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.

My Official COVID-19 Positon

design-61I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is my calling, that is my passion. With that calling comes a definite responsibility to fulfill the calling. I preach the Gospel. I teach the Bible. I help others spiritually. I serve the Church as a pastor and a leader. While this calling and role affords me a variety of opportunities, my primary role is as a minister.

As the Corona virus continues to wreak havoc on our world, I think we all examine our responsibility of response. Most of us are on “stay at home” orders or have recently been released. The emotional, financial and relational pressure that has resulted in this unprecedented time is gaining momentum. In my world, the Church is deeply impacted. I must position myself strategically to respond appropriately in order to fulfill my calling.

I am not an attorney. I could have been. One of my best friends who owns his own law firm once suggested I attend law school – he offered me a job. I am not a politician – and never dreamed of being one. I am not a scientist. I just squeaked through Physical Science in college. I am a minister.

We believe in the operation of Spiritual Gifts. According to the Bible, we are all called to serve the Body of Christ as a part of the Body. To me, knowing my part in the Body is vitally important.

During this COVID-19 crisis, I don’t plan to become a doctor. I won’t start law school and I certainly have no plans to enter politics. I am staying in my lane.

I have no doubt that the battle that we are fighting is spiritual, demonic in nature.  The death, suffering, mourning and pain are the work of Satan. The fear, division, anxiety and depression are the results of the work of the devil. Politics, law or science are helpless against the devil. The Holy Spirit is not.

The damage that Covid-19 is doing to the Church is serious. While our numbers are revealing interesting data (some churches are experiencing numerical increase), the emotional and spiritual results are not good. Women and men who are called by God to do the work of ministry are limited by restrictions. Pastors cannot fulfill their role. Parishioners are suffering from a lack of spiritual guidance. Believers are missing the joy of fellowship, the encouragement of corporate worship and the strength of the family gathering.

While I am actively consulting with attorneys, politicians and doctors (in order to form my opinions and actions), I am not bringing a knife to a gun fight. Why would I fight a spiritual battle using weapons with which I am not familiar? Why would I abandon the tried and true for the unproven and unfamiliar?

If I spend my time jumping into politics, who will do my job of spiritual leadership? If I start practicing medicine, I have abandoned my post. If I spend my time in court, who will fulfill my God given responsibilities?

Since this is a spiritual battle, let’s fight it the right way.

II Corinthians 10 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 

Ephesians 6 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

If you are an attorney, fight in the courts for the church! If you are a doctor or scientist, help the cause of Christianity in the lab, in the hospitals and in the operating room. If you are a politician, do what is right according to Scripture. I honor all of you, I pray for you and I support you.

But I must do my God-given job as a Minister of the Gospel. I’d have it no other way.

This is my official COVID1-19 positon. I’m not asking for you to agree, adopt my position or respond. I’m simply stating my position.

Grace and peace!

Church, What’s Next?

design-60Many Pastors, while still working hard on their online ministry are beginning to think ahead. What is next? How will this pandemic play out? Once we get back into our church buildings, how will the Church function over the next several weeks and months?

The “unknown” is the worst part. How do we prepare for a future that is uncertain? I think we can prepare by doing the painful work of considering worst case scenarios. Not expecting it or believing for that, but considering it. What will be the role of the Church if this crisis continues for 6 weeks or 6 months? 6 months on this trajectory would mean communities of hungry people, families in crisis, social breakdown and vast emotional trauma. Ask ourselves: If this happens, what would we, the church do?

We don’t like thinking like this. You might even think that I am having a crisis of my faith. But ignoring possibilities is not a lack of faith. Be reminded that many tried to, in the name of faith, ignore the possibility of the Corona virus in the first place. It is a spiritual leader’s responsibility to prepare for the future as much as possible.

Many are saying that our focus only on online ministry is shortsighted. We’ve got to be prepared to resource people beyond online services, and beyond getting back into our buildings.

I am finding that the churches that were more inwardly focused before Corona are having a harder time making the adjustments needed now. It’s difficult but not impossible. But my concern is, some churches have as their only goal, getting back into their building. While we cannot wait for that!, there is so much more we need to consider.

I think that it is reasonable to consider that we will never return to the old normal.

Let’s pray and seek guidance in what an effective ministry will look like in the future. I highly doubt that it will look like what it has in the past.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m so thankful for online ministry. And I’m very excited for the future physical gathering of God’s people. We need it so badly. But we also need to engage a hurting world with the hope we gain by coming together.

Without question, now is the time for the Church to lead the way in prayer, repenting, fasting and focusing on the Lord. I believe this is the primary starting point to discerning the best path forward. We must hear from Him! Come what may, God’s Church will be strategically positioned by Him to redeem this crisis.

Let’s be the Church!

A Digital Diaspora

design-59In the book of Acts, chapter 8, verses 1-4, a great oppression came against the church and the Christians were threatened and tortured. The Bible says that all the Believers except the Apostles went out from Jerusalem, across the known world, and they preached about Jesus everywhere they went. This was the Lord’s strategy to make sure that others heard the Gospel.

“Diaspora” means to be scattered or sown (like seed). Tomorrow, unlike any of day in our history, the Gospel of Jesus will be sown, in a scattered fashion. It will not be contained in buildings. Sanctuaries won’t hold in the Word of God tomorrow! With the use of technology, the Church will employ a “digital diaspora”, a sending out of the Good News of Jesus Christ! More homes in our nation (and perhaps world) than ever before will become houses of worship.

While we mourn the loss of life and pray for a stop to the Corona virus, let’s thank God for how He is redeeming a terrible situation. While we cannot wait to gather again in our church facilities, let’s pray for a worldwide revival as a result of this “diaspora!”

What the enemy intended for our harm, God is turning into good.

Healing from Church Hurt

healing from church hurt picI believe that, in many cases, emotional healing is a matter of choice. Please allow me a moment to carefully explain. I do not want to be misunderstood as hard hearted or uninformed about emotional issues; I am neither.

When we are physically sick, we can’t always choose if we are healed. We pray and ask God for healing. Sometimes, it works out as we hoped but at other times, the sickness remains. These types of issues and experiences belong to God; I encourage you to trust Him to do what is best, every time. But, in specific cases, I believe the Holy Spirit offers emotional healing for everyone who is willing to receive it.

There is an ongoing conversation about “church hurt.” It seems that daily, I come across someone who has at some point in their life been hurt by a church, a pastor, a denomination, a church member… In fact, anyone who has ever attended a church can probably share a story or two about an offense that took place, someone who was rude, or a church leader who was mean. Perhaps we should be able to expect better. Of all the places that we can go and expect to be safe, church tops the list. But the problem is, other people also attend those churches. And where there are people, there will be hurt. And these hurts seem to emotionally paralyze many people.

What is unique about this type of emotional pain is it has a way of hanging on and controlling us. People have a hard time letting go. I know many people who frequently speak about emotional pain that was caused by someone in the church – literally 30 years ago. They recall the details. The date of the offense. The specific words or actions used to cause the damage. The emotional pain experienced determines their relationships, church involvement and the health of their faith. It is unlike any other experience in their life. And I believe it is diabolical.

The point of this article is this: if you want to be healed from the emotional pain inflicted on you by an experience at church, it can happen. And if you want it to happen, it probably will.

That is a bold statement! But it is based upon the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our emotions, our feelings and thoughts are under the control of other elements. Experiences influence us. Life events shape us. While we can’t choose all our experiences, they most certainly impact us for a long time, and how we feel about those experiences dictates our future.

On a side note, the topic is not emotional or mental illness. I am not reducing mental health to a decision by an individual, although I do believe in the power of God to heal us mentally and emotionally.

If we surrender our emotions to the Holy Spirit, (all of our hurt and pain and bad experiences) He can heal them. And – here is the kicker – if we refuse to release our emotional pain to the Lord – we will carry them to our grave. Unfortunately, some wear their pain like a medal. They are proud of their offense and put it on display for all to see. Still others use their emotional hurt as a weapon or an excuse. Because they have been hurt, others will pay.

I really hope you don’t think that I am saying, “just get over it!” I am not. And I am most certainly not saying that the Church is innocent or that the perpetrators of church hurt should not be held accountable. I am saying, if you really want to be healed from the emotional pain caused by the Church, it is readily available. You’ll have to let go of the pain. You’ll need to stop allowing the hurt to control your decisions. No more, “I can’t because….” If this seems like too much, know that the Lord will help you. And He wants you free from the pain of your negative experience.

Regardless of your pain, or the source of it, God is offering you healing right now. Let him heal your broken emotions.

Leader: Who/What Validates You?

design-56To validate means to “recognize or affirm the validity or worth of a person.” (Dictionary.com). Before we get spiritual and argue that God is the only one who validates us, let’s be real.

Leaders are human and humans have weaknesses. Many of us struggle from low self esteem issues. We are insecure. Many leaders battle feelings of insufficiency and lack of qualifications. Being validated as a leader is not only helpful, it is necessary if we hope to survive the challenges that leaders regularly face.

Receiving recognition from those you lead is nice. Being honored on a special day or with a gift is affirming. When our leaders notice and comment on our work, it can be very motivating. Any time anyone says, “thank you”, we may feel validated.

But I believe we must be careful about who or what makes us feel good about ourselves as leaders.

Increasing productivity can validate us. Being named to a position of leadership, getting invited to speak at a special gathering or receiving an award can build our self esteem. But there is inherent danger herein.

Needing the public recognition or verbal affirmations of others in order to feel like a leader is dangerous. Those who must have a pat on the back may become vulnerable to people pleasing. Additionally, if we can be inflated by praise, we will become deflated by criticism.

I suggest our validity come from deep within ourselves. Leaders must know who they are in Christ. This does not mean that we don’t need the support and encouragement of others, on the contrary. But we can’t place our self concept in the hands of other people.

God called you as a leader, you responded. That response will include days when no one sees or talks about what a great leader you are. We’ve got to be ok with that.

Don’t feel less significant because your numbers are down. Don’t live or die based upon the opinions of others. Don’t count on the affirmations of others in order for you to understand your value.

You have family and close friends. Go ahead and allow them close into your heart and head. But even they shouldn’t be your sole source of validation.

You are valuable, you are needed, you are loved. That’s not validation coming from me, that’s validation coming from God.

Who is Christmas for, Anyway?

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

But is this who Christmas is really for?

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

Let’s remember who Christmas is for:

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Successful Church

design-50

A church will most likely succeed when:

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

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

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

What are We Good At, What are We Not?

design-48Definitions for this article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concern for Pastors

design-44I’m concerned about pastors.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m concerned about pastors.

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

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

Everybody Loves a Flashy Preacher!

design-39Or do they?

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

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

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

But wait a minute.

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

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

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

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

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

A few necessary points:

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

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

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

Why Won’t They Come to Our Church?

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

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

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

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

Think about this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Preachers Want to Quit Preaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I encourage you to do the same.

Middle-Aged, “Unsuccessful” Pastors

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

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

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

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

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

Enough of the problem; are there solutions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Apology for Racism

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s end racism.

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

God help us.

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

Shepherds: the Sheep are Watching.

Let’s Wear Out Our Church Buildings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s wear out our church buildings!

There’s No Hurt Like Team Hurt

design-24This post is directed toward ministry leaders.

I’ve adapted the current phrase, “there’s no hurt like church hurt.” We’ve all come to understand that there is no avoiding pain in ministry. While some heartache can be dodged through good decision making, leaders are never exempt from hurt. Samuel Chand addresses this eloquently in his book, “Leadership Pain.” I highly recommend this resource.

But I want to address the type of pain that ends some ministries and cripples countless others. When a close associate, an “inner circle” team member or a trusted staff member betrays a leader, the cut is deep.

You’ve heard about or experienced the scenario: a longtime staff member splits the church and starts a new one down the street. An apparently loyal colleague tries to destroy you behind your back. Someone you were sure you could count on quits unexpectedly in a crucial time. It all hurts, deeper than many other things.

Of course, Jesus had His Judas. But Jesus knew who His betrayer was before Judas himself knew. We are not omniscient; we get shocked by this kind of betrayal. And for the record, none of us have been sold to our executioners.

Here is the danger: when you get hurt in this manner, your first inclination is to prevent, at all costs, a repeat event. I know guys who absolutely refuse to lead a staff. While we must learn from our mistakes and while discernment grows with painful experiences, we must prevent adjusting our leadership approach in an effort to prevent all future pain.

If you’ve been hurt deeply, just a little advice:
Don’t harden your heart.
Don’t stop trusting people.
Don’t stop risking.
I’ve been guilty of all of the above and it didn’t turn out well.

Now, you’re not a punching bag, and there is no glory in considering yourself as a leader/martyr. But it is absolutely necessary for us to remain tender hearted. If we ever stop hurting, we’re in deep trouble.

Keep hiring staff. Keep building your team. Keep letting people get close to you. You will be let down and you’ll get hurt. But the pain of this kind of hurting is nothing compared to the hurt of refusing to ever trust again.

I hope this helps someone. It helped me to write it.

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.

5 Things Ministry Leaders Should Expect From and Provide for One Another

design-20

  1. Assume the best. Don’t assume that another leader is corrupt or disingenuous. Expect and assume the best for one another. Let’s not become cynical about our colleagues.
  2. Give the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be quick to believe everything that is said about someone else in leadership. If they are accused, wait before judging, and assume the accusation is false.
  3. Innocent until proven guilty. Be slow with your judgments and even slower with your condemnation of other leaders. If solid evidence of wrongdoing is presented, gently engage in Biblical discipline. But if not, absolve the accused.
  4. “I got your back.” Stick up for one another. Your turn for being attacked will come soon enough; you’ll be grateful for the support.
  5. Treat with honor. Respect other leaders, practice mutual deference. Don’t think, feel or act negatively about them. Never speak disparagingly of other leaders. Practice mutual honor.

In a day when leaders are highly mistrusted and eagerly destroyed by an antagonistic culture, we must stick together, fight for one another and watch out for the good of our co-laborers.