Compassion is a Christian Virtue

design-62Throughout the Bible and throughout church history, the people of God, when encountering hurting people, are filled with compassion. When people are victimized or suffer the pain of a tragedy, Believers are touched with feelings of “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”: (dictionary.com) We feel empathy, mercy, sorrow, sympathy and tenderness. What we are not supposed to feel is: animosity, cruelty, mercilessness, harshness, hatred, indifference (a few antonyms of compassion.)

The Holy Spirit residing in us compels us to be sensitive to the needs of others. We are enabled to love and care about the conditions of the world and the people we meet. The unconditional love of God that has changed us, now operates within and through us. We love, not only in words, we love in deeds. This love produces compassion when we encounter suffering and pain in humankind.

Compassion doesn’t gloat in justice served. While we understand the laws of reaping and sowing, we don’t rejoice when punishment is served; we are sad that people have made the choices that lead to their punishment. Neither can compassion turn a blind eye when innocent people suffer. Regardless of the circumstances, when people are hurting, compassionate Christians are moved.

When people express pain, compassionate Christians don’t try to minimize the pain or change the focus of attention to another matter. Christians are supposed to listen, care, pray and act. If we do not, how will the hurting find hope?

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36)

Or course, there are Gospel stories where Jesus appeared to be harsh to people. He openly rebuked some, even calling them names. The folks He rebuked were not the hurting, the victims of the suffering. Those Jesus rebuked were religious leaders who thought they were better than others, they considered themselves to be superior. They were the ones who twisted the Scriptures to support their uncompassionate way of life. But Jesus was compassionate to innocent hurting people – and even to the sinners who had made bad choices.

Whether it is a person of a different political persuasion, a different religion or a different ideology, compassion is a Christian virtue and it is vitally necessary that we express it. “Black Lives Matter!” – compassion. “Covid-19 is a conspiracy!” – compassion. CNN, Fox News, Democrat, Republican, black, white, rich, poor…the world needs Christian compassion. Without compassion the world is hopeless; the lost will remain lost.

Prayer: God, by the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, makes our hearts tender, create in us a new compassion for hurting people. Let the sensitivity and love of Christ be at work in the world through your Church and through me, a Believer. May we represent you well in these trying times. May the world see hope in us, in You.

Everybody Loves a Flashy Preacher!

design-39Or do they?

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

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

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

But wait a minute.

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

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

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

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

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

A few necessary points:

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

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

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

An Apology for Racism

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s end racism.

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

God help us.

What am I against?

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

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

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

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

Now, what was the original question?

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

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

What Story Do You Tell About Church?

design-21Anyone who has ever been a part of a church has a story to tell and the story we tell tells a lot about us.

Some tell stories of grace and support and growth.

Some tell stories of boredom and disconnect and departure.

Others tell stories of insult and offense and hurt.

The stories we tell are a narrative of our experiences. When we publicly share the events of our church history, we give a glimpse into our spirits. If our stories are sweet, it’s a clear indication that we had a good history in church and we are presently in a good spiritual place because of it. When our stories are bitter, our past has not been good, and our current spiritual condition is suffering as a result.

But anyone who has been part of a church has had both bad and good experiences in church. Upon which do we focus?

If your story features a crooked preacher, a lying leader, a gossiping deacon, or a corrupt Elder, you focus on the bad. In fact, through our stories, some of us reveal that we are deeply hurt, bitter and wounded. This is tragic. If your story features supportive leaders, honorable pastors, godly deacons and compassionate members, you focus on the good.

But interestingly, some who have been exposed to the same experiences tell different stories. Some who tell good stories have been brutally hurt in the church.

What’s the difference? While it is not good to compare ourselves to others, some choose to heal while others choose to remain hurt. And you can hear it in our stories.

You don’t necessarily choose your stories (some things happen to you) but you definitely choose the stories you tell.

If your stories reveal that you have been hurt – and we have all been hurt – find healing and the ability to forgive and move forward. Then your story will reveal a spirit that is whole.

What story do you tell about your church? It’s really more a story about your heart.

What Does Your Pastor Really Want From You?

designPastors can be pretty demanding. They want us to come to church every time the doors are open, pay our tithes and then also give in offerings, volunteer to teach Sunday School and serve at work days, invite our neighbors to church and then pray for the church an hour per day! How unrealistic is that?!

Seriously, Pastors only want what God wants for their church members. Most Pastors I know love their congregation with a “shepherd’s love.” They pray diligently for their flock. They do their best to feed them and keep them spiritually healthy. But Pastors do have hopes for the people they lead.

  • Pastors want their church members to be disciples of Christ. We are all called to make disciples of other people (Matthew 28:19-20). Any pastor who is doing their job will teach and train, develop and challenge. Sometimes they come across as pushy, but it helps to understand their motives.
  • Pastors want their church members to grow spiritually. Preachers have the responsibility of feeding those to whom they preach. While personal growth is the responsibility of every individual, pastors want to see their members mature in their faith.
  • Pastors want their church members to spiritually reproduce. It has been said, “sheep beget sheep.” Good pastors train the members to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). You will make your pastor rejoice if you become a soul winner!
  • Pastors want their church members to discover and utilize their spiritual gifts. Good church members don’t just sit in the pew. They understand that they are called by God to fulfill a ministry. If you function in your gift, you will be a great blessing to your church and pastor.
  • Pastors want their church members to experience the joy and fulfillment of being a vital part of a vibrant and growing church. A few church members prefer a small church but most people know that healthy things grow. Let’s embrace church as a dynamic and progressing organism, made alive by the Holy Spirit!

Pastors don’t intentionally use people to get what they want. At times, it may feel like members are only a means to an end – the way that the pastor can build a successful ministry. But true Pastors want only what is best; they only want what God wants for the people they serve.

When your pastor encourages you to attend church, serve and give, he or she is doing so out of a heart of love for you and a desire for your spiritual well being. Pray for your pastor because they have a difficult task. But also pray for your pastors so that they can lead the church with integrity of heart and skillful hands (Psalms 78:72).

Now, make your Pastor’s day: Do the five things listed above and watch your pastor rejoice!

Who Should Be A Pastor? (10 things a pastor must be able to do)

There are a few jokes about the perfect pastor that continue to make the rounds:

35 years old with 30 years experience.

Doesn’t dress too flashy or too trashy.

Has a lovely but modest wife, and 1.5 well-behaved children.

Can preach, teach, sing, play, administrate, cut grass, clean toilets, visit all the sick and elderly, attend all the church kids school plays and ball games and find time to pray for 3 hours every day.

These are jokes.

But it’s not funny when we see a person trying to serve as a pastor when they lack some basic necessary gifts and abilities.

From my 30 plus years in ministry, I have a few (10 for now) indispensable skills a successful pastor must possess. Please, let’s take some for granted. In other words, don’t scold me for omitting praying or whatever. These things are obvious. The points I want to cover may not be as obvious.

1. Must be able to personally lead someone to Christ. It is shocking to learn that some pastors have never led anyone to salvation outside of a church service. If the pastor doesn’t, the people won’t.

2. Must be able and willing, even eager, to work hard. Sometimes the work is manual, sometimes it is intellectual, but it is always strenuous. In my opinion, pastors cannot work less than 50 hours per week on average if they hope to build a growing, effective church. While we must prioritize our family and health, excessive television, golf, napping or any other “recreation” is a sign of slothfulness. Please don’t be guilty of adding to the “lazy preacher” perception. Of course the above numbers are considering full time pastors.

3. Must be humble. Arrogance, pride and an inflated ego by a pastor will destroy a ministry quickly. Get over yourself.

4. Must be a learner. Whether the education is formal or informal, there is no space for intellectual anemia. You never know it all so learn until you die. You speak on behalf of God; know what you’re talking about.

5. Must not be a racist. Now, this should be a given, but it is not. Pastors cannot discriminate against people of other races or nationalities. Mistreating anyone is not allowable. If you cannot love all people equally, and minister to anyone, you disqualify yourself from effective ministry, and perhaps Christianity altogether.

6. Must be compassionate. Some score higher on the mercy scale than others, but a hard-hearted pastor is an oxymoron. Shepherds must care.

7. Must value other generations. If you can only lead people who are close to your age, you have a very limited harvest field. If multigenerational ministry doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it. The long term effectiveness of your ministry is at stake.

8. Must not fall in love with methods, style or genres. If you simply must preach a certain way, or if you only allow a certain type of worship music, or if you insist that church ministry be conducted in your preferred method, perhaps there is an ownership problem. The ministry does not belong to you; the ministry belongs to the Lord. God never changes. But times change, people change, and what’s effective in ministry changes.

9. Must be accountable to and for others; must be responsible to and for others. Independent pastors (those who answer to no one) are operating outside of biblical guidelines. Followers should not follow this type of a leader.

10. Must be able to increase the impact of the church they serve. If a pastor cannot lead the church to grow, the church will die. A pastor that leads a church to die isn’t a good pastor.

Well, there is the list of 10. Of course, there are tons more, perhaps they will come in the future. In the meantime, pastor on!

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)

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!

 

 

It’s Time for Christians to Lead

designThis is the time for Christians to lead.

Our culture is suffering the effects of deficient leadership. The bar of expected decorum and etiquette has been lowered to the ground. Integrity and common decency are passé. There is deep division racially, politically and economically. Ideological rhetoric is drowning out reason. Few are naïve enough to trust authority, and skepticism about religion is at an all time high. Many are too jaded to even hope for hope. The world needs help, now.

This is the time for Christians to lead. We say we have the solution; His name is Jesus.

Step up.

This Was My Pulpit

IMG_7183It’s been said that some of the best sermons aren’t delivered in church behind a pulpit but, rather, in everyday life situations. I tend to agree.

I have nothing but respect for the spiritual responsibility of preaching the sacred Gospel. Men and women of faith have been the mouthpiece of God for generations. This is in obedience to the Scriptures that command us to preach the Word. Pastors, Elders, evangelists and missionaries will continue to declare the truth of the Bible from pulpits around the world until Christ returns.

However, this week I was not the preacher in the pulpit; I was the preacher in disaster relief. I was privileged to be able to serve with a team of volunteers who ministered to the people of Houston, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

I did not preach with words. I preached with a hammer and crowbar. I was responsible for removing rotting wood from the floors of a home that was occupied by two elderly ladies. The work was hot, smelly, time-consuming and strenuous. I had several hours to myself so while I worked, I prayed, worshipped and contemplated.

The inspiration came to me that the floor was my pulpit for the week. I was living out in real time the words that I speak on Sunday. I speak the Gospel on Sunday; this week, I got to live out the Gospel. The preaching was pretty good, too.

Admittedly, I am not the best preacher in the world but I struggle even more with my construction skills. But it’s hard to mess up demolishing a floor. Though monotonous and painful, I offered this service to God – to an audience of One.

True ministry is not glamorous. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun. But true ministry serves the purpose of glorifying God and bringing hope to people.

I don’t plan to quit my day job. But it feels good to put some works to my faith.

None of us are interested in listening to a preacher who doesn’t live what he preaches. That thought puts me in a quandary. How can I talk others into doing something I do not do?

IMG_7172You may be wondering what the second picture is. I fell through the floor. While carrying a heavy box, the rotten floor gave way. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt. And my buddies had a good laugh at my expense. So, this kind of preaching can be dangerous but still humorous.

Empty Nest Churches

What Do We Do About Our Kids Leaving the Church?

designThe problem was been well documented. Lots of analysis and research reveals that the generation gap in the church continues to widen. There is an issue, especially in the North American church, in that many younger people are not staying or they aren’t coming in the first place. The statistics are alarming. It’s a concern for many Baby Boomer parents and a dilemma for church leaders.

As far as I can ascertain, no one else has coined the term, “empty nest church.” You get the concept: the kids leave, and mom and dad are left alone. In the home, though adjustments need to be made, this can be a refreshing and fun time for couples. In the church, it is a sign of looming extinction. If adjustments aren’t made, the church will soon no longer exist.

Conferences and ministry forums are addressing this problem. Books are being published and denominational leaders are deep in dialogue. It’s baffling, however, that others seem to be unaware of the problem. Or perhaps they are aware but are clueless about solutions. But make no mistake, this matter is not going away, and sooner or later, we will deal with it.

So, what are we to do when the next generation disengages from the church? I would like to discuss 3 possible responses.

Would we allow our kids to walk away from our home and their relationship with us without pursuing them? Most parents would make every effort to assure their children that they are loved and valued and an integral part of the family. It’s unthinkable that we would stand idly by as they depart the house, promising never to return. Would we refuse to go after them in the name of “tough love?” (Sometimes tough love is a cover-up for a hard heart). Would we accuse them of being entitled or spoiled? Why then do we see this in the church? All indicators point to a several year crisis that has developed in many evangelical churches. The problem is not new – but where are the solutions? When discussing the issue of the younger generation leaving the church, we hear people say things like, “it’s up to them to come back” or “we’re not the ones who left.” In a recent social media discussion, an article addressing Millennials leaving the church created a lot of dialogue. The author of the article encouraged churches and ministry leaders to take the initiative to go after people who leave the church. One commenter, a Christian leader said, “Instead of: “it’s your move church,” I keep saying, “it’s your move millennials.” Stop looking for others to change things for you and just start being the change you want to see.” While I concur with the concept of personal responsibility, when it comes to spiritual disengagement, this type of thinking creates more problem than solutions. We cannot expect those who have left the church to assume the responsibility to make the needed changes.

It seems to me that older Believers have the responsibility to go after, even pursue younger Believers who walk away from the church. I think that is what the Father would do.

By “go after”, I don’t mean simply trying to talk them into coming back. While this is an excellent place to begin, we must be willing to face the difficult truths behind the decisions being made. Rather than being defensive or dismissive, we must be open and willing to learn. Teenagers and young adults should know beyond any doubt that we love them enough to come find them – wherever they are. We can’t wait for them to come home; we must go after them with our words and our deeds. And once this dialogue has begun, we must be solutions oriented.

In addition to pursuing them, we should be willing to explore new ideas in regard to ministry. So many of the conversations I have observed between the generations involve an assumption that “my way” is the best way. I think every generation is guilty of this. Until we are ready to explore a different way of doing ministry, the potential of the harvest will be limited. Adjusting methods is not a matter of watering down the Truth. Let’s not fall prey to the claims of our unwillingness to compromise our standards in order to reach people. Many of us compromise every day in order to keep the people we have. Let’s be honest with ourselves.

If I can adjust my preferences, be flexible in my approach and possibly compromise on my methods, and thereby win a younger generation to the Lord, why would I not do so? (Previous experience compels me to state that I in no way propose lowering the standard of God’s Word!) By the way, I am simply providing for others what was provided for me. My elders didn’t insist that I do it their way – they allowed me to connect in a fresh and new way. I owe this gift from an older generation to a new generation.

In addition to going after the new generation and compromising on methods, one more consideration may be helpful.

This week I once again heard someone refer to today’s youth as “the church of tomorrow.” We simply must stop saying this! The message implies waiting. While younger people certainly will be the backbone of the future church, they must be viewed as an indispensable part of the church right now. We wouldn’t think of segregating our children in our home when it is mealtime, only to let them join us for special occasions. I believe that young people should be integrated into every worship experience. Youth Sundays are awesome but highlighting the new generation a few times a year is inadequate. Allow them to serve now. Respect their gifts and talents. While they may not be mature enough to lead every ministry, there must be a place for people of all generations in the family of God. Young people must be a part of the church of today!

One more thought: prevention is key. Let’s not wait until there is an exodus of young adults from our churches. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive. Start the dialogue before the bridge is burned.

In summary:

When we observe the problem of younger generations leaving the church:

  1. Go after them
  2. Consider a shift in methods
  3. Recognize them as an important part of the church today

I think we (the church) should accept the responsibility for fixing this problem. If we refuse or fail to do so, it is likely that we will lose a majority of people age 30 and younger. No one, especially the Lord is good with that.

No more Empty Nest Churches!

Minister’s Manual, 2016 Version. (This ain’t your grandma’s church!)

I was reading again Henri Nouwen’s classic, “The Wounded Healer.” His introduction mentions the need for a more relevant version of the old Minister’s Manual. The old ones were a sort of “how to” guide or “Ministry for Dummies” approach to local church functions. They were a very practical and helpful resource for younger pastors just getting started.

Traditional ministerial handbooks included sections on

Hospital visitation,

How to perform a wedding,

Conducting funeral services,

Administering the sacraments and so on.

Back in the day, a pastor could navigate his way through a variety of ministry situations with the aid of a good Ministers Manual. I have 2 or 3 on my shelf and they are collecting dust.

Today’s pastors certainly need to know the things expounded upon in these Manuals. But wow, has ministry ever changed!

I would suggest the need for an updated Minister’s Manual. But the chapter titles have to change to reflect real life situations that pastors face in a post/Christian culture. Some of the ideas below are an attempt at humor; some are more poignant. Some will only be grasped by pastors serving in a local church setting. But they all are a commentary on how the world and, therefore, ministry has changed.

ministers manual-1-1

Modern ministry manual:

Chapter 1: When to call the cops, when to run for cover.

Ch. 2: Addictions: Everybody’s Got ‘Em.

Ch. 3: Breaking up a Fight at a Funeral.

Ch. 4: Kevlar, the Pastors Best Friend.

Ch. 5: Mental Illness: The New Normal.

Ch. 6: How to Tell the Difference Between Crack and Heroin.

Ch. 7: Is that Elder Packing Heat?

Ch. 8: The Tatooathon Youth Fundraiser

Ch. 9: The New and Improved Bullet Proof Pulpit.

Ch. 10: How to Preach a Sermon Without Offending Everyone.

Ch. 11: Xanax, a Pastor’s Best Friend.

Ch. 12: Yes, it’s a “Please Me” Culture; Now Get On With It

Ch. 13: When Your Board has Your Back, but they’re All Carrying Daggers.

Ch. 14: How much is too much therapy?

Ch. 15: Just Say “No” to Talking to the Opposite Sex (and to some of the same sex.)

Ch. 16: “Don’t take it personal but I hate your preaching!”

Ch. 17: Keep your hands out of the Offering Plate!

Ch. 18: Why You Keep an attorney on Retainer.

Ch. 19: Can I Write Off my Punching Bag?

Ch. 20: How to Baptize Cats Without Losing a Eye.

Ch. 21: 3 Points and a Tear-Jerking Illustration in 15 Minutes or Less.

Ch. 22: Think you can Make at least One Person Happy? Think Again.

Ch. 23; How to preach like Andy, Joel and T.D. and still be True to Yourself.

Ch. 24: How to Compete with Youth Sports, nice weather, bad weather, the beach, the boat, sickness, health and a thousand other things that keep people out of church.

Ch. 25; Leading People who Never Go Anywhere.

Ch. 26: When to empty your hate mail email folder.

Ch. 27: How to include every possible music genre in every worship service without anyone complaining.

Ch. 28 Yes, chronic insomnia is perfectly normal for Pastors.

Ch. 29: “Meat of the Word” Smoothies.

Ch. 30: Why people don’t believe it when you say, “your best days are ahead!”

Ch. 31 Preach the Gospel even if they kill you for it. And they might.

You get the idea. Ministry is different today than it’s ever been before. That’s because the world is different than it’s ever been before. I don’t think it’s necessarily harder than before. Recall, there have been Christian martyrs for 2,000 years. But for sure, these are unique times. Some of us are waiting for everything thing to get back to normal. My advice? Don’t hold your breath; it’s not going back.

Stay strong.

Don’t quit.

You are called to this moment.

God is faithful and He will come through. We don’t know for sure what that means but we know He will come through.

Hang tough modern pastor!

What do you think? Do I have a new Ministers Manual in the works?

Before You Decide to Skip Church (or 7 Great Reasons to Go to Church)

IMG_0184 copy(This article was originally posted on June 4, 2012 under the title, “I Go to Church.”)

I make a living in the church, actually through the church. Worship services usually happen in the church but they are only a part of what we do. I went to church before I was paid to go and should I lose my job in ministry, I would keep going to church.

I usually emphasize a missional expression of ministry, or carrying out in our culture what Christ tells us in the church. But today I want to discuss what I get out of worship services. In addition to the usual (worship, prayer, learning more about God, etc.), I find many personal benefits to regularly attending worship gatherings.  These things have nothing to do with my being a pastor. They have everything to do with me going to church services.

Here are some of the benefits I get out of church:

I encourage others at church. Many people don’t believe it, but their very appearance in a church service is an encouragement to other people. Obviously if you are not there, they will not get that encouragement. So I go.

I get to experience “the moment”. God’s Spirit works in unique ways while His people are gathered in a group. That moment cannot be recaptured or transferred. If I miss it, I just miss it. There is power in spontaneity. God might tell me to say something or do something for someone “right now”. If I’m not there, I will miss the spontaneous.

I get to use my gifts that are intended for worship gatherings. The Bible is clear that some of the talents given to people are given for the purpose of building up others while at worship. If I don’t go to church, I cannot use those gifts anywhere else.

I am made aware of the right-now needs of my church family. A simple look in the eye can inform you of someone who is hurting or frightened or angry. I can respond, on the spot, to that need. If I am not at church, I won’t even know of the need. So I go.

My fellow leaders speak into my life. Messages or sermons or teachings are the best counsel and advice that a pastor can offer. Watching on the Internet or on television or listening online is great, but it is not the same as in person. D. L. Moody said, “The difference between listening to a radio sermon and going to church…is almost like the difference between calling your girl on the phone and spending an evening with her.”

I am “in the know” with the immediate direction of our church. I don’t want to hear through the grapevine about something special that God is doing or a change that is taking place. I want to see and hear it first-hand.

I am able fulfill my responsibility as a member of my church. Among our responsibilities are: prayer for others when they need it, responding to crisis at the moment, providing support when it is needed, and participating in the forward movement of the church. If I am somewhere else, none of this can happen…until maybe later. Sometimes, later is too late.

These things cannot happen outside of the church, so I go. Often. I love going to church and my life would be incomplete without it. So I go. Whether or not I am a pastor, I go to church.

So before you decide to skip church, or before you allow something else to push your church service to the back burner, please know that your attendance and involvement is important.

Don’t miss something important. Go to church.

It’s Getting More Difficult (Ministry in the Modern World)

design[12]Experience should make your job easier. I am not finding that to be the case. The older I get and the more time I spend in Christian ministry, the more challenging it seems to become.

Monumental shifts in our cultural contexts leave the church in unfamiliar territory. While we once enjoyed the favor and respect of the community, we now find ourselves on the receiving end of rejection and even disdain. Worse than being rejected is being ignored. Because the Western culture has, for all practical purposes, abandoned a Christian worldview, churches that adhere to traditional Biblical tenets are dismissed as ignorant or hate-filled. Times are rapidly changing for those in ministry.

Because of these dynamics, ministry is not getting easier in America; on the contrary, we are facing greater challenges and resistance than we have in the past. Some Christian leaders are not responding well. Some of us are behaving more like Peter on the night of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden. We pull out our swords and lop off ears (in Jesus’ name, of course)! There are too many Malchus’ in the world. These are people who are suffering from the mis-reaction of Christians to social pressures. There is a time for us to leave our swords in their scabbards. (see John 18:10-11)

I have a few suggestions that may enable us to more effectively navigate these tumultuous waters.

1. Recall that we are not the first to be rejected for the cause of Christ. Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

2. Maintain proper perspective. While we are experiencing new opposition to our faith, there are countless brothers and sisters around the world who are giving their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

3. Pray for those who persecute you. Some of the most difficult passages in the Bible have to do with loving our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36)

4. Embrace the opportunity to minister to the world. When in the middle of pushback regarding your faith, pray for the chance to share the Gospel. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (I Peter 3:15b)

5. Remember, it’s not our fight. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18) God is well able to take care of His business, don’t make cultural resistance your personal battle.

6. Be tough to the very end. Those who do so will be saved. “Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

I wish I could tell you that the pressure that ministries face will ease in the near future. I don’t believe that it will; in fact, I believe that it will only get more difficult. I can tell you that our current situation doesn’t catch God by surprise. He remains in control. He has promised to be with us. And He will be victorious in the end.

Hang in there, Child of God. Great will be your reward.

Smart Things that Churches Should Do

Smart Things that Churches Should Do

Church is not a building or an institution. Church is people. Because church is people, we have the choice to either do smart things or dumb things. If we do smart things, more people can be led to Christ. Leading people to Christ is a simple way of describing why the church exists.

Here are a few smart things that churches can do that will lead more people to Christ:

Be intentionally multigenerational
Youth are not the church of tomorrow; they are part of the church today. We must provide the resources necessary to reach them now. Quality leaders, authentic compassion and giving them a voice in the ministry process will result in young people who connect with the church. Smart churches know this; they don’t just talk about it, they do it. They invest in young people. But they also respect older people. Those who have paid the price to help get us where we are now need to know that they are treasured. Smart churches value people even if they appear to no longer be on the cutting edge. Smart churches value all generations.

Stay out of ruts
Doing something simply because that’s the ways it’s always been done is the fast track to extinction. Hold to traditions and creeds but do so with purpose. Smart churches change in the right way at the right time for the right reasons.

Stay off of bandwagons
We always have something to learn from others who are succeeding but trendiness and fads can spoil ministry. It appears that God blesses different methods at different times but He doesn’t run out of ideas. Imagination and creativity are spiritual gifts. Smart churches don’t spend a lot of time and energy trying to be another church. Be original, innovative, fresh.

Be real
Speak the language of the people. Do everything with authenticity. Operate with impeccable integrity. Own up to mistakes. Repent often. Be transparent. Smart churches are not manipulative or condescending or disrespectful of people.

Perfect grace
Make room at the table for sinners. Don’t demand perfection. Practice forgiveness and model second chances. Smart churches know that the ground at the foot of the cross is level.

Reach as many people as possible
It’s OK to have a “target market” based on demographics. But smart churches don’t eliminate people because they don’t fit the niche. Specialty churches eliminate people who are different. Jesus doesn’t eliminate these people – neither should we.

Act outside of the local church
Embrace other ministries. Do life in the neighborhood. Minister with a global mindset. Be sure to connect with people outside of your immediate circle. It’s a big world and God is doing amazing things. Smart churches don’t want to miss that!

Promote justice
Don’t tolerate the mistreatment of the innocent. Stand up for victims. Speak out on behalf of the marginalized. Smart churches act as part of the solution to society’s ills.

Release people into ministry
We should encourage people to practice their spiritual gifts. Empower people. Entrust people with responsibility. Smart churches understand that every person and gift is necessary for a fully functioning church.

Be comfortable with not pleasing everyone
Smart churches know that they are not for everyone. Let people disagree and let some leave, if necessary. Pursue those God has called you to reach.

Insist that people dream
Life beats the hope out of people. Smart churches spend a lot of energy building up people. Encourage them to dream again, to chase the vision that God put in them. “Remember who you wanted to be.”

Know what we’re supposed to do and do it well
What is the end goal of church? Jesus summarized our job description in Matthew 28 by telling us to make disciples; we help people by showing them how to be authentic followers of Jesus. That’s it. If we’re smart, we’ll focus all of our attention on that task.

Smart churches do smart things and lots of people come to Christ. You and I are the church. Let’s do smart things.

Critical of the Church? Better Think Twice.

church critic coffee-cup

It seems to be a popular trend right now for some pastors to criticize the church, especially churches other than their own. Conferences are being held for the sole purpose of pointing out the faults of other Christians. I have heard several messages recently that focused on how wrong other churches are. The blogosphere is buzzing with accusations of false doctrine.

While it is our responsibility to expose theological error and to correct heresy, there is little to be accomplished by targeting one another.

Before we put a bull’s eye on a church, let’s be reminded of a few important truths:

The church is the Body of Christ. (I Corinthians 12:27)

The church is His Bride. (Revelation 19:7)

The church is His Body. (Ephesians 5:22-23)

The church is His Flock. (I Peter 5:2)

The church is His Building. (I Corinthians 3:9)

The church is His Household. (Ephesians 2:19)

The way I see it, Jesus takes the Church very personally. He loves the Church and gave Himself for it. If you go against the Church, you are going against God. We don’t want to do that.  What God does to those who go against Him and His church? “But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed.” (II Peter 2:3b)

My point? It is best not to mess with something or someone whom the Lord values very much.

Rather than criticizing each other, our time would be better spent:

Praying for each other.

Preaching the Good News of Jesus.

Building up the Church.

Fighting our enemy, the devil.

Removing the log from our own eyes. (Luke 6:42 “How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”)

One final point: When we turn on one another, the devil is thrilled; his job gets easier.  What do you say we make his job harder?

No One is Expendable

throw-away

At a summer youth event for the organization that I serve, I was talking with a guest speaker who was visiting us from out of state. He remarked about our diversity of leaders and how the mutual respect among us was obvious. He remarked about how some of our key leaders did not fit the typical mold of our denomination. Specifically, he said, “You guys come from different nationalities and cultures. You speak different languages. You have leaders that are all inked and pierced up. How do you get everyone to accept each other so well?” I gave a pretty straight answer: “We’re not big enough to eliminate people because they are different from us.”

His reaction surprised me. He said, “We aren’t either; we just don’t know it.”

I most certainly did not mean by this answer that we have low standards for leaders or that we will let anyone lead. I simply meant that we are a relatively small organization and if we eliminate leaders because they don’t look or dress or act like me, we will cease to exist. People are not expendable. One definition of expendable is: Considered to be not worth keeping or maintaining (dictionary.com). We can’t throw people away. We need every qualified leader we can get. Our leaders are very qualified. They love Jesus with all their hearts and live exemplary lives. They happen to not fit the mold that some people have established.

Our guest finished the conversation by saying, “Some of your best leaders wouldn’t get the time of day in the state where I serve. We have some things to learn.”

We may raise a few eyebrows and be accused of being desperate. That’s ok – we are desperate – to see young lives changed. We are willing to do whatever it takes to see that happen.

careful words

I had a brief conversation with a colleague yesterday. He mentioned a topic we were both familiar with and I responded with a flippant answer, something meaningless to me, something I assumed he wanted to hear. He stopped, looked me in the eye and responded in a way that caught me off guard. He said, “that means a lot coming from you.” The problem is, I wasn’t all that sincere in my words. I didn’t think about my words – I just used what was convenient.

I’ve  been feeling bad about it since then. I think I need to call him to straighten out the situation. The topic is not all that serious or at least my impact on it is not. But I do not want him to assume things based on what I said.

I need to guard my words a little more closely. I encourage you to do the same.

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

why I won’t preach politics

President Obama really ticked off a bunch of my friends yesterday. When he issued his “evolution” statement on the topic of gay marriage, most conservatives in the US went ballistic.

For the record, I am prolife. Very prolife! I believe in the sanctity of marriage, that God provides this gift for men and women to live together under His blessing. I believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that those who live together outside of marriage are fornicators. Let’s see, whom have I not yet offended?

And for the record, I preach these things from the Word of God, often. In fact, just last Sunday, prior to the President’s announcement, I preached from I Corinthians 6:9-11 which tell us that those who indulge in sexual sins and are homosexual will not inherit God’s Kingdom. You just can’t change the meaning of those verses. But I am not preaching politics. I am preaching the Gospel.  But I sincerely try to preach the truth with humility, in love, seasoned with grace.

On many occasions, I receive emails from friends in our church who want me to preach about politics. Through the years, I have heard it all. “How will they know who to vote for if you don’t tell them?”. “People don’t have the right values, you need to preach about how this particular politician is against the Bible”. And so on.

Here is my position: I am not called by God to preach politics. I am called by God to preach the Gospel – His Word. I do not believe that the problem in our country is politics. I believe the problem is, people are ignoring God’s Word. The answer is not for preachers to preach about politics. The answer is for preachers to preach the Bible. Politics never saved a soul. The cross of Jesus saves everyone who is saved. Preach the Good News of Jesus!

Here is the greatest reason why preaching the Bible is better than preaching politics:

The Bible never changes – it is true for all people at all times. Politics change. There is no hope in politics. Jesus is hope!

I believe our country is in deep trouble and headed the wrong way. I am in deep disagreement with many of our leaders. I think the president is wrong. But I am not planning to give these misguided politicians my valuable preaching time.

The Gospel is the Truth!

The Truth will set you free!

Jesus is the Truth!

Let’s just preach Jesus.