crime to lose your drive but lasting indifference is preventable.

There are a lot of really good pastors who stop producing – because their fire has dimmed. Don’t let it happen to you; and if it has already happened, stoke the fires of passion again!

Preachers – stay hungry!


If You Want It, Focus On It

designWhile the above title may appear oversimplified, in essence, it is true. If you wish to accomplish or attain something, you usually must pay close attention to that thing and determine ways to acquire it. This is a point worthy of consideration but it is not my main point today.

Assuming the title is true, and using deductive reasoning, you get what you focus on.

If I focus on a friend’s flaws, the way my neighbor offended me, or reasons why I can’t be successful – well – that is what I am going to get.

This happens with ministries, churches and Christian leaders. It is so easy to focus on things that actually distract us from what we should be concentrating upon. When a leader can’t accomplish a task because their predecessor messed up, they are focusing on failure. When a church squabbles over music style or budgets, they focus on division. Politics, pet projects, even traditions, even though good and necessary, can rob us of our focus on the most important issues of life.

What should we want badly enough to focus upon?

While you must seek for God’s direction in order to discover your specific divine purpose (and yes, I believe that every person is born with one), we must decide today what is worthy of our attention. Let me ask you: that thing you are focusing on…

Does it bring lasting fulfillment and satisfaction to you?

Does is reflect the heart of God?

Does it offer hope?

Does it impact eternity?

If the answer is no, it’s probably not worthy of your attention.

My opinion about focus-worthy issues is narrow. I believe the New Testament indicates that our priority must be the salvation of souls. If it is not directly related to winning people to Christ, I should limit my focus. The Mission of making Disciples of Jesus is our primary task.

Say no to any distraction, even if it is a good thing, if it pulls you away from your honorable and God-given goals.

Be stubborn about your purpose and life’s mission. Refuse to take your eyes off of the prize. Invest your time, energy, brainpower and money in something that matters – forever.

If you focus on it, chances are you’ll end up with it.

 


The Obstacle Course We Call “Marriage”

designThe adventure enthusiasts among us may have participated in a “mud run”, “Tough Mudder” or an obstacle course race. The idea is complete the course in as little time as possible, without killing yourself. The race doesn’t take place on a smooth track; in fact the race is set up in some of the most miserable conditions possible. There are walls to climb, mud holes to crawl through, ladders to scale and ropes from which to swing. Sounds like fun, huh? For thrill seekers, these events are hugely popular. And rumor has it that physical therapists appreciate the extra business as well!

Marriage can be analogous to an obstacle course. The race starts at the wedding altar and proceeds, almost immediately, through a series of mud holes, which try their best to stop the race. As time passes, the hurdles become higher and the obstructions become more dangerous. Those who are expecting an easy experience are in for a shock. And those who aren’t committed to overcoming obstacle after obstacle will not make it to the end. Successful married couples learn to navigate, together, through even the most treacherous of traps. We suppose the only thing that could make an adventure race more difficult would be if the race involved carrying another person. Welcome to marriage!

Below are some of the obstacles that can make marriage more difficult:

Families of origin and diverse cultural expectations. How you were raised has major impact of your expectations in marriage.

Misaligned self-esteem. If you think too much or two little of yourself, marriage will be challenging.

Cultural distortions. With changing definitions, things get confusing.

Poor examples. Be careful who you model your marriage after.

Changing physiology. As we age, well you know what happens…

Changing economics. Financial stress is a real source of problems form many couples.

Unrealistic expectations. Don’t expect your spouse to be your Messiah.

Lust. It’s deadly.

Crisis. Things like job loss, health issues, or the death of family members can cause great distress on a home.

Selfishness, entitlement. The world doesn’t owe you anything.

Weariness. Sometimes we just run out of steam.

The devil. Make no mistake: there is an enemy of our soul that wants to destroy our families and us.

In “12 Causes of Stress In Marriage”, Dave Willis shares some great insight about stress in marriage.

He lists, in no particular order, 12 of the most common causes of stress in marriage. 1. Financial stress. 2. Parenthood. 3. In Laws. 4. Miscommunication. 5. Sexual Frustration. 6. Exhaustion. 7. Work stress. 8. Hurt feelings. 9. Disagreements. 10. Poor health. 11. Drifting apart from each other. 12. You fill-in-the-blank.

The bottom line…

 Only the strong (marriages) survive!

Like an elite endurance athlete, married couples must work hard, stay in shape, eat right, sleep well, learn to focus, discipline themselves, resist the urge to slack off, and motivate themselves. Then they must invest themselves in their spouse to bring out the very best in them.

Only those who work hard survive. And those who invite God to lead their personal lives and marriage stand a much greater chance of survival and success.

It is only then that our marriages have the potential to be all that God intended for them to be!

 


When You’re Mad at Your Pastor

designIt is part of human nature and relationship dynamics that, from time to time, we get angry with the people around us. When we spend lots of time with others, we will get irritated, aggravated and sometimes mad at them. Spouses, kids, neighbors – they all have a way of getting on our last nerve. It is no different with our church leaders. Without a doubt, someone reading this post is particularly ticked at their local preacher right now. Take a deep breath and read on!

In my line of work, I deal with what, at times, seems like an inordinate amount of anger at pastors. Disappointment with preaching, frustration with decision-making and annoyance with quirks are a regular part of my conversations with church members. Don’t be mistaken, the vast majority of people are perfectly happy with their pastor; at least that is my takeaway. But occasionally, I hear some pretty fiery vocabulary centered around the ineptitude of the shepherd.

Let me quickly share one positive aspect of people getting mad at their pastor: they care enough to be passionate. I have met too many church members who are so disconnected with their church that they just don’t care what happens. So thanks for caring enough to get angry. But be very careful not to allow your passion to cause you to do something that is hurtful.

What do you do when you are mad at your pastor?

Don’t talk negatively about your pastor. When you express your displeasure with the pastor with anyone besides the pastor, it more than likely will be damaging. Fight hard to keep your discussion appropriate. My experience is, more damage is done by inappropriate conversation than by the pastor’s infraction. The Bible has a lot to say about this. Ephesians 4:29 is a great example.

Save communication until your emotions are in check. We are told in Communications 101 to guard our mouths when we are emotional. It’s best to put off decisions until one’s excitement is under control. This is true whether we are happy or sad, angry or glad. Hold off on discussions about your anger until you can clearly and concisely articulate your concerns without saying detrimental things. Adopt the “24-hour rule”: Wait at least 24 hours before firing off an angry email. This allows you time to pray, consider more details and communicate more effectively.

Understand how challenging the role of a pastor is. There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks who think they could be a great pastor with one hand tied behind their back. The “you only work one day a week” joke isn’t funny. Pastors (like many other professionals) are faced with the pressure and stress of organizational finances, legal issues, volunteer personnel management, social tensions and personality differences. Add to that the extreme strain of the spiritual health of church members and the load gets heavy. While I am quick to defend pastors, I am also quick to admit that we mess up – a lot. But never assume that the pastor has an easy job. That simply is not the case. Being reminded of this will help you to better process your frustrations.

Express yourself face to face, not in writing. Issues like the church are too important to be handled impersonally. Emails, texts and letters don’t allow for the reader to see facial expressions, to hear the intonations and inflections of the voice or to see a tear running down a face. Reading between the lines is a very imperfect science. Don’t risk being misunderstood. If you are angry with your pastor, respect yourself and him enough to talk in person.

Never express your anger at your pastor on social media. Ever. In fact, social media is not the place to deal with anger at anyone. It is unfair, rude and childish.

Respect the office of the pastor. While you may be angry with your pastor, please honor the office and calling of the pastor. They are no better than you and they do not deserve special treatment. However, it is the mistake of some to disregard the significance of a person who is appointed by God to serve as a spiritual leader over a church. In your anger, maintain respect and dignity, if for no other reason, because God is watching.

If it’s bad enough, and you’re mad enough, what do you do?

1st. Recall that God appointed them and, if necessary, God can unappoint them. Trust God with the church – She belongs to Him.

2nd. Pray for your pastor. It is difficult to be very angry at someone for whom you are praying. When something happens to frustrate you, spend a moment in sincere prayer for your pastor. I assure you, they need it and welcome it.

3rd. Watch your influence. Be aware that others are watching you and your behavior will impact them. You never want to be guilty of leading others into an offense.

4th. Guard your heart. Too many times, anger against a pastor morphs into anger at God. Pastors fail, God never does. Keep your spirit pure.

5th. Forgive! Whether or not your pastor deserves it, forgive them. The Gospel is full of instruction on how we must forgive others as God has forgiven us.

6th. If you must go (leave the church), go the right way. It is unfortunately inevitable that some people need to leave some churches. There is a proper way to do this but we see very little demonstration in today’s culture. While much can be said about this topic (and others have), at the end of the day, we must be right with God and with others. If leaving a church does not coincide with that, you’d better not leave.

If you’re angry with your pastor, welcome to the church! It’s normal. But let’s not allow our emotions to damage the church, our pastor or ourselves.


5 Ways to Change Your Church (When You’re Not the Pastor)

design.pngFew things are as painful as watching a church you love struggle.

Many church members would agree that churches must adjust to the needs of the people in order to stay effective. A church that refuses to change will soon cease to exist. But what is a church member to do if the church they love is stuck, in decline and headed toward extinction?

This article has nothing to do with signing a petition. You won’t see the idea of secret meetings or anonymous letters to the pastor. Nor will I justify withholding financial support in an effort to “starve the preacher out.” For years, these antics have been successful in giving the church a bad reputation but they have never resulted in positive change in a church.

I believe that there are many things that an average church member can do in order to bring change and transformation to the church they love, all without compromising integrity or dignity. I list only five below:

Invest: Those who give of themselves over the long haul tend to gain the respect of others and enjoy influence among other church members and leaders. If you do not support your church financially, with your prayer and your faithful attendance, you have no business trying to affect change (IMO).

Study: What exactly is the problem and, just as important – what is the solution? Any critic can point out a problem – it takes a real leader to discover solutions. A lot of thought must go into an evaluation of a church. Assessments, evaluations, and investigation into successful ministry models may be necessary. If it seems that you don’t have the time and energy to put into this effort (and if you think it is the pastor’s job to do all of this) maybe you should just keep quiet about your feelings of dissatisfaction. Bringing change to a church is harder than you may want to imagine.

Pray: Because I didn’t want you to dismiss this section as obvious, I saved it for third on the list. Positive transformation will never occur in a church unless someone is praying. Diligently. Before you say a word to anyone, prior to expressing dissatisfaction, and ahead of any meetings, the whole idea must be bathed in prayer. The Lord is the only One who has the power to bring true lasting change to a church.

Communicate: This may be the diciest part of this conversation. Members who want to influence change in their church have a spiritual obligation to communicate their desires correctly. Complaining, gossiping, murmuring, and politicking are not solutions; they are problems.

I believe these “change” conversations begin with the pastor. Please understand, your pastor is not perfect. They are human and they deal with lots of issues. Before you call the office to schedule coffee with your preacher, please, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. How would you feel if someone called and asked for a meeting and you did not know the topic of discussion? How would you respond if someone starts the conversation with, “you know I love you, but…”?

The absolutely worst time to speak to a pastor about issues like this is just before a worship service. Just please don’t. And blindsiding a pastor with a “may we have a word with you?”, as you and the Elders wait in the lobby after church is a really bad idea. Treat the church leader with respect. Approach them with a humble spirit. Dignity and decorum are not too much to ask. And please give your pastor some room. By this I mean, you may have been kicking these ideas around for months but this may be a new thought for them. It is always a great idea to pray together and to ask for future conversations. Involving others in the discussions will come but in the beginning, keeping the group small may be a good idea.

You simply must do well at communicating the desire for change. To fail in this point may be to sabotage any hope for transformation.

Lead: If a church member desires to see change, it is important that they change. It is not reasonable to expect a group to change when individuals of influence refuse to change. If you want to change your church, lead by example. What is the problem in the church? Not enough evangelism? Become a more effective soul winner. Not enough new people? Invite and bring new people with you. The church is spiritually dead? Catch on fire in your relationship with the Lord. Many times, we are the solution to the problems in our church. We can affect change and impact the church simply by becoming what we want the church to be.

So what does a church member do if they follow these steps and nothing seems to change? Please keep in mind the church does not belong to you. Nor does it belong to the pastor or to the members. You will not give an account to God as to how the church progressed. But you will give an account to God as to how you handled yourself in regard to the church. If you have given it your best shot and nothing happens, my advice is… do nothing. Wait on the Lord. He is in control. Don’t get frustrated and don’t leave. Wait on the Lord. The church is His. You are His. And He will handle it.


How to Have a New Beginning

designThe New Year is a great time for new beginnings. We know that God is a God of new beginnings. Throughout the Bible, people like Noah, Moses, Ruth and Paul experienced the thrill and joy of “starting over.” While sometimes a fresh start is nearly impossible, I believe that God is providing a new beginning for many of us. Please consider how God may be speaking to you about a new beginning in your life.

In order to experience a new beginning, we must:

  • Learn from the past but let go of the past. Those who live in the past are stuck there and can’t dream of a better future.
  • Be willing to take a risk. We do not know the specifics of how the future will turn out so it requires great faith to begin again.
  • Forgive yourself and others for past failures. Holding onto hurts prevents us from moving forward.
  • Pray and think creatively. God never runs out of fresh ideas for today and tomorrow. Seek His face for the future.
  • Be willing to change what needs to be changed. If we keep doing the same things we’ve always done, we will keep getting the same results we’ve always gotten.
  • Be assured that God is a God of new beginnings and He wants to help you to start fresh today!

2017 can be the best year of our lives. While the challenges are significant in regard to the details of everyday living, I believe that God has placed us where we are for this specific time. He doesn’t want us stuck in the past – He wants us moving confidently forward into the bright future that He has for us, all under the power of the Holy Spirit.

May the grace of God enable us to embrace the wonderful plans that He has for us and may we experience the joy of fulfilling those plans!

Rick