Poison for Pastors

33132498_10156428745949214_3868173762981527552_n

Socrates’ hemlock.

The Borgia family’s arsenic.

Claudius’ “nightshade.”

These are some famous poisons and the victims done in by them.

Their effects were swift, and effective. The poison did its job; the people died.

Just as sure as these historical figures were contaminated to death, modern pastors are being poisoned. Hopefully the Deacon Board is not involved! Yet subtly and painfully, the toxins are working to destroy the hearts and lives of countless ministers of the Gospel.

We may assume a pastor’s poison to be sexual or involving money or some other type of moral corruption. But the venoms I am concerned with today are perhaps more subtle, yet more common. They do not destroy the organs like the chemical poisons do; rather, they destroy the spirits, hearts and souls of their victims.

Let’s discuss 3 very common enemies (poisons) of today’s ministers.

Cynicism

While not as newsworthy as an illicit affair, cynicism has destroyed more than it’s fair share of pastors.

Cynical is defined as: distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others. Bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.

If you’ve met a few ministers, odds are you’ve seen this on display. A cynical attitude is impossible to hide. It usually shows up when others are optimistically discussing a concept, a new idea, or a vision for the future. Cynics have lost the ability to trust. So they reject optimism as impossible or unlikely.

The reason so many pastors become cynics is simple: they have endured too much disappointment.

Skepticism

Closely related to cynicism is skepticism. A skeptic is “a person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.” They question the authenticity and validity of things that others believe to be accurate and trustworthy.

It is easy for a pastor to become a skeptic. They may still hold to the integrity of the Scriptures (although some do not) but the behaviors of the people around them have caused these Pastors to learn to doubt. Mistrust is a rallying cry for many in today’s culture. There is no benefit of the doubt; people are guilty until proven innocent.

It is sad to see good leaders project such a negative and poisonous attitude. But it is common.

Following closely behind cynicism and skepticism is:

Sarcasm – “a harsh or bitter derision or irony.” Sarcasm is made visible with a sneer, with a cutting remark or with a verbal taunt. Sarcastic leaders are dangerous in that they often openly share their sarcasm. I have heard more than one preacher reveal his sarcastic heart while preaching the Word of God. It is not a pretty sight.

Though these poisons are different, they share the same source – pain.

Leading is painful. Leaders get hurt. It is impossible to avoid the pain that is associated with leading. So the solution is not to hide from pain.

In my opinion, there are 2 approaches to protecting ourselves against the poison of pastors:

Prevention and antidote.

Pastor friends, please protect yourself, not from the pain of leading, but from the hardening of your heart that comes as a result of the pain. You already know Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Keep your heart safe. Keep it tender. Keep it vulnerable. But keep it free from poison. If you fail to keep the poison out of your heart, you ministry, life and future will be contaminated.

But the truth is, many of us are in need of the life-saving antidote. We’ve already been poisoned and we are feeling the effects. We’re now searching for remedies. We need an antitoxin to nullify the effects of skepticism, cynicism and sarcasm.

The antidote for these poisons is the Holy Spirit. He can make all things new. He can heal our brokenness. Only the Holy Spirit can reverse the effects of these soul toxins.

Leaders, if we do not address these issues, the outcome will not be good. Not only will we destroy ourselves but others will also suffer.

  • Cynical leaders lead bitter followers.
  • Skeptical leaders produce faithless followers.
  • Sarcastic leaders develop hopeless followers.

We can and must do better. If you need help, reach out. You’re not alone.

Prayer: Father, make our hearts tender before you. Heal our brokenness. Forgive us for becoming hardhearted. Remove the poison from our systems. Teach us to love and trust and serve once again. And protect us from future attacks of these dreaded poisons. In Christ’s name, Amen.

(all definitions from dictionary.com)

How Can We Get More People at Church?

32327067_10156408424934214_8372441171867205632_nWe beg, we plead, we guilt trip and we promote. Still, the vast majority of people in our communities will never set foot in our churches. Some statistics reveal an all-time low in church attendance. We can blame the people – their priorities are wrong and they don’t love God. Or we can consider offering a more “entertaining” worship experience. But does this actually solve the problem?

I talk with Pastors who get discouraged when they put on a community event on Saturday and no one from the event shows up at the church the next day. The reason they aren’t there on Sunday is because you invited them to an event on Saturday. If you can connect the event with an actual worship service, your numbers may increase. But we still may not see the long term result we desire.

In my opinion, the best way to get people to attend your church is to minister to them before they attend. By “minister”, I mean actually making a difference in their lives. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

We must understand that “hyping” a worship service probably doesn’t help in the long run. Without coming across as critical, some churches appear to prefer a hard sell approach. Making all kinds of promises about having the most exciting service in town is counterproductive. It may result in a quick bump in attendance but eventually people will tire of the hype. Additionally, if you try to impress people into coming, you’ll then have to impress them to keep them coming. And I have visited the website of a church I planned to visit. The pictures portrayed an exciting atmosphere and the verbiage described an energetic and life-transforming ministry experience. Then I visited the church. Let’s just say that some churches may get sued for false advertisement.

Big promises had better be fulfilled or irreparable damage could be done. But big promises, even fulfilled, don’t necessarily result in more people showing up at church.

Here is a key to this entire topic: more people at church shouldn’t be the goal. More ministry is the goal. And more ministry results in more people in church services. So everybody wins.

Let’s understand that people simply coming to church may not be the solution. For the average person who is unfamiliar with church, the idea is frightening. They don’t know what’s going on, they are uncomfortable and the experience can feel awkward. And once the service concludes, they hightail it out of there. So, they’ve, “been there and tried that”, with no plans of coming back. All that work to get them there is wasted.

Now let’s get back to ministering to people before they arrive at church. This is almost always accomplished in relationships. Pastors must know people outside the church. They should be involved in the community. They should have friends that don’t attend their church. Church members and leaders should be fully engaged in community life. This means we can’t spend all of our time at the church.

So Pastors, ministry leaders and church members: think about who you know outside of the church. Now, what needs do they have that you can address? Pastor, they probably don’t need you to write and deliver an excellent sermon and they won’t be impressed by your level of ministerial credentials. Your advanced degrees mean very little to anyone other than you. Church leaders and members: hurting people in the community are not looking for another commitment or something to do on Sunday morning. People need something more.

At the risk of putting off some, let me use some alliteration to make my point.

If you hope to minister to more people, embrace the “3 C’s.”

Connect: Get to know people. Don’t stay in your church building. Get out into the community. Know and be known.

Care: People can spot ulterior motives a mile away. If you are connecting with someone just so you can get them into your church, well – please don’t. Genuine care is impossible to fake and impossible to ignore.

Compassion: Connecting and caring is motivated by true compassion. Everyone needs it. As spiritual shepherds, Pastors must be moved by hurting sheep. Church members who practice grace and mercy are a church’s greatest advertisement. Compassion opens the door to effective life-changing ministry, and at times, is ministry itself.

I believe that, at this time in our culture, more people are being brought to Jesus outside of the church building than inside. This certainly is the New Testament model for evangelism. If we lead people to Christ before they even arrive at church, our desire to assimilate into the family them will be easier.

We all want a full church. But more than that, we want people to know and love the Lord. The best way to see this happen is to love people right where they are. Think about it; it’s what Jesus did for us. He didn’t wait for us to come to Him – He came to us!

Be blessed!

Not Everyone Wants You to Succeed

30705103_10156353004229214_3194911651212840577_nMost people in the church are good. The vast majority of the people whom I have served as a pastor or in ministry in general had pure motives and could be trusted. But there are a few, just a minority, that seek to destroy, or at least are happy when destruction comes.

A church member once told me that she has purposefully not spoken to me in 2 months. She wanted to see how long it would take me to approach her. She was testing me – and I failed. Apparently she couldn’t take it any longer and let me know that I messed up. I apologized for my oversight. I hadn’t neglected her on purpose. There were about 500 other people in the church with whom I was trying to interact. Clearly, she wanted me to fail – she set me up – and it worked.

As a college student, I worked part time as a church janitor. For the record, this was the best ministry training I ever received. One of the Deacons secretly placed a toothpick in the corner of the restroom floor as a way of checking to see if I was doing my job. Thankfully, I had been doing my job and the Deacon let me know. But I often wondered what other traps he had set for me.

Once again, most folks are good folks and want others to succeed. But there are a few snakes in the grass. They are the saboteurs; the underminers. They set traps and lurk in the corner, waiting for the next victim.

What is the motivation for this type of behavior?

Some want others to fail because it makes them feel better about their own failure.

Some want us to fail so they can swoop in like a vulture to steal away what we have worked for.

Some are wicked and seek to destroy anything good.

Clearly, these people are dysfunctional. And they can ruin the lives of others.

What are we supposed to do about this?

Guard yourself! Be aware that not everyone is on your side, even if they repeatedly say they are.

Be slow to trust people. Don’t place your reputation in the hands of unproven individuals.

Work hard so as to remove any opportunity for these people to try to make you look bad.

But more than any of these things…

Keep your heart soft and your spirit tender.

My motivation for writing this article is to try to help prevent colleagues from becoming bitter about the pain they endure. Too many leaders who have been in the game for a while get injured. They drop their guard and get blindsided. The result is, they become overly sensitive, defensive and suspicious. Over time, the heart becomes calloused. This is an attempt at self-preservation but the result is self-destruction.

When we begin to expect the worst out of people, this is what we will experience. Let’s understand the concept of self-fulfilling prophets. They are the people who state that a project or person will fail – and they do everything in their power to assure that they are correct. If we are not careful, we can adopt this as a leadership style. If we expect people to stab us in the back, we can create the opportunity for that to happen. Don’t allow your pain to provide ammo for those who are trying to hurt you more.

Don’t allow yourself to expect the worst. Don’t get bitter. Forgive those who hurt you, even if they don’t want or deserve it.

If you can survive the attempts to make you fail, your success rate will increase. But more importantly, you will maintain a pure heart, which is vitally important for success. In fact, these days, having a pure heart may be THE definition of success.

Add to all this, the knowledge that God wants you to succeed! So much so that He provides a surefire way to insure it:

Study this Book (the Scriptures) of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Joshua 1:8 (NLT)

Encouragement for the Dis-Couraged Leader

designI purposefully hyphenated the word discouraged.

The prefix “dis” is defined this way: “a Latin prefix meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force.” (dictionary.com)

So, a person who is discouraged is the opposite of courageous. Perhaps not cowardly, but certainly far from brave.

Unfortunately, this describes many leaders I know. Confidence eludes them. Optimism is a million miles away. Is this because they are poor leaders? I don’t think so. I think the source of discouragement is much deeper than a performance consideration. But rather than dig into the cause of discouragement for leaders, I want to spend a moment exploring reasons to be encouraged.

Think about this:

You see only with your eyes. The true measure of your work is probably unseen physically but it is revealed spiritually. In other words, you don’t know the good you are accomplishing. Don’t get too down over a lack of measurable progress. I think you are having a greater impact that you realize.

You are not called to be successful in the eyes of the world; you are called to be faithful to your God. Our culture measures success by the amount of money and fame we possess. Like the weather, these things can change in a moment. God defines success by faithfulness. You’ll never be a celebrity, but you will be rewarded for obeying the Lord – whether or not you are famous.

You are not alone. Leading is the loneliest job in the world and sometimes the solitude can result in discouragement. Jesus has promised to be with you to the very end. And you have colleagues who care about you. Maybe they are too busy to let you know, but you are important to them. And by the way, don’t be too busy to check in on your leader-friends.

Your discouragement can actually become a tool to help others. Most of the people you lead are currently dealing with a similar issue. They are looking for a way through the puzzle. Who better to lead them than one who has recently escaped from the maze of discouragement? If you stay stuck in the trap of being downcast, they will stay stuck with you. Lead yourself and others out of the cloud of discouragement.

Your hard work and dedication will eventually pay off. One of the sources of discouragement is fatigue. We simply get tired of pushing the rock up the hill with no end in sight. Anybody can be happy when everything is going well. But true leaders have to forge ahead against the wind and in the face of lots of opposition. This can wear you down. But please be aware that the investments you are making now will have big results. It is a spiritual law that cannot be broken – you reap what you sow. If you will be faithful, even in the little things, God will multiply it.

One day, when the journey is finished, I believe that you will receive the ultimate affirmation. The Scriptures tell us that, if we remain faithful, we will stand before the Lord and will hear His words: “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in the small things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter in to the joy of the Lord!” How awesome is that? While you may not see the finish line, it’s close. Don’t give up!

Rather than offer a lot of spiritual-sounding clichés, here is something practical: It’s the leaders in the world who make things happen. It’s not easy (it if was, everyone would do it!). If you are compelled to be a leader, you must lead. The only other option is quitting and then you become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Steel yourself; prepare your heart. Strengthen your backbone. Develop greater courage. And if you need help with this, reach out to another leader. They get what you’re going through.

Finally, glean from the truth of this passage: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again–my Savior and my God!” (Psalms 43:5)

Dis-Couraged Leader, encourage yourself! Lead on!

An Artificial Mission

IMG_1633We must stay on Mission!

Dictionary.com defines Mission this way:

  • the business with which a group is charged.
  • any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed:
  • an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation:

This is the “why” of what we do. Mission is our meaning, our purpose, that which drives us, the thing that keeps us moving forward. Mission is not just a group or organization thing. Every individual should be aware of his or her God-given mission. You’ve been put on earth for a particular reason. This is your “Mission.”

But, without doubt, all of us get “off mission” from time to time. We create our own “artificial mission.”

Inc. Magazine says: “As every company gets older and matures, especially around its tenth anniversary and after, it can be become difficult to remember the reasons why it was founded in the first place. When you look to those organizations that have been around 30 to 50 years and older, it can be really hard to believe you’re talking about the same place.”

This is true of companies, of churches, and of individuals.

We all experience “mission drift.” This is where we slowly and sometimes subtly veer away from our mission and lose sight of our intended goal.

So, What Happens to Mission?

For those who are called by God to do a work in the world, our Mission is sacred; it is a calling from God. Because of the nature of our Mission, it is perpetually under attack. There is an enemy of the Mission. He will do anything necessary in order to sidetrack you.

This is when what I refer to as the war of attrition can occur. After a season of resistance, pushback and opposition, the Mission can soften. We lose our edge. We can get sidetracked – defending the Mission, debating the details of the Mission or trying to validate how important the Mission really is. Rather than living on Mission, we tolerate substitutes.

Now, enter the concept of the subtle creep of the Mission. It happens one little decision at a time, where you go astray by just a bit. The drift is unintentional and difficult to discern, but it is persistent. And the results are just as devastating as an abrupt and intentional abandonment of the Mission.

“Getting eaten by a whale or nibbled to death by minnows results in the same thing, although one demise is easier to diagnose.” Steve Haas, World Vision

Peter Greer and Chris Horst wrote a great book entitled, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches. They say, “Without careful attention, faith-based organizations drift from their founding mission. It’s that simple. It will happen. Slowly, silently, and with little fanfare, organizations routinely drift from their purpose, and many never return to their original intent. Harvard and the YMCA are among those that no longer embrace the Christian principles on which they were founded. But they didn’t drift off course overnight. Drift often happens in small and subtle ways. Left unchecked, it eventually becomes significant.”

Here is the my main point today:

When we begin to fail in regard to fulfilling our Mission, we create an alternative mission.

Because we don’t know how to refocus on the Mission, we create a reactionary mission. We may feel guilty about our lack of progress. We may get frustrated about the lack of positive movement. We may feel pressured to produce something of substance. We need a break from the pressure. So we develop a “pseudo-mission.”

An alternative or reactionary or “pseudo” mission can look like: finances, politics, or the latest natural disaster. Granted, these things are important and should certainly be someone’s mission. But if they are not your God-given mission, don’t allow them to take over your focus.

When churches get off mission from the Great Commission (to make Disciples), they adopt another vision. This mission may be politics. It could be social justice. Perhaps homelessness or prolife issues or acceptable Bible versions can take center stage. But, even though these are important topics, they are not The Mission of the Church. Substitute or counterfeit missions succeed in one thing: to pull us off Mission.

I am learning a great deal about this topic from Todd Wilson’s book, Multipliers; Leading Beyond Addition. Todd discussed the possibility of having a substitute mission that becomes an idol. When we place a secondary issue above that which God prioritizes, we create false idols. Wilson reminds us that church historians have shown that every Christian has two callings: a primary calling and a secondary calling. All Christians share the primary calling of making disciples. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 details this. Our secondary callings, (passions, drives, interests and burdens) which drive our activism, must be kept in proper check – subservient to our primary calling.

I love the way Wilson explains this. God gives us our secondary calling to help fulfill our primary calling. It must never be turned around!

What this means to me is Christians must never focus only on:

Politics

Social welfare

Race relations

Pro-life movement

Homelessness

Recovery

Parentless children

Substance abuse

Addictions

Gun control

Elder care

Bus ministry

Feeding the hungry

Church Planting

Church growth

Leadership development

Education reform

Door-to-door witnessing

Divorce recovery

Youth Ministry

You get the idea.

These issues are all necessary and important and vital to our work. But they are not The Mission; they are part of the mission – perhaps a secondary mission.

The thing about substitute mission is it leaves you feeling empty. You work diligently to accomplish it, but once it is accomplished, there is no fulfillment. Or you work hard and expect everyone else to assist. But they don’t because they have their own secondary mission (and get frustrated at you for not helping them!) This is because the substitute is… a substitute. Only The Mission and the accomplishment of it will bring us to true completion.

There is One Mission: Make Disciples. That’s it.

You have one job. You have one Mission. You also have a secondary mission. I don’t know what your secondary mission is but I’m guessing you do. Whatever it is, do that. But please focus on the primary Mission. Don’t get sidetracked. Don’t allow your Mission to get hijacked. It’s too important. If God commissioned you with that mission, the world needs it.

No more artificial mission!

Healing Between the Races: The Responsibility of the Church

design-36Allow me to begin this article with a disclaimer. I do not claim to be an authority in race relations. While I have studied the issues and have worked in multicultural ministry for years, I realize my limited exposure to the concepts, simply because of my race. In my effort to learn more, I have recently read a variety of authors who more adequately address the topic. Among them are Sean Palmer who wrote Why Christians Are Incapable of Racial Healing http://www.missioalliance.org/confession-evasion-christians-incapable-racial-healing/, Mark Crear, PhD, President, Multicultural Division of AACC, who wrote Racial Healing, Reconciliation, and the Church https://www.aacc.net/2015/10/09/racial-healing-reconciliation-and-the-church/ and one of my long times favorites, Wellington Boone who recently published How to Pray for Racial Healing https://www.preachitteachit.org/articles/detail/how-to-pray-for-racial-healing/ I hope you can enjoy their works like I have.

Our politicians have failed in the area of racial reconciliation. Our country is deeply divided in several ways but one of the deepest breaches is race. Years of training, emphasis on sensitivity and awareness, and legislation has not provided what we need. In 2018, the United States in general and Illinois specifically (my context) is torn and divided by race. We are all hurting and people are wondering if there is any hope. Indeed, many have completely given up.

One of the results of a healthy local church in an unhealthy community is influence. Believers in Christ are commissioned to be salt and light in a broken culture. This basically means that we are not to blend in; we are to be difference makers. When we see illness in our towns and cities, the church has an opportunity and responsibility to display the solutions that are provided by the Gospel. We know that God created all people equal. We know that the Scriptures teach us that we must love others as we love ourselves even, and perhaps especially, when others are different from us. I believe that God is displeased when people discriminate based upon skin color, race or ethnicity. God does not tolerate racism in any form, nor should His Church.

So why haven’t we done better in regard to healthy race relations? We can blame our politicians or legislators. We can point fingers at other races, placing responsibility for reconciliation upon them. But I believe that the Church must do better. We have the opportunity to put on public display what healthy race relations looks like. What could happen if churches of various races came together in the name of the Lord? Most churches are segregated by race. What would happen if God’s children no longer accepted this as normal? Can we imagine the impact of a church that refused to allow race to separate it? How would the world respond to a church that was truly united?

I wish to extend a challenge to the churches in Illinois, as well as anyone I am connected with. I am asking our pastors, leaders and church members to make a concentrated and intentional effort to heal the racial breach in your community. Take the initiative. Accept the responsibility to reach out with grace and patience to people who are different from you. While we are not responsible for how others respond, we are responsible to share the love of God across racial and ethnic boundaries. It will require taking some risks. We will have to be willing to get uncomfortably, surrender some of our preferences and go the extra mile. Tolerating one another isn’t enough. Tokenism and disingenuous overtures won’t work, in fact, they will do further harm. But I honestly believe that we can make a difference and have a positive impact.

How will the world know how to heal the brokenness if the church is just as broken as the world? Our desperate prayer should be, “God, heal Your people!”

And, if you believe that there is no racial problems in our churches and communities, I strongly disagree. Be honest as you answer these rhetorical questions: Is the racial diversity your church reflective of the racial diversity in your community? Would you willingly serve under a spiritual leader (pastor or Bishop) of another race? Do you intentionally try to connect with and build relationships with people from a race different than yours? If your answers are “no”, you may have some issues to consider. Keep believing that there are no race problems among the church and the people around you will lose respect for you, and potentially your church. I agree with the assessment that says that the most racially divided hour in American is Sunday morning. We have to do something about that.

I challenge you – lead the way. Serve someone of a different race. Reach out with genuine love to someone of a different nationality. Find someone who is currently out of your comfort zone and become a true friend.

I recall the first church we pastored. It was all white. This troubled me because our community was diverse. I had seen an African American family living down the street. I did the unthinkable – I went down, knocked on their door and invited them to church. Guess what? They came and became treasured members of the church. It’s not that hard to be a reconciler.

While the problems of race relations will never be completely solved until we get to heaven, the church must offer hope and a better way through Christ.

We are one in the Spirit; The world will know that we are Christians by our love for one another.

 

Embrace Change

IMG_0072It’s been said, there are 2 things that you can count on for sure – death and taxes. Well, obviously, there are more things than this that are inevitable. The love of God, the power of the cross, and eternity are for sure. The Bible says, “Heaven and earth may pass away but the Word of the Lord remains.” I would like to humbly add one more thing to this list: CHANGE. Regardless of whether or not we like it, change always comes. There is no denying it, avoiding it, or outsmarting it. Change happens.

Some change is bad. Deteriorating morals, new definitions of right and wrong, and adding to or taking away from the Bible are most certainly destructive. What is socially acceptable, which is subject to change, is not the standard for believers. We must hold tightly to the standards of God’s Word and His expectations of holiness are never to be compromised.

We must never consider changing the meaning of the Scriptures. But not everything in our church is sacred. Not every method of our worship is holy. The Bible doesn’t indicate if chairs or pews are better, if the Holy Spirit prefers a particular version of the Bible, or what color the carpet in the sanctuary should be. The Message never changes but at times, the method of the delivery of the message must be adjusted. A good example may be music. Music in the church looks and sounds completely different today than it did 100 years ago. A few very large churches back then had pipe organs. The smaller churches had few instruments, but those that did featured primitive acoustic guitars, banjos, and an occasional out-of-tune piano. The fact that there were no sound systems changed the approach to worship, at least how we are familiar with it today. Crowds were generally smaller. People sang loudly because there were no microphones. No electricity or air conditioning created challenges we no longer have. Now, some people prefer things the way they were back then. But guess what? Things changed. Good or bad, times brought about advancements in technology and innovations that resulted in more people being presented with the opportunity to hear the preaching and engage in worship. Some changes are bad, but some changes are good. We must know the difference.

Those who refuse to change really have no choice, change comes to us all, like it or not. Digging one’s heels in only results in being left behind. And even worse, when we refuse to adjust our methods, our voice to the culture gets silenced because we lose touch with the people in the culture.

I encourage you, stay true to your convictions. Never compromise on the integrity of the Bible. Don’t sugarcoat the truth. But let’s not get stuck fighting for an opinion that is merely an opinion. If the Bible says that a particular behavior is sin, it is. But if there is room for interpretation, please respect others and their ability to make decisions as the Lord leads them. One of our fathers in the faith, Augustine of Hippo said, “In the essentials unity, in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I interpret this to mean that we must stay together in the unquestionable issues – like the basic doctrines of our faith. But in areas where the Bible is not black and white (like preaching styles, types of worship music, or the design of our church buildings), we should allow people to choose their preference. And regardless of what other people think and do, we must love them. Let’s not go to war with one another over tastes, opinions and preferences.

I believe we have a responsibility to know how to apply the Bible to every generation. If I weaken the effectiveness of the Gospel by the way I present it (if no one ever gets saved or discipled), I am wrong if I don’t adjust. If what I am doing no longer works, I must seek God for the changes He wants me to make. My excuses of stubbornness or inflexibility will not stand on judgment day.

Once we die, things will finally quit changing. But until then, brace yourself for change, and lots of it. Don’t allow the pace of change in this world to leave you behind. The world needs us to share the eternal truth of God’s Word in new, creative and innovative ways.

The world is changing rapidly but the Truth of Jesus is eternally effective. Let’s do whatever we can to reach as many as we can for Christ!

I Talk Too Much!

28277096_10156208500674214_2785031100350399211_nI’ve recently been convicted by the Holy Spirit about how much I communicate: I talk too much. I post on Facebook too much. I Tweet too much. I write too much.

What I have concluded is that my motivation for communication is the key. If I genuinely have something to say that may help someone, that is a good thing. If I communicate in order to be noticed, that is a bad thing.

My intention here is to go public with my commitment to do better. So I will let the Scriptures do the rest of the talking here. No additional commentary will be needed.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Proverbs 10:19

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. Proverbs 17:28

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Proverbs 18:2

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1:19

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Proverbs 21:23

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 29:20

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Psalms 141:3

The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Ecclesiastes 9:17

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

Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. Proverbs 13:3

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. James 3:6

For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. Ecclesiastes 5:7

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21

If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth. Proverbs 30:32

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. James 3:2-11

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness. II Timothy 2:16

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Proverbs 17:27

Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. Amos 5:13

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! Psalm 141:3-4

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler. Proverbs 20:19

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? Ecclesiastes 5:6

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Proverbs 26:4

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: Psalm 39:3

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14

For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. Amos 5:12-13

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. Proverbs 29:11

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” Romans 3:13-14

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. Matthew 5:37

If you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth… Proverbs 6:2

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly. Proverbs 12:23

The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near. Proverbs 10:14

People Don’t Quit Churches; They Quit Pastors

27973493_10156191704034214_6689077253968786515_nA few years ago, I arrived at the church to prepare for the morning worship service that was scheduled to begin a few hours later. As I walked across the platform, I noticed a piece of paper on the piano. I picked it up and read a note from the piano player explaining that they would not be back at the church. This was the first I had heard of it. We went ahead with the service; the lady and her family left the church. (However, they did come back and leave several more times in following years!)

Having served as a local church pastor for over 25 years, I have had more than my share of people who left the church I was serving. I am ashamed of the number of people who quit the church under my leadership. It was never pleasant, it always hurt and, with the exception of a couple of very dysfunctional people, I was very sad as a result of their departure.

In the numerous conversations that took place around these departures, most of the talk centered around the concept of people “leaving the church.” Usually people just stopped showing up. A few times, they informed me personally why they were leaving. I have received emails, text messages and phone calls telling me they were quitting the church. Facebook messenger, grapevine and cryptic messages on the church answering service have also worked well. But I can’t recall anyone telling me that they were quitting me, the pastor. But in essence, that is what many of them did.

Complaints by those who leave a church vary. Some involve talk about the music; others cite the lack of programs for their kids. Conflict is a major cause of people leaving the church. Rarely does doctrine come into play. On most occasions, it’s an issue of style or preference or opinions about the operation of the church. The reason I say that people leave a pastor rather than the church is, all of these things are (or should be) under the influence of the primary leader – the pastor. While the pastor shouldn’t run everything in the church, as the primary leader, their philosophy is, in most cases, most predominant. Most people who leave, leave the Pastor.

As a Lead Pastor, if there is an issue in the Youth Ministry, it is my issue. If the music is bad, I own it. If the nursery is dirty, I am to blame. Of course, I am not a proponent of the Lead Pastor doing all of the work. In fact, a micromanaging pastor is a reason why some some leave a church. But the Pastor must provide a level of leadership that influences the entire church.

Regardless of how many people tell me, “don’t take it personally”, it is very personal when people leave. When you pour your life into a group of people, it is silly to think that it is not personal; of course it is. Today, as a church denominational leader, when someone leaves our group, it is personal. People don’t leave our movement; they leave the leader. It’s personal for everyone – if it’s not, your heart has already departed.

I’ll never get accustomed to the pain of losing people. If I do, I am in dereliction of my duty. I can’t fix everything. And sometimes people need to leave a church. But let’s not try to fool ourselves into believing that, in many cases, the pastor is not responsible.

For clarification, I am not writing this blog post to make pastors feel even worse than they already do. That is the farthest thing from my motivation. I am writing this to let people know, leaving a church is a very painful and personal issue for many people. It hurts. Please don’t leave assuming it doesn’t matter to anyone; It does. If a pastor is being honest, it hurts them deeply. I hope we can see a way to avoid this trend – and yes, it is a trend. My advice would be to engage in healthy communication with the pastor long before you make a decision to leave. Perhaps it won’t work, but just maybe it will.

And finally, Pastors, I love you, but we must own this concept. We simply can’t exonerate ourselves when numerous people leave the church. You may not be directly to blame but, as the shepherd, you are in most cases responsible if the flock scatters.

How about if we stick together and work toward making the church as good and effective as it can possibly be?

Can Kickers, or the Hezekiah Syndrome: Selling out Future Generations

27459680_10156150146009214_7268989353369031812_nIt’s commonly referred to as “kicking the can down the road.” This is when a leader refuses to deal with an issue that will have negative ramifications – later. The idea is, as long as I am gone when everything hits the fan, I’m good with that.

One of the most notorious cases of “can kicking” happened a few thousand years ago. The Bible tells the story of King Hezekiah who foolishly showed off all of the national treasures to visitors from a distant land. Isaiah (who was a prophet) addressed the trouble that would come as a result of Hezekiah’s mistake:

Then Isaiah spoke to Hezekiah, “Listen to what God has to say about this: The day is coming when everything you own and everything your ancestors have passed down to you, right down to the last cup and saucer, will be cleaned out of here—plundered and packed off to Babylon. God’s word! Worse yet, your sons, the progeny of sons you’ve begotten, will end up as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”19 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “If God says it, it must be good.” But he was thinking to himself, “It won’t happen during my lifetime—I’ll enjoy peace and security as long as I live.” (II Kings 20:16-19 MSG)

This is a little shocking. How, in good conscience can a king show such disregard for his family and descendants?

Take another look: Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “If God says it, it must be good.” But he was thinking to himself, “It won’t happen during my lifetime—I’ll enjoy peace and security as long as I live.” In other words, I really don’t care about what happens to people in the future – I’m OK.

Prototypical “kicking the can down the road!”

In a nutshell, here is the root of the Hezekiah syndrome:

Selfishness: when leaders care more about their wellbeing than that of those they lead, the phenomenon occurs.

Shortsightedness: when leaders can’t anticipate the long-term results of their decisions, those in the future may suffer.

When leaders don’t care about those who will come behind them, careless and even cruel decisions can be made.

When leaders are too weak to make decisions that are good for their progeny, the Hezekiah syndrome will reveal itself.

And this last “root” is worth focusing upon.

It is possible that leaders in 2018 may make decisions (or refuse to make decisions) that will hurt their children, grandchildren and many generations to come. If I am hurting the future by ignoring an issue today, shame on me.

If you are a leader and you observe a problem that may hurt others down the road, and if you have the capacity to address that problem, it would be a dereliction of duty to let it go. True, the results may not come about on your watch but it is immoral to be able to prevent future pain and not do so.

Leaders, our children need us to be strong. Our grandkids are counting on us having a backbone. If we see a problem that is fixable, fix it!

Now, apply the principles of the Hezekiah syndrome to your family, your business, your church, your community, your country… Your descendants will thank you!

What if My Church isn’t Spiritual Enough?

designIf you’ve been attending a church for any significant length of time, you’ve experienced it: the service where nothing seems to flow. It feels tight. The music isn’t engaging, the sermon is dry, the crowd is down, and it feels like you’re just going through the motions rather than entering into the presence of God. I think this type of experience is inevitable although we should never accept it as OK. But what if this type of service has become the norm? What should one do if the spiritual climate of the local church is tepid at best. Long stretches of dead services are a sign of real trouble for a church. What if my church isn’t spiritual enough for me?

How long has it been since someone came to Christ in your church? How long since there has been a significant move of the Holy Spirit? I am not talking about a “feel good” service where everybody was happy. I mean a time when God was so evidently present that everyone knew it, and responded, and lives were changed. I think a key question that church leaders should ask, without fail, while evaluating the effectiveness of a worship experience is: did the people encounter God? If they did not, it’s time for something to change!

The truth is, too many churches are stuck is a rut of mundaneness. Week after week nothing remarkable occurs. The people have stopped expecting anything to happen. There is no sense of urgency, passion has faded and everything is predictable. We might describe the church as “not anointed”, boring, cold, or, as a former pastor used to say, “dry as cracker juice!”

What if my church isn’t spiritual enough for me? What should we do when this happens?

I would like to approach this topic from the perspective of a church member. Perhaps later I will address church leaders and pastors on the subject.

In my opinion, a key mistake many of us make is to perceive the church as an organization. It can easily appear as another institution. While it may be reasonable to do so, we must see the church as something so much more.

God strategically established the church as an organism; the living breathing Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to explain the deep spiritual nature of the church and he utilizes the body metaphor to do so. When we gather on Sundays for corporate worship, it is so much more than another institutional meeting. God has summoned the Body of Christ to gather for the purpose of worshiping Him!

There are many reasons why this body metaphor is important, especially when considering the dry times that we inevitably experience. Among the greatest reason is – we each play a key role in the health of the Body of Christ.

Regarding church services, there is a huge difference between spectators and participants. Worship was never intended to be a “spectator sport.” Of course, ministers play a key role in leading worship services but the Bible identifies little if any distinction between clergy and laity. Everyone in the church should play a key role in church services.

Think of it this way: your spiritual development is not primarily your pastor’s responsibility. While they are to shepherd you, you must assume the responsibility for your own discipleship. This is also true when it comes to worship services. Sure, the pastor leads but if folks don’t follow, it will be a disconnected experience. Everyone has the responsibility to make the church gathering better.

I think some church members require a higher level of spirituality from their church services than they require for themselves. Keep in mind, the “church” is made up of individuals and the church is only as spiritually developed as the individual people are. We are simply a sum of the parts. Of course, Christ is the Head of the Church but we are the various parts of the Body. If each of us will pursue spiritual maturity, our churches will also move closer to God. If we come to church with an attitude of expectation and surrender to the Lord, great things are bound to happen. On the other hand, if we come to services disinterested and apathetic, nothing will happen.

So, rather than feeling as though the church is lagging (and sometimes complaining about it), perhaps we should focus on ourselves. No more, “I’m not being fed” or “I wish we had a more exciting church”. Rather, accept the responsibility to be a positive influencer; make the church better. Do whatever it takes to bring life to the Body of Christ.

We are the Church! Let’s enjoy it.

We Live in a Name-Calling Culture!

26815563_10156093646594214_7222317202598643064_nLike a nightmare revisit to Junior High, we are now bombarded in the media with people calling other people by ugly names. It is not only tolerable, but in some circles, quite fashionable to refer to others by using derogatory titles. Those who complain about the politically correct emphasis under which we live must be delighted. Apparently, you can call someone whatever you want as long as you think it is true (and it drives home your ideological point).

Think about it, words like, snowflake, extremist, troll, radical, elitist, and misogynist, show up in the news many days. Deplorable, fascist, teabagger, Trumpkin left-wing, nut job, Libtard, SJW (Social Justice Warrior), and so on are widely acceptable names that we hear frequently in public. Hashtag any one of these names and run it through Twitter – you may be surprised how often they show up.

There is a whole slew of names I wouldn’t dare put in print because they are so distasteful and offensive. Yet, they frequent our headlines and lunchroom discussions.

This is not a new phenomenon. But something about this type of language is relatively new: we’re not in Junior High anymore.

When the leaders of our country blow up social media most days by referring to their political counterparts in disrespectful ways, we can readily expect the citizens to follow. As I have found myself repeating a lot recently, people follow leaders. Think about that for a minute.

For the Believer in Christ (a name I prefer), there is a better way.

Consider what these passages indicate:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9

Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. Ecclesiastes 10:12

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

These verses indicate that we are not to use our words to hurt others. Our tongues can be a blessing or a curse, but they cannot be both. If you are a Christian (another term of endearment), sanctify your mouth. In others words, say only the things that build up other people. I am not indicating that we pretend that bad people are good. But there is no good accomplished when we call one another names.

There are several obvious problems with name-calling:

  • It is an effort to make others look bad. This is a well-known defense mechanism – we try to make ourselves look good by making others look bad. By the way, this doesn’t work.
  • It is an attempt to control a situation. I think name-calling is a bully tactic.
  • It hurts individuals. Many of us still live with the ugly results of monikers that were placed on us as children.
  • It makes us sound unintelligent. Educated people have improved vocabularies, and not so we can more effectively offend one another.
  • It reduces the chance for healing in relationships. It is nearly impossible to reason with a person whom you have destroyed with your words.
  • It sometimes ends intelligent dialogue. Once some names are applied, the conversation ends.
  • It is disrespectful.

In my opinion, when we spend our time identifying others by degrading or demeaning terms, we are revealing a weakness in our own hearts. Recall what Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

For the Believer, there us a higher calling.

If an individual does not know Christ, our calling is to reconcile them to Him. Can we possibly accomplish this by insulting them with a profane label?

We can do better. Please don’t follow our politicians. Let’s allow our spirits to mature. Of course there are those with whom we disagree. But let’s focus on how we may minister grace to them rather than humiliate and degrade them.

Love you all!

Things Christians should stop saying about the President

26220008_10156078309834214_8874137867936784925_n1. He is better than the alternative

2. God placed him in office

3. He’s not perfect, no one is.

4. Don’t judge him, that is for God alone.

5. He’s the President, not a Pastor.

  1. This statement may be true, but how pitiful is it that we have accepted that no decent and moral person can lead us? We cannot allow our leaders to be less than morally good and decent people.
  2. Absolutely, without doubt, God placed our current President in office. He has placed all leaders of all times in office. This is by no means an indication that God approves of the behaviors and attitudes of the President.
  3. Our President is not perfect. But He is the leader of the free world. It is acceptable to expect a leader to behave in ways that we can follow. Leaders – followers, think about it.
  4. We cannot judge anyone, only God knows the heart. But the Bible is very clear that a tree shall be known by its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). Only God looks at the heart. But we utilize our common sense and judgment in every other relationship. Why cannot we do the same with the President?
  5. We do not expect our President to be a pastor but we would hope that he/she could lead us into a healthy and productive life. Is it too much to ask that our leader be a person of kindness, integrity and composure? It is not too much to expect that we can expose our children to our national leader without embarrassment.

Saying the things listed above makes Christians sound uninformed. It is much more helpful to enter into intelligent dialogue. Politics and religion are not the same thing. We must stop equating one with the other. It is entirely possible that God doesn’t have a preference of political parties because neither reflects perfectly the Kingdom of God. That is why our hope is not in the systems of this world.

“My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jesus in John 18:36)

My Goals for 2018: Less

 

designLess excess.

Less idle time.

Less excuses for a lack of progress.

Less careless communication.

Less “me time.”

Less hurt caused by my decisions.

Less stress.

Less blaming.

Less junk food and sitting.

Less ignoring individuals I come across.

Less driving.

 

Less is more.

 

The Christmas Gift That Everyone Needs

24293970_10155971182684214_1901089510484304777_nRegardless of how hard we try, the gift-giving season can create pressure. Whether it is trying to figure out what to buy that person “who has everything” or how to answer the question, “what would you like for Christmas?”, Christmas gifts can cause stress. This is so sad, considering the simplicity that is intended by the idea of gift exchange.

If we did not know better, we would ask for and try to purchase gifts that have real meaning. Peace in the world, an end to starvation and sickness, universal love and joy… none of us are naïve enough to even dream of such gifts. So in their place, we spend lots of money on gadgets and trinkets and ugly Christmas sweaters!

At the risk of appearing idealistic, I want to offer an idea for a gift that everyone needs. This gift is the purpose behind the concept of Christmas. This is the reason that God sent His Son, born of a virgin, into this world.

We all need the gift of a saved soul.

The baby Jesus came as a sacrifice. He didn’t come to earth at that time to start another religion or to set up His earthly Kingdom or to overthrow the government. Jesus came to die, to resurrect, to ascend to heaven and to eventually come back. The purpose of the incarnation was to redeem humankind and to reconcile us back to God. This process of the coming of the Savior is what provides the possibility of our salvation.

We all need the gift of a saved soul.

If we will be honest, it’s not the boxes of candy or Chia Pets or cheap cologne that we want and need. We need to see souls saved. If I could have anything I want for Christmas this year, it would be for friends and loved ones to come to know Christ. The problem is, asking my family for such a gift would be unfair. You see, they do not have the ability to wrap up this gift and put it under our tree. We can’t give the gift of salvation for Christmas. Or can we?

Salvation cannot be purchased online or in a crowded department store. There is only one source where forgiveness of sins and new life can be found – in a relationship with Jesus. So, is it possible for us to give the gift of a saved soul? Perhaps, if we learn how to focus on this most important gift throughout the holiday season.

Rather than scouring the store shelves for the perfect gift, let’s give the gift of a redeemed life. Instead of stressing out over the holidays, let’s model how a true Christian behaves. We can show and share the love of Christ with those we meet. We can focus on the salvation of lost souls in every event, church service, social gathering and family get-together.

You can participate in giving the gift of a lost soul for Christmas. If you don’t currently live for Christ, make the decision to do so today. If you do live for Christ, let that relationship show in every possible way this Christmas season.

Christmas 2017 has the potential to be the best ever, but not by spending a boatload of money for things we don’t need. Let’s invest ourselves in seeing people come to Christ this Christmas season.

We all need the gift of a saved soul!

 

 

Dangers for Pastors (part 3)

24301207_10155971895294214_2209181443603559335_nWe will wrap up the theme of dangers for pastors with today’s post. I don’t for a minute think that we have covered every possible topic available. I simply need to move on to some new ideas.

The basic thesis is, the most dangerous thing in a pastor’s life and ministry probably has nothing to do with physical threats or the concern of someone coming into the church to hurt people physically. There are more subtle, sneaky ways that our enemy can destroy us.

In addition to the 24 things listed in the previous two posts, let’s consider these dangers:

Not evaluating. Whether out of neglect or intimidation, many pastors never stop what they are doing long enough to evaluate what is working and what is not. We may be left to assume that everything is going well and everyone is happy. We can even adopt the mentality that, “if it ain’t broke(n), don’t fix it.” I have real concern about this approach to ministry. First of all, pastors may not know if everything is going well. Simply because people tolerate something doesn’t mean it is working. Secondly, pastors are sometimes the last to find out when something is broken. I think it is very important for a pastor to lead the way in evaluating the effectiveness of every aspect of the ministry. Measure it. Get input from others. Create open dialogue about how to make things better. Do yourself a favor – don’t make others be the ones to ask for an evaluation.

Forgetting motives. Religion is known for ritual. While there is nothing wrong with ritual and, in fact, ritual can be very healthy for people, we should continually be asking why we do the things we do and why we do them the way that we do them. It is common to do things in the church without ever considering the “why.” We set our schedules based on history. We have particular ministry events because we have always had those events. We sing music, teach classes and provide training – sometimes because it’s the only way we know how to do ministry. But WHY do we do ministry that way? Why is Prayer Meeting on Tuesday night? Why do we pass the offering plate rather than ask people to come up to the front to give? Why does the Youth Group meet in the basement? Why do we sell fried chicken to pay the bills? Rather than becoming paralyzed by asking the “why” question, we may find ourselves liberated. Many traditions in our churches have no meaning. If they are significant, by all means do them. If there is purpose, be intentional about it. But if much of our ministry is being done only because that’s the way it’s always been done, well – there is a whole new world of exciting and effective ministry awaiting us! Remember the WHY!

Copying ministry. It’s only natural; we learn how to do things by observing others. In ministry, we can be exposed to a particular ministry practice that really seems to be working. It is tempting to try to duplicate that at our church. While I don’t believe there is anything morally wrong with doing this, we may be doing our church a disservice. Pastor, don’t try to preach like the well-know television preacher. Don’t steal sermons from other pastors. Don’t have a goal to be like the church across town. You are an original. Your church is unique. The people that God has entrusted to your care need and deserve something specifically designed by God for them. My friend Dwayne Harris said that we are in danger of, “losing the individuality of our calling. If not careful, we can find ourselves trying to mimic and duplicate the success of others, as opposed to discovering God’s individual and unique design for our personal ministry.” A pastor whom I respect greatly said, “I think one danger in every Pastor’s life is loosing His identity. Becoming someone else rather than what God would want him to be. There is a danger of one patterning their life after someone whom they deem to be much more qualified than themself.” (Harold Miller) While this may sound like intense pressure (who has time to come up with all original stuff?), if all you offer folks is what you got somewhere else, they don’t need you, do they? Seriously, this is not only about job security but don’t be a spiritual middleman (or woman). Hear from God directly for the people you serve. Know them and the issues they are dealing with. Find something fresh from God’s Word that applies to their lives.

Being Emotionally Needy: I must exercise care on this one. While Pastors are people too, and they have needs that must be addressed, it is a dangerous thing to lead a church so one can receive the affirmation they need. If we are not in a good place emotionally, we can find ourselves rising and falling, based upon the interactions we receive at church. Darrin Brown tells us, ”be careful of the pride of success and the discouragement of failure. Do not define success or failure by man’s expectations, but in obedience to God and His word.” We can sometimes feel successful because someone said we did a good job. And we can be defeated and feel like a failure when criticism comes. Pastors must be emotionally stable enough that they don’t require others to build them up, or allow others to tear them down. Get your affirmation from your family and from the Lord. Don’t allow your self-worth to be determined by those whom you serve.

Worshipping Success: My friend, Jason Daughdrill discusses this in an eloquent way. “Success… it’s a dangerous blessing. Passionate obedience, which usually is the catalyst for success, can quickly be traded for maintenance/performance pressure to keep up the successful image others around you are celebrating. Your production begins to overtake your person.” How true is that! We can be guilty of continually raising the bar of what others expect of us. The show must get flashier. People won’t respond unless you keep all the plates spinning. We create an atmosphere of performance, competition and showmanship. This will lead to a crash! Pastor, please recall, only God defines success. He’s our audience of One.

Thinking that People “owe” you something: The spiritual climate has changed in our culture. Like it or not, most people feel no obligation to attend church, support the church financially or be responsible for its operation. These things used to be a given in many churches; not any longer. And as a result, some pastors feel as though the people in their community should attend the church, regardless of what is offered. We’ve all dealt with the consumer mentality that has invaded our churches. While this is certainly a bad thing, gone are the days when we can offer up a subpar worship experience and expect people to support it. People have choices. There are many churches they can attend and some of them believe that church attendance isn’t even important. So, if and when people don’t come to church, don’t blame them. Don’t criticize them as “carnal.” Don’t get offended – just find a way to get them there. In my opinion, this is not by entertaining them; it is by providing an encounter with God.

Cultural ignorance: Pastors are priests. By this I don’t mean that pastors wear a clerical collar, take a vow of celibacy and give their life to the Catholic Church. I mean that we are to be in touch with the people. We are supposed to understand their lives, have similar experiences, and be able to identify with their struggles. When a pastor is unaware of the world around them, when they lose touch with current lifestyles and cultural trends, they create a distance between them and those they lead. Too many people think their pastor doesn’t live in the real world. Even things as simple as popular music, movies and world events are opportunities for pastor to show that they are aware of what’s going around them. My next point will deal with Pastors who go too far the other way, but please be aware that, if you want to minister to people where they are, you have to know where they are. You can’t live in an isolated cave and expect people to identify with you.

Cultural saturation: On the flip side of cultural ignorance is cultural permeation. This happens when a pastor spends too much time participating in things outside of the ministry. When a pastor knows all of the lyrics of the top 10 songs, when they can quote limitless movie lines, when they are absorbed with social media…their follows may have need for concern. Most of us have heard a pastor talk about seeing a movie that everyone knows is inappropriate. As previously stated, pastors must know the world in which their followers live. But too much exposure to secular culture can cause church members to lose confidence in their pastor’s spirituality. I think the goal here is balance. Don’t live in a cave but don’t live in the gutter.

Refusal to utilize social media: There are only a handful of pastors who still refuse to participate in Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. While this may seem innocuous, don’t assume so fast. Social media is the communication method of choice for millions of church members as well as those we hope to reach. Pastors who refuse to engage in social media may be like the missionary who refuses to learn the language of the people group they are trying to reach. Of course, we all know full well the nonsense that happens on the Internet and we have heard a lot of stories of how social media has gotten people into trouble. But, in my estimation, social media is like relationships: some are good and some are bad. We must know with whom we should connect, we should exercise wisdom and we must practice restraint and discretion. Pastor, don’t eliminate a bunch of people because you don’t speak their language. Take time to learn.

Neglecting Self Care: For number 10 (my final point), I must discuss a huge danger for pastors. It has to do with neglecting one’s spiritual health while caring for others. So many pastors have burned out because they were so busy ministering to others that they forgot to take care of themselves. When helping hurting people, we sometimes pick up their hurt. Some expect us to be impervious to discouragement. Many times we don’t feel free to express when we are in trouble. All of this can lead to a very dangerous spiritual condition. We pray for others. We read our Bibles to prepare for ministry. We go to church often. None of these things guarantee our spiritual vitality. When discussing this danger, Mike Thompson said, “Doesn’t matter if we “transform” an entire city and remain personally unchanged. It leads to spiritual bankruptcy.” In my opinion, this is the most diabolical and subtle danger for pastors. I think it happens to everyone who serves in ministry for any length of time. I’m not sure it can be avoided altogether. So we must build safety nets into our lives. We must have relationships that hold us accountable. We need a safe place to confess weakness and sin. Avoid sliding backwards at all costs, but once it has happened, arrest it!

I trust you have heard my heart in this little series, Dangers to Pastors. 34 things made the list! And there are thousands more! Perhaps one day someone will develop this into a book – I think there is a great need. And a special “thank you” to all my friends and colleagues who pitched in on this effort. You folks have a lot of wisdom, I appreciate you sharing!

To any pastor out there: please don’t go this alone. If you need someone to talk to, let me know. If I can’t help you, I know someone who can. I pray that something that we said makes your life and ministry easier, more productive – and safer.

Hear the Word of the Lord:Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

Dangers for Pastors (part 2)

23915882_10155955440214214_6127062570614102048_nThis is round 2 of Dangers for Pastors. Part 1 got some great feedback so let’s move forward with more thoughts on what pastors should guard against. Once again, I believe that threats of violence in our churches are the least of our worries. We have daily encounters with more subtle, but just as deadly threats.

Here are eleven additional dangers to go with the thirteen from last time. Since I got a lot of feedback on dangers, I will try to name the source of the thought.

People pleasing: Unless you have some type of social disorder, you want to be liked; everybody does. Problems arise for pastors when they spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to get people to like them. Even worse is when a pastor fails to do the right thing in an effort to gain the approval of others. A desire to please people is an indication of an insecurity issue. If a leader feels inferior or if one’s job is on the line, trying to please people is a real temptation. The problem is, we can’t please people. My friend, Bill Isaacs reminded me of this. So not only do we fail at trying to please others, we fail at leading. The solution? Perhaps focus on pleasing God and making an effort to be at peace with others. Don’t you love the meme going around that says, “If you want to make everybody happy, become an ice cream salesman.”

Isolation: Depending upon your personality, you may prefer to be alone. Introverts sometimes make great leaders (see the article related to this idea). Alone time is necessary but too much alone time is unhealthy. There is a huge difference between alone time and being a loner. When one has been hurt, it is normal to protect oneself. When betrayed by a friend, the tendency is to trust no one. The problem is, a one-strand cord is easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Isolation is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of danger. Pastors need confidants. They need friends. Kevin Wells said, “The battles they face that they feel they have no one to talk to about. Maybe it’s that they don’t feel like they can tell anyone.” Pastors need people in front of them pulling them along and people behind them pushing them along. Don’t be an easy mark for the devil; don’t let him catch you alone in a dark alley.

Bitterness: Every person has plenty of experience being hurt. I think that Pastors are especially good targets for inflicting pain. In other words, some people think it is perfectly fine to take cheap shots at the preacher. Even when this is not the case, pastors are susceptible to become bitter and hardhearted. Disappointment, unresolved pain, and failure – all of these can lead one to becoming bitter. Pastor, be aware, your bitterness will lead you nowhere good and you will take those you lead with you.

Getting and staying stuck: It happens to most everyone. We find ourselves in a season of unproductivity, but we can’t seem to make the changes necessary to regain our productivity. For pastors, it may involve ministry practices. We have operated a certain way for a long time but that way doesn’t seem to have the impact that it used to. It takes real courage to risk changing a system. But if pastors refuse to adapt, they will get stuck for sure. Of special concern are the pastors who have a few years to retirement but they think they can do business as usual and survive until they quit. This can be a fatal error. God and His people deserve better than coasting. Get unstuck!

Conflict avoidance. My friend John Upchurch reminded me of this danger. Because we wish to be peacemakers, and most of us have never had any conflict resolution training, we are not good at conflict. Some even avoid conflict at all costs. While conflict must not become the culture of the ministry, pastors must not avoid conflict. We must be skilled at bringing calm into a troubled situation. We must be adept at managing conflict for the good of the church. It is literally impossible to avoid conflict altogether. If unresolved, it will eventually destroy ministries and lives. So pastor, get good at facing and resolving conflict!

Vision vs. Management: According to Jonathan Augustine, managing expectations rather than visionary leading can be hazardous to a pastor. There are times in every ministry where the passion of the vision gets watered down by the reality of what people expect out of the leader. Ministers have one foot in each camp: vision from God and the real life scenarios of those they lead. Where we get into trouble is when the vision grows distant because we are too busy managing what people say they want from us. If I always have my head in the clouds, being hyper-spiritual, I will lose contact with people. If I never have my head in the heavenlies, I will lose touch with God. It is vital that we stay focused on the vision that God has given us because it is by realizing the vision that we can minister to the needs of the people.

Greener Grass Mentality: My good friend, Pastor Chad Dunford speaks about “refusing to be where you are (current ministry assignment), love where you are (community and congregation) and serve where you are (equipping for works of service through example). It can be tempting to always look for the “next” place, people or opportunity. Some of the best advice I was given was from my mentor in the following statement – “Unless you have knowingly disobeyed the will of God for your life, you are where you are because He put you there.” I agree, Chad!! The danger of this kind of thinking is, we are never satisfied. There remains a deep unrest, we are disgruntled and always feel as though we are missing something. This is a trap and will lead to misery for us and for those we lead. Thanks, Chad for the reminder!

Fearing questions: Many pastors are afraid of questions. They equate people asking questions to doubting and skepticism. Some like to appear that they know all the answers – and questions complicate this ruse. Pastor, just because someone asks questions doesn’t mean they are attacking you or trying to overthrow your leadership. Of course, some are trying to do this but the vast majority of people just appreciate information. Today’s culture requires that leaders be engaged and willing to share important information. The “on a need to know basis” doesn’t work anymore. By the way, one of the things you can do to bolster your leadership strength is to admit when you don’t know something. Whether or not you admit it, everybody knows it. Pastor, genuinely invite questions.

Lack of transparency: Information is power. When a leader possesses information and doesn’t share it with followers, people think they are shady. We cannot expect people to trust us if we give them reason to doubt. Leaders – try something: offer up more info than your team requests. Share details that show you have nothing to hide. Then watch the level of trust increase on your team. And then watch how others begin to share openly with others. Transparency is a powerful friend.

Sex and money: When I asked colleagues for input on dangers for pastors, several mentioned some rather obvious ones. Bucky Ray Sitsler said, “It seems to me that sex and money are the two greatest dangers. Thus, the two most important areas of life to ensure accountability processes are in place.” Eric Rogers said it in a humorous way: “Sex and silver. Dollars and dames. Monies and honeys.” M.E. Woody commented, “Pride, Petticoats and Pennies.” And my friend, Dr. Hong Yang quipped, “girls, gold ‘n glory.” I think we get the idea. Few dangers have brought down as many ministers as sex and money. They are the oldest tricks in the book. So why do we not protect ourselves better?

Leading but not following: This smacks of arrogance, don’t you think? But in reality, there are a lot of leaders who unwittingly find themselves in this situation. Leading is a demanding task. Most of us are pretty busy. And busyness can result in a lack of connectivity. We don’t have much choice but to connect with those we lead. But connecting with those who lead us is another matter. Sometimes we have to pursue those over us, and to be honest, our pride can become a hindrance here. Pastor, you are too strong to not have a leader. Too many pastors spend all of their time showing others the way when they have no one showing them the way. Leaders, don’t be so busy leading that you forget to follow.

Well, that’s the next eleven on the list. I plan to add more in a week or two. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or ideas for our consideration, I’d love to hear it!

Dangers for Pastors

designRecent violent tragedies in churches around our country remind us of our vulnerability. This can be a frightening time to lead a church. I know a lot of pastors who have their head on a swivel right now.

In my opinion, it’s not an armed gunman that poses the greatest threat to churches and pastors. The odds of an attack by a terrorist at your church are miniscule. But on a daily basis, you are exposed to grave danger. Churches are scrambling to put security in place and they should. But be aware that there are 1,000 ways the devil seeks to destroy you and your church and none of them involve guns. While we should have a security plan in place, it is absolutely crucial that every pastor protect themselves against less obvious, but just as deadly attacks.

My original plan for this article was to create a list of potential hazards and write a paragraph about each. I came up with 13. As I dialogued with some friends, it became apparent that the topic deserves a little more. So, I’ll launch with the original plan and then proceed with more in-depth ideas.

Pastors, look out for…

Ministry becoming a business. Like any other job, ministry can be stressful. After years of dealing with highly important issues of eternal nature, we can devolve things into a bottom line – and that bottom line isn’t souls saved. We must pay the bills. Especially in larger churches, legal matters, real estate, tax laws and human resources concerns can blind us to the spiritual nature of our work. When this happens, we will soon find ourselves disheartened. God did not call us to run a business. Although the church must be viewed as a business that runs above reproach, ministry is spiritual at its core and must function that way.

Becoming hard-hearted. I am not aware of any ministry veterans that don’t struggle with this issue. Part of our work is dealing with trauma: deaths, crises, family turmoil, etc. can wear one down. If we do not intentionally focus on keeping our spirits tender before God, we will become cynical, jaded, and skeptical. I find that few things do more damage to a minister than a hard heart. It is necessary to stay tender before the Lord.

Accepting status quo. Keeping the ministry machine running smoothly and keeping church members happy can be a full time job. When most of our time and energy is expended simply to survive, growth can unintentionally become a back burner issue. God did not call us to maintain – He called us to make disciples. He appointed you where you are to advance the ministry. Maintaining is not good enough.

No strategic plan. Let’s be honest for a moment with this query: what is your plan to build your ministry? If your answer is, “have church services”, you may want to dig deeper. A strategic plan is a wonderful gift that God provides for us so that we can prepare for what He is about to do. I agree that the Holy Spirit must direct us but He does reveal His plans to us if we will pursue Him. Being Spirit-led doesn’t mean that we fly by the seat of our pants. Seek God today for what He wants to do tomorrow.

Selling out to money. It is a very deadly thing for a church and pastor to become money-focused. For many pastors, the members who tithe the most have the most influence. Ministry decisions are made, not based upon what the Spirit is directing but upon what can be afforded. I believe in budgets but I do not believe that budgets should dictate ministry. I wrote another article on the problem of churches amassing bank accounts with no plan to invest them into ministry. You can read that here.

Stop learning. Bible College and seminary are wonderful tools. Pastors should be well educated in matters of Scripture and ministry and leadership. However, there should be no such thing as a pastor who has completed his/her training. Pastor, if you haven’t read a book outside of the Bible for the last few months – I suggest you start.

Displacing family. Much has been said on this topic. Don’t neglect your family for ministry. Your family will fail as well as your ministry. Your family is your first ministry!

No plan to rest. It is a very dangerous thing for a pastor to have no day off – no Sabbath day of rest. Perhaps you think you can work week after week with no vacation, but the end is coming – sooner than you think. Those who refuse to retire because they are too insecure to do so are only hurting themselves and their flock. You are not superhuman – the church survived without you for generations and, if necessary, can do so again.

Doing all of the ministry. This is a real trap for small church pastors. No one volunteers to lead a much–needed ministry so the pastor does it. Rinse and repeat. I understand the dilemma. But if this becomes a pattern, the church is doomed to stay small and the pastor is destined to burn out. If you find yourself here – slowly wean your folks off of their expectations that you must do everything.

No personal, only professional spirituality. Time for some quick self-evaluation: do you pray and study outside of your ministry responsibility? If not, your personal relationship with God is suffering. Fix that and you may fix many of your ministry issues. Don’t fix it and you are in grave danger!

Comparing yourself to others. If you are remotely competitive, it is natural for you to measure your success as compared to others. My advice – just stop. God called you to be you and to do your work. You won’t be like anyone else.

No original ministry ideas. Why do you do ministry like you do? Odds are, you saw someone else do ministry that way. I would suggest you examine every ministry activity through this lens: God called you to do what only you can do. Perhaps God uses other people to give you good ideas but don’t get stuck there. God is quintessentially creative and He never runs out of fresh ideas. Just ask Him, dream big and take a risk.

Assuming a call is enough. If a stranger were to ask you about your qualifications for ministry, what would you say? Being called by God to do ministry is a foundational necessity but it is not enough. I believe that every Believer is called into some type of ministry but the vast majority of people never take the necessary steps to fully engage in ministry.

These are just a few simple ideas. We’ll be digging deeper on the topic in coming days. Please stay tuned. I’d love to hear your idea on other dangers for pastors.

Fight for Your Thanksgiving!

23316716_10155903720379214_4923807824414387164_nThanksgiving is a season when we can feel either very grateful or very guilty (we can feel guilty because we don’t feel grateful). We all know that we are supposed to be thankful for everything we have – all of God’s blessings – and the good things we enjoy in life. But what if we just don’t feel thankful? What if life is just too painful right now to express feelings of gratitude? If this is the case, I wouldn’t suggest that you share it with many people – they may not understand!

No one would argue that the Lord has been good. Even in difficult times, He cares for us, provides what we need and gets us through. When life is at its worst, God is at His best! So how can it be that anyone would not experience overwhelming feelings of gratitude for all that He has done and continues to do?

Let’s recognize the spiritual nature of gratitude and the impact that it can have. Thankfulness is more than warm, fuzzy feelings. Thankfulness is a gift from God that enables us to recognize blessings. He has provided this gift to every person who has reasoning skills – even unbelievers. But thankfulness is also a great spiritual weapon. For the Christian, an attitude of thankfulness serves the purpose of glorifying God. A truly grateful person is a spokesperson for the Lord. They freely share their feelings about all that the Lord has done for them. Others see and hear this praise and they are inspired to follow suit. So imagine the damage that can be done when a Christian loses their gratitude. Their voice of praise is silenced and countless other people are negatively influenced.

Thanksgiving is under attack. Clearly, the enemy of our souls has very effectively created an atmosphere of entitlement in our culture. He has convinced millions of unsuspecting souls that they deserve the good things that they enjoy. A partner to entitlement is greed. In our nation, it is common for people to, rather than being grateful for what they have, want more and more! If it were a mathematic equation, it may read something like this: Entitlement + greed = selfishness. It is nearly impossible for a selfish person to be grateful.

I want you to know the importance of your thankfulness. Gratitude is such a valuable weapon that the devil will do nearly anything to steal it from you. He has succeeded in many people. He wants to blind us to God’s goodness. He is trying to make us feel insecure. He attempts to make us hard-hearted. His goal is for us to become jealous, covetous, envious, and ungrateful. He knows this: Lack of gratitude means a lack of future blessings. The story of the 10 lepers in Luke 19:11-19 proves this fact. If Satan can make you ungrateful, he can prevent you from receiving many future blessings.

Thanksgiving doesn’t ignore the fact that we go through hard times. Certainly, we all suffer times of grief and mourning. Yet, these experiences do not negate God’s goodness. When a person expresses their sincere gratitude to the Lord, they are not in denial. They simply realize that the Lord has been good, and, in spite of their circumstances, He is worthy of our praise.

Allow me to encourage you – fight for your thanksgiving! Even if you don’t feel like it, express your gratitude. This is not hypocrisy nor is it simply positive thinking. It is your commitment to show appreciation to God beyond your emotions. Use the gift God has given you to thank Him! By doing this, you will: 1) Give praise to our worthy God, 2) defeat the enemy in your life, 3) influence others to be grateful and 4) develop the habit of thankfulness, opening the door to future blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Importance of a “Quality” Worship Experience

23316618_10155901198814214_4888853113538265950_nKid gloves: that’s what I’m using while addressing this issue. The risk is that readers will think I’m not very spiritual. Or perhaps they’ll think that I’m the self-appointed judge of worship. It may be said that I’m watering down the message of the Gospel. But please, hang with me.

I have the honor of visiting many churches. I’ve attended services in approximately 50 different churches over the last 15 months. So if you think I’m referring to your church in this post, odds are, you are incorrect. My unique position affords a great vantage point. I can observe the good and the bad and the in between in worship services in a variety of churches. I seek to make the most of the privilege that God has given me.

For the sake of clarification, I consider a “quality worship experience” as one in which God is glorified and worshippers are inspired to live their lives in a God-honoring way.

Let’s talk about the quality of our church music and the preaching and the flow of the service. What happens when the preacher loses track of his point? How about when the worship leader can’t carry a tune? Should the same lady who has been playing the piano for 39 years keep playing, even though she is a terrible piano player? Does it matter if the sound system feeds back or if the light bulbs are burned out or if the restroom smells? How about a dirty nursery or grass that needs to be cut or rude ushers?

When I visit a church and the person leading the service has put no forethought into it, it is apparent. A preacher that doesn’t prepare a logical flow in the sermon can’t hide behind enthusiasm. And singers that can’t sing are painful to endure!

Am I just being “carnal”?

How about this? God deserves our best! In worship, we perform for an audience of one – God! Unprepared preachers and musicians that can’t play do not qualify as our “best”. The Scriptures paint this portrait in Malachi 1:8, where worshippers were condemned for offering sick and weak sacrifices. The modern application involves us leading ministry with an “it doesn’t matter” attitude. Quality matters to God and it matters to other people. Therefore, it must matter to us.

Why should we expect people to support a worship service that is less than pleasing to God? I think that God may not be pleased by some of what we offer Him. If what we present at worship services causes people to want to plug their ears and run away, God may be doing the same thing.

Here are some practical ideas to improve our quality in worship:

  • Ask unbiased friends to offer suggestions on ways to improve. Don’t be overly sensitive. While people may be reticent to tell you what they think, they are thinking it for certain!
  • Watch yourself on video. If it’s painful for you, imagine how your weekly listeners must feel!
  • Allow plenty of preparation time. Procrastination is no excuse for poor preparation.
  • Discuss the service ahead of time with everyone who leads in the service. You aren’t programming the Holy Spirit out of the service; you are providing an atmosphere where He can move in an orderly fashion, as Scripture details.
  • Work on smooth translations. Jagged and awkward shifts between service elements are distracting. Basically this means, keep things moving without unnecessary dialogue and explanation.
  • If the music is lower quality than desired, utilize tracks or video worship. God can move through prerecorded music as well as through live music. In fact, removing the distractions of low quality music may free up the worshippers.
  • Train volunteers. Raise the standards. Don’t demand perfection but model excellence. People will follow your example.
  • Expect to improve. The longer you serve in ministry, the better you should be at it.
  • Most importantly, ask God to help you to get better at leading worship services.

You may assume that I am preferring large churches that have a lot of talent over small churches with fewer gifted people. I am not. But note, being small is no excuse for low quality. While smaller churches may require greater creativity, they can offer to the Lord something that brings Him honor – and edifies people.

Disclaimer: I am in no way referring to a performance-based approach. Church is not show business and we don’t need performers on the stage. We need women and men who are gifted, skilled and well-prepared to lead us in worship.

Think about it this way: Would you keep eating at a restaurant that serves bad tasting food? Would you let a stylist cut your hair if they don’t care enough to do their best? How about going to a doctor that didn’t prepare by studying medicine? Well, worship is more important than all of those things. Worship deserves our best!

Work to get better. Practice, prepare and pray!

It should go without saying, our best without God’s anointing results in nothing. But I believe that God desires to anoint our best, rather than our leftovers.

Church leaders: I challenge you – lead your next service through the eyes of a new worshipper or an unbeliever. Is there any reason for them to be inspired to return regularly?

Finally, the Bible focuses on leaders who were excellent. David was skilled. Ruth was recognized as a woman of excellence. Daniel possessed an excellent spirit. Paul was recognized as a great communicator. How dare we approach worship with a lackadaisical attitude?

Is it more godly to sing or preach poorly than to offer excellence to God? Then let’s give God nothing less than our best!

If I have inadvertently offended you, please accept my apology. In my attempt to increase our effectiveness I would prefer not to anger folks. But if I can inspire one person to raise the bar on their worship service experience, I will have succeeded.