Another Decade! Here we come!

IMG_9445Until today (Christmas Eve), I haven’t given much thought to the end of another decade and the start of 2020. While running errands with my wife, we talked about the presumed events of the next ten years. Grandkids becoming teenagers. Continuing to progress in our ministry. Potential relocations for work. Lots of productivity. Perhaps even retirement!

If my sketchy math skills are correct, I am approximately 80% done with my vocational ministry work. I started right out of the gate in the early 80’s, which makes me ancient. 4 decades of uninterrupted, full time ministry! If God continues to grant His favor, I have about 8-10 years of public ministry left. Of course, I plan to minister until I die, but our current church culture isn’t friendly to older men who still have a fire burning in their gut. So I’ll work in the main stream until I’m retirement age, then I’ll go rogue!

Another decade. 4/5ths done with my professional ministry career. What does that mean to me?

It means it’s time to lay down all hindrances. Abandon security and comfort. Reject mediocrity and status quo. Take risks, be aggressive, embrace innovation.

In my last decade of professional ministry, I want to work like a fiend. I hope to benefit from everything I’ve learned over the last 40 years. I want to reduce mistakes, focus on the most important issues and be as productive as is humanly possible.

Over the next decade, I’ll passionately invest in those coming behind me. I want to exemplify grace, mercy and compassion, and I desperately want to finish strong.

2020-2030 should be epic!

How about you? What does the start of a new decade mean to you?

2020… here we come!

Who is Christmas for, Anyway?

IMG_8743Lots of retailers make a lot of money from Christmas sales. Major corporations enjoy record profits year after year at Christmastime. Marketers, delivery companies and small businesses count on big sales during the holidays to boost their profits and add to their bottom line.

But is this who Christmas is really for?

We have a problem with the commercialization of Christmas. For too many, the holy season has simply become a money maker. We tire of the incessant commercials, the pushy salespeople and the “special holiday offers.” If we’re not careful, we can develop a bad attitude about the season because so many are corrupting the true meaning of Christmas; Let’s not do that!

Let’s remember who Christmas is for:

Christmas is for children: The little boys and girls of the world who simply embrace the excitement of the holiday.

Christmas is for Christians: the Christ-followers around the world who humbly celebrate the birth of their Lord, Savior and soon-coming King!

Christmas is for families: though perhaps spread across the miles, they hope to be together to share special moments and memories.

But…

Christmas is also for the lonely: those who have no one during the holiday.

Christmas is for the hurting: those who are in physical, emotional or relational pain.

Christmas is for the bound and addicted: those who have no concept of freedom.

Christmas is for the hard-hearted: those who have been so hurt, they refuse to trust again.

Christmas is for the doubters: those who refuse to believe.

Christmas is for the rebellious: those who feel the need to run from God.

Christmas is for the lost: those who just can’t find their way through this dangerous world.

Christmas is for sinners: those who have yet to accept Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Christmas is for those who need Good News!: Those who are tired of the ugliness and sin of this world.

Christmas is even for those who miss the point entirely (they think it’s about making money): God doesn’t give up on them, we shouldn’t either.

God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Way, the only Way to salvation.   

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) These words, spoken by an angel to Joseph, speak to us about the eternal Good News of the birth of Jesus. Jesus came to preach the Gospel (Good News) to all people! This means that Christmas is for everyone! Christmas is Good News for all of us!

This Good News of Christmas triumphs over the bad news. This Good News of Christmas heals the brokenhearted. This Good News of Christmas brings families back together. This Good News of Christmas comforts the lonely. This Good News of Christmas brings hope to the hopeless, joy to the sad, and the promise of a better future to a world that desperately needs it.

But it is not the presents, the money-spending, the holiday stress that brings what we need.

The love that God displays at Christmas is what makes Christmas belong to all of us.  

 Merry Christmas to you. We love you, thank God for you and pray that this Christmas season will be especially blessed!

 

 

Why I’m Thankful

design-54My wife will tell you, very often, as we are traveling about, I openly express my sincere thanks to God for His goodness to me. It is one of the most humbling thoughts to realize that God freely provides His gracious love to us. When I am in a healthy spiritual place, gratitude is one of my most common emotions. There are a few reasons for this.

I know what should have been. Only the Lord and I know what I was, and at times, still am. It is perfectly logical to think that I should have been destroyed. If I had reaped what I had sown, I would not be here. This is in no way a glorification of a dramatically bad boy life; far from it. I simply was a rotten person, and should God have chosen to give me my dues, I would have been done long ago. I am thankful that I am not yet done.

I know what could have been. Because of my early foundation, it is not beyond comprehension that I could have been destroyed. I could have gotten trapped in a miserable, desolate life. I could have spent my days in frustration and failure. I could have easily lived out my life in uselessness. I could have been consumed with pain, grief, addiction, despair and destruction. I am thankful that what could have been did not become reality.

 I know what wasn’t. My wife and I know the pain of losing a child. For the last many years, we have been impacted by our loss. Every holiday, every day we feel the pain.  This influences us at Thanksgiving because we are grateful for what we had, and then lost. It makes us treasure what we have. I am thankful for what we have, and for what we have lost.

I know what won’t be. I’m not getting any younger. My current situation is fleeting. My family is growing, the babies are getting big. My experience is fast, time is passing quickly. What I see now won’t last much longer. I am thankful that I have what I have now, and I plan to enjoy it to the fullest. I am grateful that, although passing quickly, life is very good for me.

So, I’m thankful. So very, very thankful for all that God has done and is doing for me.

I never want to lose that. Thank you, God.

Compassionate Celebration

design-49

Thanksgiving is a time of grateful celebration! God has blessed us abundantly and He deserves to be glorified! But what if the season brings a struggle to express our gratitude for the blessings of life? How should we respond if the reality of life is painful and heartbreaking?

Of course, we realize that regardless of our circumstances, God is good. His faithfulness, mercy and grace have nothing to do with our feelings. We may have to look beyond our temporary trials in order to give God the praise He deserves. And we must learn how to worship through our pain.

But there is more to consider.

In Christianity, we walk a delicate balance.  On the one hand, we know the importance of sharing a testimony of God’s goodness: answered prayers, miracles experienced, and the favor of the Lord. On the other hand, we are aware that things do not always go as well for other people. Most of us have prayed prayers that seemed to go unanswered. There are times that things don’t go our way, we struggle through difficult seasons and celebration is the farthest thing from our minds.

Can we boldly celebrate victory when so many among us are mourning?

We must walk this delicate balance between celebration and sensitivity. How can we celebrate the goodness of the Lord when so many around us are struggling for any source of hope and joy? Can we possibly practice compassionate celebration?

Here are a few helpful ideas:

Give God the glory! Never stop praising the Lord! For all that He has done, for who He is, we must boldly honor Him! We must never entertain the idea of silencing our praise.

It’s all because of grace. In our celebration, be sure to deflect credit. We are not responsible for our blessings. While we may have been obedient, it is only God’s grace that results in blessings. Never attribute credit to people – always defer praise to the Lord.

Be sensitive. In our exuberant praise, remember those who are hurting. Some are grieving. Some are broken. We never want to inadvertently cause hurt to someone while we are expressing our praise.

Choose your words carefully. “I’m God’s favorite!”, “favor isn’t fair!”, “if you just had faith like me…” are statements that reveal gloating, not praise.  When you give thanks, consider what the other person is living through. If your words hurt, you’ve missed the point.

Don’t write a rulebook. When things go well, the temptation is to presumptuously create a list of simple behaviors that will result in getting what we want. This is not wise and it is not Biblical. God will not be put in a box. Resist the temptation to say, “follow these easy steps…”

Remain humble. While it’s good to be excited, and joyful celebration of victory is to be expected, never become selfishly proud of your blessings.  There is nothing wrong with a humble celebration.

God ahead, celebrate God’s goodness! Just do so with compassion for those who are struggling.

A blessed Thanksgiving season to you and your family. We love you!

 

10 Nuggets of Wisdom

design-52With all of the angst concerning the current status of our society, someone needs too refocus (me!).  Rather than being consumed with negativity and overrun with despair, let’s take a moment to center ourselves.

Listed below, in no particular order, are ten suggestions to help us to survive and thrive in these chaotic times. Let me know what you think!

10 Nuggets of Wisdom:

1. Take your eyes off of people; keep your eyes on God.
2. Stop focusing on the evil going on around you.
3. Don’t obsess with fighting those who oppose you.
4. Resist getting trapped in endless debates.
5. Don’t insist on always being right, recognized or respected.
6. Refuse to be driven by emotions; live by faith.
7. Trust God with the future.
8. Believe for an ultimate positive outcome.
9. Let God handle His enemies.
10. Live your life in a way that brings glory to God; serve Him and others.

This Wisdom will help you to be successful, joyful and at peace, regardless of what is happening around you.

A Successful Church

design-50

A church will most likely succeed when:

  1. There is a clear and united understanding of the Mission and vision of the church.
  2. Members care more about the lost than they do their own preferences.
  3. The lost are saved, disciples are made, and people engage in ministry – on a regular and consistent basis.
  4. There is an ethos of grace.
  5. Leaders are continually trained and deployed to serve.
  6. All generations are included equally.
  7. There is a strong priority on regional, national and international missions.
  8. The church reflects the cultural diversity of the community.
  9. The worship services and gatherings are training and preparation for ministry outside the building.
  10. Generosity and tithing are the norm.
  11. There is a systematic approach to prayer.
  12. The pastor shares leadership authority and responsibility with others.
  13. There is a culture of financial accountability, transparency and fiduciary responsibility.
  14. The buildings and grounds are well used but meticulously cleaned, and frequently updated.
  15. The Gospel Message remains the same but methods are adjusted as necessary.
  16. The people love God, love others, and love one another.

These are 16 chapters for a proposed book on successful church ministry.

That’s a lot; we have a lot of work to do.

What are We Good At, What are We Not?

design-48Definitions for this article:

  1. Product: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Promotion: Marketing or advertising the Gospel.
  3. Presentation: The method utilized to deliver the Gospel.
  4. Productivity: The positive results of the Gospel of Jesus.

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

While visiting a large suburban mall, I noticed that the Apple store had relocated. They had outgrown their space and moved to a larger spot in the same mall. In a few moments, we walked by their new location. But here was my surprise: they had yet to put up their sign. There was no indication anywhere on the outside that this was the Apple store. I wondered about their decision to open the new location without first putting up the sign. But, as you can see, everyone knew exactly what store it was – the place was full; business as usual.

Apple has great products. They’ve done their promotions. Their presentation is unquestionably effective. Of course their productivity is unparalleled. They have been so good at what they do, the temporary lack of a sign had no negative effect whatsoever.

I don’t work for Apple; I work for the Church.

Let me say, church signage is very important. Like it or not, we must brand our churches. We must market the ministry. In our culture, if people don’t know about us, they aren’t coming. But I don’t believe our biggest issue (why more people don’t come) is promotion.

I know for sure that our product (the Gospel of Jesus) is the most valuable and important product ever.

I believe we have two problems that we should address and solve:

  • Our presentation suffers sometimes. The way we communicate the most important product is sometimes subpar. A lack of quality, ill prepared sermons and worship services, and ignoring the needs of our “potential audience” can really hurt our efforts. Our “potential audience” is our unsaved community. Churches that operate in ways that disconnect them from their unsaved community will suffer.
  • Our productivity is stifled. In many churches, very few people are coming to salvation in Christ. The harvest is sitting in the fields. This is a major problem.

I would remind you that the product needs no adjustment. The Biblical Gospel can stand for itself. I would also suggest that better promotion might not be the answer. If our presentation is poor, the best promotion in the world won’t help. The fact that our productivity is suffering is enough to cause us to evaluate and adjust our presentation.

Pastor, don’t change the product. Go ahead and improve your promotion. But if your productivity is less than you desire, invest in changing your presentation.

We’re not Apple. But wouldn’t it be cool if our presentation of the product was so amazing that promotion wasn’t necessary? It’s possible!

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

Focus on your presentation of the most amazing product ever, and productivity will take care of itself.

Do We Talk Too Much?

design-47Dialogue is necessary. Spirited conversations are a staple of our relationships. But is it possible that we talk too much? Must we have an opinion on every topic; one that simply must be expressed? I am not discouraging healthy verbal interaction. But consider this:

If we must engage in every conversation, if we believe we have the solution to every problem, if we assume that we know more than others, perhaps our speech reveals a deeper issue. If it is my calling in life to straighten out wrong thinking by others or if I must have the last word, I have a problem.

It’s time to consider an increased focus on and practice of an important spiritual discipline: silence.

Let’s not:

  • Disrespect others by dominating conversations
  • Assume we are the smartest person in the room
  • Attract attention to ourselves
  • Presume to have answer to every question
  • Consider it our duty to correct the errors of others
  • Intimidate others with our forceful speech
  • Talk so much that others don’t have a chance

The more words we share, the greater our possibility of error. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Proverbs 10:19

The more we talk, the more we reveal what we know and do not know. “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs 17:28

Sometimes we talk because we like for people to pay attention to us. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2

We should choose our words carefully, and perhaps not use so many of them. “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 29:20

Perhaps arrogance motivates so much talking. “For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.“ Ecclesiastes 5:7

We will answer for our careless words. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Matthew 12:36

We should listen more than we speak. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” James 1:19

Our words should bring honor to God, not ourselves. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalms 19:14

Do You Need a Mentor?

design-45Phil Pringle, author of “Top 10 Qualities of a Great Leader” has a very good idea. He says, “Mentoring is vital to success. However, this involves more than just chatting with a more experienced person. The mentoring relationship is opened up through serving. People sometimes ask me to mentor them. All they need do is help me do what I do, and they’ll find themselves in my world. They’ll learn more by serving than by any other means.
A good “mentee” makes a great mentor. No matter how good a person’s coach might be, if the person has no heart to serve and to learn, then they will fail to be coached.”
What a great idea! We learn best through serving. Rather than asking to have coffee once a week with a coach (that is also a great idea), how about if we request how we can best serve them? Instead of looking to a mentor to answer all of your questions, listen while they labor. Dig ditches alongside them. Make their life easier by providing practical hands-on help where needed, Honestly most mentors are very busy people and, as much as they may love sitting and pouring into a younger leader, the idea of spending time just talking isn’t always practical.
I’ve always said, I do my best counseling while I am preaching. But I also have a lot to share while I am cutting the grass, painting a room or driving long distances to minister. Serving alongside a mentor is an organic way to learn from them. And by serving them, you are returning the blessing to them.
Serving is not as glamorous as deep conversation which is why it’s an excellent way to weed out people who only want to talk.
If you don’t have time to serve, you don’t have time to be mentored. If you have no interest in serving, you really have no interest in being mentored.
If you need a mentor, think about who you would select as a mentor. Then consider ways that you could potentially serve him or her.
We may be on to something really significant here!

Concern for Pastors

design-44I’m concerned about pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors who isolate themselves. Young leaders with no mentor worry me. Middle aged pastors who’ve given up on their dreams are a huge heartache. Older pastors who are tired but can’t quit are a burden to my heart.

Those who “mail it in” on Sundays. Those who’ve quit praying. Those who only preach the sermons they’ve found online. Those who would quit, if they could afford to. Those who despise “successful” pastors. Those who lie about statistics in order to make themselves look and feel better.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are having affairs. Pastors addicted to porn. Pastors getting drunk. Pastors whose family knows they are a phony. Pastors who are racists. Pastors who are stealing from their church.

I’m concerned about Pastors who are under the control of a contributor. Those who compromise their morals. Those under heavy criticism. Those with no confidant. Those whose spouse is disengaged. Lonely pastors. Confused, discouraged, exhausted, depressed Pastors. Cynical, skeptical, sarcastic Pastors.

I’m concerned about Pastors, even the successful ones. The ones who get lots of votes. The ones who have it all together. The ones who preach the big meetings. The ones with a full compensation package. The big name Pastors.

I’m concerned about pastors.

My concern only leads to prayer and help where I can. But the Lord cares, and He cares deeply. His care and compassion is what keeps Pastors safe, strong and moving forward.

Pastor, you matter to God and to so many more. Stay faithful.

The Emotionally Balanced Leader

design-43I once had a boss that was an emotional mess. I had to read him first thing every morning. If he was happy, I was safe. We’d talk and laugh and work side by side. If he was angry, I hid in my office. I didn’t work for him long.

Peter Scazzero’s book entitled The Emotionally Healthy Leader is genius. He has a series of materials that accentuates the importance of developing a “deep, inner life with Christ, examining its profound implications for surviving stress, planning and decision making, building teams, creating healthy culture, influencing others, and much more.” I’ve read a few of his books and plan to read more as they are published. I highly recommend!

While Scazzero thoroughly covers the topic, I would like to briefly touch on just one aspect: emotional balance for leaders. As one who continues to mature emotionally (you’d think by now I would’ve gotten it), learning this balance is absolutely integral to my success as a leader. Too many times, I’ve victimized myself because my emotions were out of sync. The pressure got to me or a sad event controlled my feelings to the point that it hurt other people. Too many family members and friends could attest that my occasional instability has created more than one mess. I’m doing better.

Rather than focus on the “why” of emotional instability, I want to address the “how.” How does a leader, or anyone else arrive at and maintain emotional balance? Is it possible to walk the high stress tightrope of leadership without wobbling, or, even worse, falling (without a net!)?

Emotional balance for leaders is possible and necessary! Here’s how.

Assess the need.

Recognize when and where you struggle. If you tend to be morose, unhappy, discouraged or depressed, admit it. If you see a pattern of extreme happiness, followed by extreme sadness, there may be an issue. If you frequently have outbursts of uncontrollable anger, there is a problem for sure. Perhaps these are simply personality traits which we’ve learned. At other times, there can be physiological or chemical issues to consider. Never be afraid to seek the advice of a professional. Too many self-sufficient leader types struggle unnecessarily with perpetual doldrums, fear, rage or a combination of all of these. Know yourself, know your emotions, and be honest.

Seek input.

Unless you’re a hermit, someone in your life knows you well enough to be able to help you identify an emotional instabilities. The problem is, if your emotions are out of balance, these people may be afraid to talk to you about it. So, you approach them. Please DO NOT ask them for input, then blow up when they provide it! Be humble, be teachable, be grateful for the love and care they have for you.

Take responsibility.

If your emotions are out of whack, don’t blame others. Of course, we are all products of our environments. But blaming parents, nationality, painful experiences or stress is a sign of… an emotionally unstable person. “That’s just me, I speak my mind, that’s the way I was raised…” will result in chronic emotional imbalance. Accept the fact that only you can change you; the responsibility is yours and yours alone.

Adjust your approach.

I’ve been on a couple of commercial airliners that were descending for a landing but, at the last moment, pulled back and ascended because they were coming in too fast (hot). Needless to say, this is an exhilarating but terrifying feeling for passengers! Learn to read your emotions before they become an issue. If you’re headed into a conversation or tense meeting, go in prepared, but not too “hot.” High stress brings out the worst in most of us. Being emotionally stoked may result in anxiety or fear based communication, which is seldom healthy. Especially sad environments can throw some of us into an emotional pit. Be aware, be prepared and adjust as needed. Be quick to adapt your emotions as necessary before entering into a potentially troubling situation.

Remain accountable.

If you have a pattern of really high highs or really low lows, you will need someone to help keep you on track. Don’t isolate yourself. Openly discuss the issue with those you trust. Ask them to point out when you fail. Confess your faults.

Retrain your brain.

Old habits die hard. If your default emotional response to pressure is explosive anger, it won’t go way without a long-term fight. If you’ve been pouting to get your way your entire life, it may take months, if not years to retrain your emotions. But diligence, accountability and a refusal to continue this behavior will allow you to overcome. Here is a simple list of Bible verses that deal with renewing our thinking: Renew Your Mind

Pray.

God does not want you to suffer under the control of unhealthy emotions. While He certainly can use people who ride the emotional roller coasters, He prefers stability, balance, and appropriate emotional expressions. Ask Him to help you. Confess when you fail. Ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart and mind.

Listen, there is a time to be furious. Sadness is a normal response in many situations. Joy and fear and frustration and grief are part of our God-given DNA. But we are supposed to control these emotions; if we don’t, they most certainly will control us!

For those who’ve learned how to manipulate others through their emotional imbalances, do us all a favor: stop. Power trips, dominant control, passive aggressiveness, and intimidation are horrible traits for a leader, a friend or a human being. Trust me, people are tired of walking on eggshells around you.

Finally, if you are emotionally out of balance and choose to remain that way, don’t be surprised if people learn to read your mood and respond accordingly. They may get out of your way, placate you, or even be sympathetic toward you, but eventually, they will dodge you altogether.

It’s hard to lead people if they are hiding in their offices, avoiding you.

Everybody Loves a Flashy Preacher!

design-39Or do they?

Sure, it’s fun to attend church when the minister is charming. If he/she dresses well and is in touch with culture and quotes current song lyrics, services are never boring. A good joke teller keeps you entertained. And it sure helps if the pastor is good looking!

If we want to attract a crowd (and who doesn’t?), we need a pastor who is articulate and confident. High energy presentations complete with multimedia elements, expensive stage sets and props, and impressive illustrations are required. Cool clothes, perfectly coiffed hair and an attractive spouse are non-negotiables.

I’ve seen some very good people be compelled to follow a pastor precisely because of these things. We have actually heard people say that they selected their current church because the pastor was so cool.

But wait a minute.

Pastors are spiritual shepherds. They guide and lead. They teach and train. They serve and sacrifice and work hard. They make disciples of Jesus. At least, that is the Biblical perspective of what a Pastor should be.

Flashy, exciting, showy, and edgy has nothing to do with sustainable, productive, stable and unrelenting. In order for ministry to succeed, we need more than a show.

While we shouldn’t criticize ministers who pay attention to style and current trends, we also shouldn’t confuse these things with being an effective preacher or pastor. One can look the part but not fit the part. In fact, it’s actually substantially easier to look cool than to be a strong pastor.

If your pastor loves you, knows and preaches the Bible, and can be counted upon to lead well, count yourself blessed. How he or she dresses shouldn’t be a deal breaker. While they may not be able to quote the script from the latest Hollywood movie, if they know you and lead you with integrity, you have a solid pastor.

Be aware than some who call themselves pastors, and may indeed hold that responsibility, never fulfill the responsibility. You may not realize that on a Sunday when the service is hopping. But let a crisis strike – you will then be able to distinguish between who is a Pastor and who is not.

A few necessary points:

  • An out of style preacher does not equate to an effective preacher.
  • Preachers and pastors should try their best to connect with their culture and community. This includes clothing style and awareness of modern entertainment.
  • Substance is to be valued more than appearance, but appearance cannot be ignored.
  • Pastors who think they have a “pass” on relevance because they are a pastor are mistaken.

Let’s not be shallow enough to follow a person because of their persona. Stage presence is overemphasized in some churches. Character is far more important.  Holiness is immensely more valuable than coolness. Give me a pastor who will laugh with me in happy times and cry with me in sad times over one who can put on a great show on the stage.

We shouldn’t want a flashy preacher; we should want a preacher who loves God, loves people and leads us to follow Christ.

Why Won’t They Come to Our Church?

design-38We visit lots of churches. Part of my ministry responsibility is to be on site at a different church every week, sometimes multiple churches. I have yet to visit one church that has enough people attending. In most churches, there is a desire to reach more people, invite new people to engage, and increase in the number of people being influenced and impacted.

Why won’t more people come to churches like these?

We are not in control of who attends church services. We can’t make, nor would we want to make someone come against their will. But we certainly try to make the place inviting. We prepare our buildings, we plan services and events with guests in mind. We pray and ask God to make our church compelling to others. But the truth is, it is a rare occurrence when a guest comes, stays, and engages in the life of the church.

Some will respond to this query by saying that we are not called by God to grow churches. This is absolutely true. However, God utilizes the church to help make disciples. Growing a church is a very important part of fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19-20).

Think about this:

Many churches are simply ill equipped to handle new people. Parking is a problem. There is little room in the church for people to sit comfortably. Restroom space is inadequate. While these things may not bother regular attenders, they absolutely bother guests.

Other churches have no nursery facilities or their children’s areas are old and in poor condition. Teen rooms that share space with the furnace are, believe it or not, a bad idea. These types of building issues will repel new attenders.

Sometimes we have rituals, use language and behave in ways that make no sense to anyone but us. While there is nothing wrong with these practices, per se, an explanation to new comers may be helpful. We sometimes forget that what we have been doing our entire lives may be new to people who didn’t grow up like we did.

A little more sensitive, but just as prevalent are attitudes and mindsets that will hinder the addition of new people in our churches. Mono-cultural churches (churches made up of one people group, nationality or skin color) will have a difficult time reaching people from other cultures. Whether or not we are aware of it, we develop habits and style that are not inclusive. Music, clothing styles, even methods of worship are many times, culture specific. If we are unaware of, or unwilling to address the need for adaptation, we will reach very few people who are different from us. If we are not equipped to minister to people different from us, God probably won’t send them. But if we get ourselves ready, God will send them.

Many years ago, I had an older family member say to me, “we just don’t have many colored people attending our church.” She said this innocently. But the statement revealed the reason for their dilemma.

Some folks wonder why their church is not multicultural and/or multi-generational. If it’s: 1) “those people”, 2) “we want a few, not too many”, or, 3) “as long as we don’t have to change anything”, you can stop your wondering. God probably won’t send them. These attitudes reflect a philosophy that lets others know, they are not welcome in your church.

Why would God send people He loves to a church that doesn’t love them, or is ill prepared to minister to them, or won’t make adjustments in order to welcome them? He’ll more than likely send them to a church that will warmly and sincerely adopt them into the family.

One final consideration: getting people to attend church who do not like church is a real trick. Think about it. We are trying to talk them into doing things they have no interest in doing. We preach repentance. We teach contrition. Sacrifice, service, giving money, becoming accountable to others, being responsible for others… are not very compelling to people who are enjoying their sinful lifestyle. So let’s not beat ourselves up if “sinners” don’t line up at the door. There are lots of Christians that prefer to stay away for much the same reason – they prefer life independent from their faith family.

Let’s keep in mind that the Church belongs to Christ. He died for the church. While we love our church and are fiercely loyal to our church, we do not own the church. If we try to control who attends, whether in a positive or negative way, we will give an account to God.

While our church is not for everyone (meaning some fit in better in other atmospheres), everyone must be welcome.

If we really want new people to come, we may need to consider:

  • Adjusting methods without compromising the Message.
  • Sacrificing our preferences for something that may be more effective in reaching new people.
  • Making sure our facilities, programs, ministries and events scream, “we want you here!” to new attenders.
  • Being strategic and intentional in making our churches welcoming to people different from us.
  • Being personally engaged in inviting and accompanying new people to the church.
  • Engaging new people in helping to make your church more welcoming to more new people.
  • Celebrating big time when new people actually attend!

I hope we can be more purposeful and strategic in winning more people to our churches, but more importantly, to the Lord.

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us!

design-34Cartoonist, Walt Kelly said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I am concerned that this has, in too many instances, become the case for some of us. 

Racially, economically, politically, generationally, and stylistically, we are fighting amongst ourselves. Friendly fire, weapon fire coming from one’s own side, is the worst. You expect to get shot at, but not by the folks wearing the same uniform as you.

It appears to me that, at times, the church has been influenced by the culture in this regard. Rather than being the peacemakers our world so desperately needs us to be (and we are called by Christ to be), a few have, I believe inadvertently, taken on the identity of brawlers, combatants, and pugilists. Without exaggeration, I don’t recall a time when Believers, church members, pastors and even ministerial colleagues have been so deeply engaged in battle with one another. I realize that only a minority of people is involved, but it sure feels major when so much of our wars are carried out in public view. Of course, there is so much more good than bad taking place, but the good doesn’t get the press like the bad.

I don’t like to argue or debate. Conflict is no fun for me. I have friends who enjoy these things. They sometimes want to argue with me about it (LOL). But this seems deeper.

 We all agree that there are times that conflict must be embraced. A few things are worth fighting over. But much of the result of the fighting I’m witnessing isn’t positive; it’s devastating. Families, friends, churches and, perhaps denominations are splitting. If we are detaching over non-negotiables, though painful, we understand. When serious Biblical or theological schisms happen, lines must be drawn. But I don’t see the redemptive value of the disagreements when the disagreements are over negotiable things, yet they end with relational ruptures. Sometimes, situations require that we divide, but more times than not, they don’t.

I hope that we can get a respite from the verbal and relational and social media jousting. It is wearying to continually navigate contention.  And until we stop, we are focused on the wrong enemy.

We have one enemy – the devil. Together, let’s fight him. Until he is defeated, we shouldn’t have enough time to fight each other. Let’s not become our own worst enemies.

When Preachers Want to Quit Preaching

design-33The Gospel is like “A Fire Shut Up in My Bones!” Through the years, countless preachers, including me, excitedly made this proclamation! There are few preachers of any experience who have not quoted or referred to Jeremiah’s pronouncement in chapter 20 and the inability to keep the Word of God quiet. Jeremiah describes it as a “fire shut up in his bones.” Although he had considered trying, he simply could not keep it in; the Message had to come out! It’s an exciting passage to recite, and it usually elicits a warm response from listeners.

But I wonder how many preachers recall the setting of this “exciting” proclamation. Jeremiah had been prophesying (preaching) for years, with little or no positive response. The people didn’t like his prophecies and preferred the prophecies that declared favorable, positive things. He was rejected, ridiculed and denigrated. Years of preaching with no positive response! The people had enough. Finally, Jeremiah was arrested, was beaten and locked up in stocks in prison. He was paying a heavy price for preaching a non-compromised Truth.

Jeremiah was in pain; he was suffering physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was hurt, frightened and disappointed. He opens chapter 20, verse 7 by expressing his frustration with God about how he has been treated. He feels betrayed. Jeremiah 20:7-8 says, “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.” These are the words of a damaged individual. Before any of us accuse him of having a pity party, put yourself in his place.

Jeremiah is so hurt, he contemplates resigning as the local prophet. He’s thinking about quitting! Some reading this article are contemplating the same things. The details of your situation are different, but you can identify with Jeremiah’s raw feelings. While you might not dare say the things that Jeremiah said, you have thought them.

After a moment of exploring giving up his ministry, Jeremiah comes back to his senses. There, still in pain and in jail, still suffering and confused, he recalls the power of the Word of God which is within him. He’s still being laughed at, his enemies are still threatening him. He has no reason to believe that he will live through the night. But he simply has no choice but to keep preaching, regardless of his situation or his feelings. If he stops preaching, the fire of the Truth will burn him up from the inside out!

This is the setting of this famous affirmation of the call to preach. It’s not an exciting worship service, it’s not a Campmeeting or revival service. It was the lowest of low pits. At the worst possible moment for Jeremiah, his call to prophecy is confirmed. The call to preach is not about comfort, not about a favorable setting, or even about reception by others. The call to preach is an irrevocable commission to speak the Word of God, regardless of the consequences.

I wonder if any of us, in a similar situation, would end up in such a beautiful and poetic place. If God had allowed me to suffer in such extreme ways, would I be capable of confessing my inability to stop preaching?

I think the next time I am tempted to throw out Jeremiah’s proclamation (maybe looking for an emotional response from the church), perhaps I will weigh out the full context and intent of the statement. It is too powerful and meaningful to be used in a trite way.

And the next time I am contemplating giving up, I will recall what my Brother Jeremiah experienced and how he came to his resolution.

I encourage you to do the same.

Middle-Aged, “Unsuccessful” Pastors

design-32Somewhere around the halfway point in many pastors’ careers, they come to the realization that the dreams and aspirations they envisioned for their ministry will, in all likelihood, not become a reality. Perhaps they aimed too high. Maybe they thought too highly of their gifts and talents. Ambition can be a good thing or a bad thing. But it can be painful to come to the awareness that the vision that you worked on for years won’t materialize.

It’s at this point in ministry that people must make a decision. There are a few options. One can keep dreaming, pressing and working toward the original dream. We can become discouraged and quit the ministry. We can act outwardly like the fire is still burning, but on the inside we are shriveling up and dying.

Depending upon how big the vision, sticking with it can be a good and admirable thing. We can’t be quitters if we hope to succeed. But if you thought you would pastor a megachurch, and at age 50, you pastor a church of 25, perhaps the dream is not realistic or attainable. Of course, with God, all things are possible, but I am writing in general terms.

Quitting altogether is not an option, unless one never belonged in the ministry in the first place. This is a possibility, but I would advise in-depth consultation and counseling before coming to such a conclusion. The more common response to this experience is, middle-aged pastors keep on going, and no one knows that they are struggling. But deep down inside, they’re miserable.

One of the saddest seasons of a minister’s life is when they have lost their ability to reach their goals but they refuse to acknowledge it. Many feel as though they must stuff their feelings and keep grinding. Some would gladly quit if they could, but they have no other viable employment options. Still others fear being perceived as a failure. There are many ministers who are caught in this painful trap. I am of the opinion that many middle age pastors are going through the motions, with no real expectation of fulfilling a God-given vision.

Enough of the problem; are there solutions?

I believe that we can survive the disappointment of unrealized goals if we will:

Adjust passions: refocus your attention on what God called you to do. He doesn’t want you to live in a constant state of frustration and discouragement. Graciously let go of the unrealistic plans you made, and pay attention to the plans that God has for you.

Emphasize quality over quantity. Too many of us still measure success by numbers: attendance and giving. We are not called to build big churches; we are called to make disciples. If you are leading unbelievers to become solid, mature Christ followers, you are succeeding!

Share your reality with your spouse, a trusted colleague or a counselor. Pent up frustration and disappointment will eat away at a leader until is destroys them.

Humble yourself before God. Don’t be humiliated; that is the result of pride and insecurity. But God knows us; He promises that He will gladly lift us up if we’re humble before Him. (James 4:10)

Know that, if you are faithful, God is pleased with you. Let’s drop the “performance = acceptance” lie. When we stand before Him, He won’t say, “well done, good and productive servant…” He measures success according to our faithfulness.

Pastor, hang in there. Even if you feel like a failure, God knows better. If you’re still in the game, you are succeeding.

And finally, let’s pray for our pastor-friends. None of them/us are perfect. We all need an extra measure of grace. And the work we do affects eternity.

An Apology for Racism

design-31I feel the responsibility to repent and apologize for racism. Not everyone is a racist. Some who are accused of being a racist are not; some who deny it, are. Few people admit to being racist.

Regardless, there is a lot of racism on display in our world today. I have seldom been a victim but I have, without doubt, been a perpetrator. For those times, I am sincerely sorry. Due to insensitivity, a lack of exposure, and plain ignorance, it is easy to be unfair to others. Sometimes emotional pain, unforgiveness and bittnerness results in hatred for other people. My sincere desire is to treat everyone with respect and honor. When I fail in this area, I need God to help me.

But I am also sorry that some people openly practice racism with no sense of guilt. I am convinced that some of them don’t think their words and activities are racist. But they appear to take delight in hurting innocent people with their brazen prejudice. While they may never apologize to those they’ve hurt, perhaps it will help a victim if someone else does.

So, for those of you who have been called names, for those who have been treated unfairly because of your race, if you’ve ever been overlooked, ignored, ridiculed or marginalized because of the color of your skin, I am truly sorry. You are my family and friends. If you’ve been hurt, we’ve all been hurt. While you have taken the brunt of the pain and feel it more deeply than I, everyone is suffering the effects of racism. It’s terrible, and we should all be sorry that it happens. We should all repent and apologize for the sin of racism (unless we have never been guilty). And we should all work to try to end racism.

As a Christian who is expected to love everyone, I have a calling. As a leader who is responsible to influence others, I have a responsibility. As a white man, I have an opportunity. As a human being, I have an obligation. As a minister of the Gospel and a representative of God’s Kingdom on earth, I will give an account to Him.

Let’s end racism.

Perhaps this apology doesn’t help but it is worth a try. Someone must do something to try to bring healing to the races.

God help us.

What am I against?

design-28Someone asked me, “What are you against?”

I’m for love, justice and freedom. I’m pro life, racial equality and equal rights for all. I support helping the poor, feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger. I’m in favor of ministering to widows, orphans and the elderly. I’ll defend victims, include the marginalized and serve those in need. I’m a fan of mercy, grace and peace.

I honor my wife, treasure my family and am loyal to my friends.

Most of all, I stand with the Bible, Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Now, what was the original question?

When we’re busy being “for” the right things, there won’t be much time to worry about what we are “against.”

But for the record, I am against anything that is against the list above.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching

design-26While it should be intuitive, I think it needs to be said: people follow their leaders. Leaders influence and impact. Those who lead others must understand their responsibility. Those we lead watch our behaviors. They listen to us talk. Whether intentional or not, followers pick up traits and characteristics from their leaders.

But some of the influence wielded by leaders morphs into, perhaps, unanticipated results. It may be assumed that a happy leader produces happy followers, but it’s not that simple.

At the risk of over simplification and generalizations, I think…

Angry shepherds lead wounded sheep.
Critical shepherds lead insecure sheep.
Disconnected shepherds lead wandering sheep.
Shallow shepherds lead vulnerable sheep.
Arrogant shepherds lead cynical sheep.
Manipulating shepherds lead confused sheep.
Selfish shepherds lead hungry sheep.
Doting shepherds lead entitled sheep.
Cowardly shepherds lead endangered sheep.                                                                                                                                            Rebel leaders lead rebellious sheep.

And

Compassionate shepherds lead recovering sheep.
Gracious shepherds lead transparent sheep.
Patient shepherds lead confident sheep.
Courageous shepherds lead secure sheep.
Consistent shepherds lead stable sheep.
Kind shepherds lead trusting sheep.
Nurturing shepherds lead healthy sheep.
Engaging shepherds lead connected sheep.
Serving shepherds lead committed sheep.                                                                                                                   Empowering shepherds lead growing sheep.

Of course, these are not written in stone, but you get the concept.

Leaders carry the heavy load of being influencers. If you are a leader, lead well. The wellbeing of the people you lead is dependent upon you.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching.

Let’s Wear Out Our Church Buildings!

design-25Years ago, I wrote an article about how to keep the church spotless and looking brand-new: simply don’t use it! Never walk on the carpet. Don’t use the restrooms. Keep kids out of the nursery… you get the idea. It will stay brand new; but we would be missing the entire point of having church property.

I was talking to some pastors recently about the flack they’ve received from church members when they made changes to the church building or furniture. Horror stories abound among those of us who’ve been in ministry for a while. Churches have blown up (figuratively) because someone moved an altar or traded pews for chairs or painted a wall (or covered the lovely hand-painted mural in the baptistery!).

My thoughts today are headed this way: I would love to see all of us absolutely wear out the carpet in our sanctuaries! I hope that we see our pews or chairs fall apart. We should get great joy when we see little hand prints on the hall walls. I have no problem with glass doors with tons of fingerprints on them.

All of these things are telltale signs that the building is being used. People are coming together, fellowshipping together and experiencing life change. Isn’t that the point of our buildings in the first place?

Please understand, I am not condoning dirty buildings. In fact, dirty smelly church properties should be a bane for all of us. What I am referring to is: heavy usage! We should expect furniture to wear out. But once furniture or floors show wear, replace it or clean it. The purpose of carpet is not to make it last, the purpose of carpet is to make the building more conducive to worship and ministry.

Getting new carpet? Pray that so many people walk and worship on it that it must be replaced soon. Painting the walls in the Children’s Ministry Center? Work to bring in so many kids that it needs to be painted once a year. Let’s start wanting our buildings to show signs of wear – so we must maintain it often.

Note: I am not suggesting we allow people to destroy the property – that is ridiculous. I am suggesting that a church that is busy ministering to people will need to maintain more than a church that no one attends.

Let’s stop trying to make the furnishings last forever. Furnishings are not sacred; ministry is.

Let me conclude with a cool little proverb: “Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” (Proverbs 14:4 NLT) In essence, if you want a clean church, don’t use it. Empty churches stay new (but they sure smell stale!) But a well-used church will produce an even more used church!

Let’s wear out our church buildings!