God Loves the Church (even with all of its problems)

design-7God loves the Church, even with all of its problems. He is fully aware of the corruption and exploitation. He knows the phonies, the bullies, the manipulators and the heretics. Nothing gets by Him. He sees every time a church leader abuses someone. He knows every time an unscrupulous leader steals money. He is aware of the wrong that is done in the name of the Church. He takes note of the damage that religious regulations do. For every horror story you and I could tell about the Church, God could tell a million.

Yet, in spite of all of these things, God loves the Church. The Church is God’s plan to reach the world. He identifies the Church as His “Bride.” Even with all of its faults, God chooses to work through the Church. There is no other plan to reach the world for Christ – He chose the Church and only the Church to serve this purpose.

Before we criticize the Church, before we choose to leave the church, if we make the decision to stay away from church altogether, realize that God has His hand on the Church. When we make the choice to walk away, we are actually hurting the Church rather than helping the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, we are meant to be connected to the Church; if we are not, we all suffer.

The Church will never be perfect while we are here on this earth. But each of us can vow to do our best to make the Church better. It becomes better as a whole when the individuals that make up the Church become better people. When I become better and you become better, the Church becomes better. In fact, when participants in the church accept the duty to become better Christians, the Church always improves. The Church represents Christ; we must do our best to represent Him well.

Rather than bemoan how bad the church is, let’s invest in making the Church better. The next time someone criticizes the Church, invite them to be a part of the solution. And the next time you observe something bad about the church, take responsibility to make that bad thing good. You will be making the Church better.

God loves the church, even with all of its problems. We must also love the Church.

2 Serious Questions for Church Leaders

IMG_4796I have 2 serious questions that I would like to pose to church leaders:

1. Is your church as successful as it possibly can be at reaching the lost and making disciples?

2. If not, what are you willing to do (short of sin) to make your church as successful as possible at reaching the lost and making disciples?

I realize that these questions are oversimplified and perhaps some will consider them unfair. There are many variations and nuances that could cause us to reject such questions as senseless. But please, indulge me for a moment.

As a church leader for over 35 years, it is my responsibility to help the church be as successful as possible. We realize that different people define success in different ways. For purposes of clarity, let’s define success for the church this way: accomplishing the job that God has assigned to us. Perhaps there will be some debate over this job description but the common benchmark for the church is usually twofold: the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Jesus identified the Great Commandment: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40) The Great Commission is recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Most students of Scripture would identify these passages as the standard by which the success of a church is measured. We won’t be judged on the number of attendees or how many square feet our church occupies. There is something more important.

We can safely break it down, loving the Lord and others, and making disciples is the goal, the mission of the church. So, one more question: “how are we doing in these areas?”

Let’s take this idea a different direction. Assuming that some of us are aware that we could do better in one or both of these areas, what are we to do with that knowledge?

I have recently returned to my interest in the study of organizational change. My Master’s studies focused much on this topic. Lot’s of great research has been done on the concept of change in cultures and organizations. Let’s look at just one quick aspect of church as it regards the church.

If change does not occur, we will cease to exist.

Think about it! If change does not occur, we will cease to exist.

Of course, there are exceptions. But generally speaking, a church that refuses to adjust will close it’s doors, perhaps sooner rather than later.

I shouldn’t have to state the obvious, but because someone will find it necessary to call me out, let me say this: The Gospel never changes. It must not. No watering down allowed. No mixing and matching Bible verses based upon our whims. We can never entertain the idea of straying away from what the Bible says. That is firmly established. The Message must never change!

But what about our methods?

Listen, it is not our adherence to the Bible that is creating problems for the church in the Western World; it is our adherence to our opinions about the type and style church that we prefer. While there is opposition to the Truth, I can’t think of one church in my area of responsibility that has suffered for it’s position on the Word of God. But I know many, perhaps hundreds that are suffering because they are committed to an ineffective style of ministry. I personally have had the painful responsibility of closing a few churches that ceased to exist. The buildings stood. But pastors left, people left and the buildings were left empty. It wasn’t preaching the Bible that closed the doors. It was refusal to consider another approach to ministry that closed many of the doors. Funerals for ministries are mournful occasions.

Here is some Latin for you: Ab actu ad posse valet illatio – This phrase means, “From what has happened, we may infer what will happen.” It may be understood this way: past performance is indicative of future results. When we observe a pattern, we can assume that, without adjustments, the pattern will continue. Newton’s first Law of Motion (inertia) indicates that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Applied to the church, this means that a stagnant church will remain a stagnant church unless and until someone or something impacts change. Our Latin phrase tells us that we can predict what will happen in a church if we take the time to observe what is currently happening, and what has happened in the past. If a church is stuck – no new people are coming, no one is coming to Christ, the attendance is plateaued or declining, unless something very significant takes place (that is different from what has been happening), that church is doomed to fail. This may seem too negative. I’m sure some would call it a lack of faith. But if your car is broken down on the railroad track and a train is barreling down, you can pray all you want – but God is telling you to get out of the car and run!

Back to our initial questions. Are we winning people to Christ at a pace that is pleasing to God? If not, what are we willing to do in order to change that?

What is off limits if it results in people finding the Lord?

  • Would you adjust your worship schedule?
  • Would you relocate your church?
  • Would you spend church funds differently?
  • Would you change your choice of clothing, music, décor, etc.?

Of course, none of these things will automatically bring people to Christ. But my point is, if what we are doing is not working (and hasn’t been for some time), what is the harm in trying something different? One more time, we are not considering changing what the Bible says. But the Bible never specifically addresses many of the things that some churches believe are sacred.

Let’s tread lightly here. Some will respond to my query by saying, “we just need to pray more.” Or, “we just need old fashioned move of God like we used to have.” Or, “people aren’t as committed as they used to be; if they come to church more, the problem will be fixed. “ I agree with all of these points – to a point. But many among us pray continually. We enjoy powerful experiences of Pentecost. We go to church every time the doors are opened. And still, nothing changes. Let’s not quit doing these things. But perhaps there is more that God is saying to us.

I am not picking a fight with any tradition. I am not discounting the value of any particular method of ministry. I am asking us to consider what might be an incredible opportunity for the church in America. Without doubt, we are in trouble. Our numbers are reducing, younger generations are losing interest in our churches and we are closing churches. Maybe, just maybe, we should look at our methods, our approach, our mission.

Chris Hodges challenges the church by asking: “Why do we exist?” A simple answer is, we exist to glorify God and to win the lost. We don’t exist to be a comfortable place for Christians to gather – until they all die and the church closes.

Jesus gave us one job – to win the lost. If by changing, adjusting, tweaking just one of our practices, preferences or traditions, we may win one to Christ, then change we must.

If what you are doing is working – if people are regularly finding Christ, if you are making disciples, if your church is reaching the mission field around it and loves are changing – keep it up. But, if you realize the church could do more, what are you willing to change in order to see that happen?

Let’s Own the Problem

design-1We frequently complain about the condition of the world. I often hear pastors and leaders grumble about the condition of the church they serve. Family members freely voice their disappointments with their family. Employees criticize their supervisors. It seems to be the way of the world.

But here is a thought: Let’s own the problem.

By “owning”, I am referring to the opportunity we have to accept responsibility, perhaps not for creating the problem (although at times we are guilty), but rather, for discovering the solution to the problem.

Sometimes, we like to remove ourselves from the work. We observe a big dilemma and the only answer is a lot of hard work – so we stand on the sidelines and shrug our shoulders. Or, we inherit a bad situation and it’s frustrating to see what a mess someone else has made. In these cases, it is easy to exonerate ourselves from responsibility.

I want to make 2 points very clear here:

  1. Leaders must be willing to clean up messes they did not make

and

  1. If you refuse to be the solution to problem, you are part of the problem.

Pastor, if you’ve been at your current church for more than 3 years, you own the problems, whether or not you created them. No more blaming your predecessor or the church members. If the church has a bad reputation in the community, repair it. If the leaders have no vision, train them. Politicians cannot continue to point fingers at the other party. We didn’t elect you to blame; we elected you to lead. If your neighborhood park is rundown, you can fuss about it on Facebook, or you can organize the community, raise some money, and go to work. Own the problem!

Keep in mind that God has a strategic plan for your life and if you are living in obedience to Him, He has you right where He wants you. Did He place you where you are only to be an observer? In His infinite wisdom, did He create you to be a complaining bystander? No, He put you in your current role so you can bring solutions to problems around you. You can no longer afford to be one who only points out problems – you must now be a solutions-oriented leader!

Moses didn’t enslave the people but God asked him to lead them out of slavery.

Joseph didn’t create the famine but God sent him ahead so he could rescue the entire nation.

Paul didn’t create the storm in Malta but God used him to save all 276 on board the boat.

Please notice that, in the cases above, owning the problem was painful. It cost the problem solvers a great deal. They suffered. But each of them accepted their role. And countless people were eternally indebted to them.

Let’s not minimize the cost of owning today’s problems. Let’s also not mistake this concept for becoming a “fixer.” You are not the Messiah; it is easy to get out of balance in your quest to bring answers. But within the proper parameters, one person can have an incredible positive impact on the dilemmas of this world.

One of the biggest responses we will hear from this proposition is: “the problem is too big for me. I don’t know what to do. It’s out of my scope of capabilities…” Keep this in mind: God can do anything. If you are on His side, if you are working on His team, He can bring the solution. But many times, YOU ARE THE SOLUTION! By this statement, I mean that God has placed the person with the perfect gift mix in the critical place to have the greatest impact in the process of removing of the obstacles that hold people back. You are that person. Let’s accept our role as problem solvers.

Problem solving is an art form. It requires great faith, vision and people skills. Not everyone possesses these gifts, so those that do must exploit them. Until we engage, develop and deploy these problem-solving skills, the problems will persist, and increase.

Keep this in mind: if you can’t or won’t engage the trouble, if you refuse to take ownership, perhaps God will appoint someone else who will.

Until we see ourselves as “owning” the issue, unless we take the reins to lead our way out of a problem, we will continue to make excuses – and the problems will plague us as well as the people we love. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s own it.

A Bigger Leadership Plate

IMG_3641These days, leading ministry may be compared to the Thanksgiving meal we are all anticipating. We get a plate and start loading it up. When we run out of room, we get a bigger plate. If that plate proves to be inadequate, just grab the turkey platter!

Ministry leaders regularly fill their leadership plates with duties, responsibilities and expectations. When the plate gets overloaded, we generally try to increase the capacity of our leadership plate. This approach can become a dangerous trap! Too many ministry leaders have been victimized by the inability to say no to opportunities. A very frequent self description by ministry leaders is: overwhelmed!

Rather than grabbing an even more massive leadership platter, may I suggest we exercise some discretion? Learn to say “no” to some of the items being offered. Keep your favorites, but let some other things go. Find some responsibilities you can release – to someone who perhaps can do them even better than you. While these opportunities are important and you may love them, adding them to an already full plate can make you sick – literally.

Don’t let your ministry “eyes” be bigger than your ministry “stomach.” Be balanced, plan ahead, and be reasonable.

Unless you are a competitive eater, Thanksgiving will result in satisfaction and gratitude. If you have no restraint, you may find yourself enjoying a food coma.

Ministry leader, use restraint. Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t allow the pressures of your calling and the expectations of others to overload your ministry plate. No one else can do this for you; you must take ownership of your ministry plate. Are you an overwhelmed leader? You’d better take control! Your discipline will result in healthy productivity!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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!

How Should Christians Expect to be Treated?

designPerhaps some modern Believers have misguided expectations regarding how we will be treated in today’s culture. We seem to get very frustrated and even defensive when others do not respect our opinions. We get offended and become defensive of our beliefs, our rights and our convictions. Some of us are quick to fight to preserve what we believe we deserve. A few even think that we deserve honor because of our faith.

In times past, many Believers had a different expectation. Their response to opposition and resistance didn’t involve protests, boycotts or public outrage. Opposition and persecution were considered the norm for Christians.

Teresa of Avila wrote to the Lord, “Since worldly people have so little respect for You, what can we expect them to have for us? Can it be that we deserve that they should treat us any better than they have treated You? Have we done more for them than You have done that they should be friendly to us?

Apparently our forefathers and foremothers had no concept that they should demand fair and equitable, perhaps even favorable treatment by their contemporaries.

Recall, Jesus tells us, “whoever rejects you rejects me.” (Luke 10:16) Perhaps it would be healthy for us to not expect to be honored, but rather to be rejected for the cause of Christ. In fact, if the world accepts and honors us, could it be because we have distanced ourselves from Christ to the point that the world no longer sees Him in us?

Modern Christian, embrace the very strong teaching of our Brother, James. “You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.” Truly, we are placed on earth to lead others to Christ, and that mission necessitates love. But in that process, we cannot love the world more than we love our Lord. And if the world holds us in positions of honor, perhaps it is because we have become friends with the world.

Let’s consider changing our expectations. If we live holy lives, the world is not our home and we shouldn’t get too comfortable here. We should expect to be uncomfortable for the cause of Christ. The moment we begin to demand our rights or rise up to defend our honor or fight for what we think we deserve, we have accepted this world as our domain. I don’t think that is what Christ expects for us.

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!