Beware of Leaders Who…

The world is desperate for competent leaders. Sometimes we are shocked at how few quality people are willing to lead. In our desperation, it’s important that we not follow those who are unscrupulous, who have ulterior motives, who will lead us astray. 

My advice is, keep you guard up and beware of leaders who…  

Know all the answers.

Are quick to correct others.

Like to point out flaws.

Think they are the guardian of all truth.

Disrespect or dishonor others.

Are condescending to others.

Like to be in the spotlight.

Talk more than they listen.

Are cynical, sarcastic or cruel.

Are above correction, suggestions, input and collaboration.

Are politically motivated.

Are hot tempered, out of control emotionally.

Use people to get what they want.

Need to be in control.

Take the credit when things go well and blame others when things go poorly.

Treat “important” people better than the “unimportant” ones. 

Never say, “I was wrong”, “I’m sorry, and “thank you.”  

Matthew 20:26-28 “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Leader, Not Too Much Emotion

Depending upon which therapist you consult, there are 7 or 8 basic human emotions. The lists may include anger, fear, pain, joy, passion, love, shame, and guilt. Connected to each of these is a myriad of other feelings/emotions. We know that God created us as emotional beings and that God Himself exhibits emotion. But I contend that emotions, uncontrolled or in excess, can be the downfall of a leader, especially a spiritual leader. 

Think about it. Most leaders are passionate people. They live and feel deeply. The reason they lead is that they care very much about people, causes, and projects; they care enough to invest themselves. Add to this, leaders are placed under intense pressure and as a result may experience high levels of a variety of emotions. In times of victory, we may be over the top with joy. Dealing with an especially frustrating issue may push us to be angry. But leaders can’t be under the control of these emotions; on the contrary, leaders must keep a firm grip on their emotions.  

We know that we should avoid making decisions when overly emotional. Emotions have a way of dominating sound reasoning. It’s not wise to choose a path based upon our feelings, because our feelings change. 

Even when (especially when) we are doing the work of the Lord, let’s not allow our emotions to go unbridled. When it comes to matters of morality, spirituality and eternity, the stakes are extremely high, and our emotions can run just as high. However, overly emotional leaders can be a danger to themselves and to others. When appropriate, be sad, but deep discouragement is not an option. When faced with injustice, be righteously indignant but not wildly enraged. It’s ok to be passionate but not to the extreme of losing control. 

Leader, if your emotions are hurting your marriage or family, it’s time to adjust. If your outbursts cause people to avoid you, look out. If you can’t sleep at night because of your emotions, God has something better. 

Paul exhorts us in 2 Corinthians 10:5. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Go ahead and be the passionate leader God called you to be. But it’s time to take our emotions captive, and make them submit to Jesus. Harness them, control them, utilize them to make you a better leader and person. 

Perpetual Pain for Pastors

Without a doubt, serving as a Pastor at a local church is one of the greatest privileges a person can be given on this earth: 

  • God trusts us with His people. 
  • People look to us for spiritual direction. 
  • We only work one day a week.  (you gotta’ at least smile!)

But too many Pastors are in pain. For some, the pain never eases up. This could be due to the depth of the hurt experienced or the perpetrator of the pain being a once-trusted friend. Sometimes it’s the culmination of many years of ministry pressure. Listen, God does not want us living and leading this way! There are, however, some of us who have refused to let go of the pain. We wear it like a medal of honor; it’s a war-wound and we are glad to put it on display. 

Without judging anyone, I have some observations to share. 

Pastor, you may have unresolved hurt/offense if:

You are cynical. If you roll your eyes at enthusiasm, if you scoff at hope, if you are skeptical of solutions – you are most likely hurting deeply. Cynicism isn’t a good look on spiritual leaders.

Your first inclination is to doubt. If you can’t see the light for the darkness, you may be in emotional turmoil. If you’ve been wounded long-term, it’s natural to begin to expect the worse. But faith leaders can’t lead people into hope if they have none themselves.   

You keep talking about past hurts. The church member who lied about you. The Deacon who falsely accused you. The Bishop who mistreated you. No doubt, these events can be devastating. But reliving them over and again does not bring healing. If you struggle with past hurts, take it to the Lord in prayer, and perhaps consider seeing a counselor. If you don’t, the bitterness can become corrosive and it can destroy you.

You enjoy conflict. None of us can avoid conflict, and I am not a proponent of running away. But if you revel in the fight, if you take great pride in strife, you may need some healing. 

You don’t trust your leader. We’ve all been misled by someone. Anyone with a few months experience has been letdown by someone over them. But mistrusting your current leader based upon what a former leader has done is unfair. Think about it: do you want your church members to assume that you are the same as their former pastor(s)? 

You must correct everyone. Does it drive you crazy to see wrong theories posted online? Do you correct grammar? Do you feel it is your job to point out flaws? If this is the case, there is a chance that you are dealing with unresolved pain. 

You can’t wait to quit. If you daydream about the day you can leave your church or the ministry, you are sidetracked. With this escape mindset, you can’t lead effectively. We all hope to retire someday, or at least slow down, but longing to quit reveals a damaged spirit.  

I could go on. But Pastor, hear my heart. I am not attacking you or criticizing you. I only wish to help you heal.

If you are in perpetual pain, reach out. There are trained, professional Christian counselors available to you, some at no charge. There are people who care. If you have absolutely no one to walk you through these types of issues, perhaps your approach needs to be adjusted. We were never meant to lead in isolation. 

Read through the passages below. Pray. Talk to a friend. You are too important to live with this level of pain. 

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

Psalm 46:1-2 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”

Psalm 71:20 “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.”

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give it to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”

Guardrails

Lots of people are deconstructing their faith right now, questioning their beliefs and convictions. While this can be a beneficial exercise, it can also be very dangerous. Because our faith impacts eternity, we can’t just shift what we believe based upon what is popular. There are many “pop theologians” that are full of opinions but devoid of Biblical wisdom.

It’s true, some of us were taught in error. But most of us who were taught correctly find our faith under attack. There is a major push to influence us to change. Some are now accepting new ideas that are contrary to what they’ve always believed.

To help us navigate this experience, I’m offering 12 guardrails to help keep us safe spiritually. When wondering about or questioning aspects of your beliefs and the resulting behaviors:

1. If your spiritual “parents” would disapprove, I suggest you hold on to what they taught you. God placed them in your life for a reason – to help guide you.

2. If it goes against what you’ve been taught in Scripture, think and pray long and hard before you even consider it.

3. If it’s new theology (unproven, untested and revolutionary), be very slow to accept.

4. If it creates spiritual “liberty” from well-accepted guidelines and convictions, stay away. What may appear to be freedom can actually be bondage.

5. If you must dig deep to find one Bible verse to “proof text” support for it, stay away.

6. If it goes against what you’ve learned from long-term trusted sources, don’t believe it.

7. If it goes against your conscience, don’t accept it.

8. If you must spend a lot of time justifying it, it’s best avoided.

9. If it could cause a less mature Christian to stumble, don’t do it.

10. It is causes you to withdraw from your proven spiritual support system, I suggest leaving it alone.

11. If your praying grandmother would scold you for doing it, don’t.

12. If you don’t want to be doing it when the Lord returns, don’t do it at all.And so on.

Of course, some things that some of us have been taught may be eventually proven wrong. But too many are abandoning the true Gospel for a new Gospel. And Scripture clearly warns us against this tendency. What you believe determines what you do. Believe the right things, do the right things.

How Blackberry Picking is Like Ministry

This Summer, wild blackberries are everywhere! We see lots of friends across the Midwest who have been picking berries and enjoying the resulting cobblers. Well, I have done my share of picking, too. I find it relaxing and fulfilling to bring home these delectable treats. I blame my underprivileged upbringing (I can’t pass up free food), but in actuality, I find the blackberry jam that Letha makes to be the best I’ve ever eaten.  

As is usually the case with preachers, we find a lesson in everything. I will use blackberry picking as a metaphor for ministry. Here goes:

The berries represent the fruit of our labors – people, growth, progress, goals, etc. 

The bushes equal the world and communities in which we live, where we find the fruit of ministry.

The thorns, mosquitoes, heat, and poison ivy are metaphors for the obstacles and discouraging distractions we find in ministry.The jelly, cobbler, blackberry dumplins’ and berry crumbles are an analogy for the goal of ministry: souls for the Kingdom of Christ!

Here are some observations:

  • You can’t pick berries without getting stuck by thorns. I have scratches all over my hands and arms and I have to pick out the splinters. The only way to avoid getting stuck is to not pick berries. The analogy is pretty obvious: if you do ministry, you will get scars. 
  • The more berries I pick, the better I get at it. I’ve learned where the best blackberry bushes are. I now recognize ripe, sweet berries. I’ve become much more efficient. I’ve improved my skills. Experience is an excellent teacher. The longer we do ministry the better at it we are supposed to become. 
  • Some berries look good but are not. Some are past ripe or infested by bugs. Once you take hold of a bad berry, you know it – it squishes in your fingers. The ministry application is, some folks look good on the outside– but they are rotten on the inside. 
  • Some of the best berries are the most elusive. You spot a big juicy one, as large as a walnut, but it’s deep in a thorny bush or in the middle of chigger weeds. Is it worth going after? You bet it is! That’s the way it is with some ministry goals, isn’t it?
  • I’ve dropped a lot of nice berries. Once they fall among the bushes, they are gone. In church work, we can’t possibly keep all the fruit we harvest; we feel terrible about it but, unfortunately, we lose some. 
  • Sometimes berries grow in groups and come ripe at the same time. I have harvested as many as 7 berries in one grab. Family groups or entire neighborhoods are available to be won by our churches, if we have the wisdom to recognize how. Let’s observe and take advantage of those opened doors.  
  • Picking the berries is only the beginning. If we don’t do something with those berries, they will waste – we can’t possibly eat that many fresh berries. Cleaning, picking out sticks and bugs, freezing or canning, baking or cooking… much of the work is accomplished after the harvest. The comparison is obvious: win people to the Lord and His church – and then the real work begins!
  • Berry picking takes time. I have a demanding job so I have to make time to go out picking. It would be easier just to sit on the couch and then buy berries from the store, but, in my opinion, there is no comparison between packaged berries and wild, organic berries. In ministry, we must prioritize the spiritual harvest. The demands of life make it easy to justify our inactivity and ignore the harvest. But there is no greater reward than winning folks to Jesus and making disciples.
  • Berry picking season is soon coming to a close. As the summer days get shorter, the production will slow down. I have to pick while I can; if I wait, I will miss the season. You don’t need me to make the correlation, do you? 
  • Finally, we are freezing most of the berries I pick. This is because Letha is doing most of the work of making jam and baked goodies, and she also lives a busy life. (Lesson – we can’t enjoy the fruit of the harvest without the contributions of the good people around us). But we will enjoy these berries all year. I can’t wait for a hot blackberry crisp once the weather turns cold. Ministry lesson: work now, reap the benefits for eternity!

Thanks for indulging me this little folksy parallel. I hope you find it beneficial.    

A Lesson in Succession

I’m reading I Chronicles 28 and 28 where David is sharing the plans for the Temple which his son Solomon is to build. The lavish detail is remarkable. David is not able to build the Temple but his son is selected by God to do so. David goes to great lengths to assure the success of the project. David is extremely invested in this project. While God will not allow him to lead the construction, he is totally committed to making sure his son succeeds.

Along with procuring all the necessary building materials, David makes an incredible statement: “And now, because of my devotion to the construction of the Tempe of God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and silver to help in the construction.” (I Chronicles 29:3)

Along with many other more obvious points, I see the following:

• Because David is not allowed to construct the Temple, he could have removed himself from the process (and kept all his valuables). 

• David did everything in his power to make sure the Temple was built according to the standards that God required; his money was needed to make that happen.

• David set his son up for success.Note: David is not coddling Solomon. He is not trying to cover for Solomon’s weaknesses. He is not creating entitlement on the part of his son. David believed in the project and in his son, therefore, he is willing to invest, heavily. 

My generation must invest in the next generation. There are things that we will not accomplish for the Lord that will be accomplished by those coming behind us. This is no time to hoard our resources. The wisdom, expertise and resources we have accumulated must be shared if the job is to be accomplished. 

Younger folks are not snowflakes. They’re not buttercups. They are the generation that is chosen by God to fulfill a great work; we elders have a vital part to play in that!

I’m Concerned

I’m concerned about people not going back to church because of CoVid-19. Certainly, some elderly and infirmed rightfully remain at home during this crisis. But way too many people who can and should be in church services aren’t.

Here is why this concerns me:

  • You can’t easily make up lost ground. Our spiritual health is inextricably connected to our involvement in the local church. When one steps aside from church for a period of time, we should expect spiritual health to be hindered and perhaps halted. And when they come back to church, the gaps may remain. While the church continues to move forward, these individuals atrophy; and then they feel disconnected.  
  • Our lack of participation harms others. Our unique gifts and talents are necessary parts of our local church body. Using the physical body analogy, if one of our organs stops functioning, more than just that organ is impacted; the entire body suffers! So it is with our part in the Church. 
  • We are creatures of habit. If we stay out of church long enough, staying out will become the norm. For some Christians, church attendance is no longer even a consideration. 
  • Children may suffer the most. Consider this: for a five year-old, CoVid-19 has impacted 20% of their life. And because of their youth, they may not be able to remember life before CoVid! If the family of this child chooses to stop attending church, this child may have no recollection of actually attending church. The child is robbed of the rich experience of church involvement. 
  • People are increasingly defensive. I hardly see a mention by pastors encouraging people to attend church without pushback. I’ve seen good, compassionate pastors be accused of guilt-tripping and condemning those who choose to stay home. In many cases, overly defensive people know they are guilty and don’t like to be reminded. 
  • Churches are suffering. Because some stay home, don’t give, have stopped serving and have disconnected from their church family, many churches are having a hard time surviving. Some experts predict a 20% loss of churches in America. Some who would like to return to church may have no church available to them in the future. 

I understand that we can worship at home. Church attendance is not a requirement to be a Christian. But if we become accustomed to staying at home to the point that we lose interest in the house of God, we are in serious danger.

I am concerned. Please, unless your health is jeopardized, return to church!    

6 Ways to Provide Pastoral Care During CoVid-19

“Pastoral care” is the clinical term for the emotional, social and spiritual support that pastors and ministry leaders provide for those they lead and serve. Think of hospital visits, bereavement calls, crisis counseling and visitation. For centuries, good pastors have expressed their love and concern for their flock by being there for them when they needed comfort, direction and care. They’ve laughed and cried with us, married us and buried our loved ones and been a great source of comfort. 

The perfect model of Pastoral Care is, of course, the Lord. He is the Good Shepherd. He provides the care and comfort we need when we are in crisis. Following this model, it is the Lord’s desire for pastors to love and care for the God’s people when they are scared, hurting and vulnerable. 

But CoVid-19 has decimated Pastoral Care as we know it. 

Very limited hospital visitations have devastated some individuals and families. Nursing homes can’t allow visitors. Families who’ve lost loved ones during this crisis have been hurt by the lack of hugs from a pastor. In many places, there is no more meeting for coffee, no more visiting members at work. These things have systematically dismantled many pastors’ ability to show love and care for their church members and attenders. The result is a serious void in the lives of some church members and some unfulfilled and frustrated pastors. I’ve even spoken with a few pastors who feel guilty for not being there for their flock.  

Add to these considerations that the pandemic has been extremely divisive in many churches. Pastors have unprecedented dilemmas. If a minister is blessed enough to visit in a home or public place, some folks are horrified when the minister doesn’t wear a mask; others are horrified when they do. Some people still insist on hugging, as though there is no danger involved. Others get offended when the pastor refuses to hug. Something as simple as a handshake has created serious problems for some pastors. I am sure that I have inadvertently offended some people because I choose to socially distance. 

Then, we may factor in that many people are angry at leaders – any and all leaders – because of the pain they are enduring. We just expect those who lead us to be able to fix things (even when it’s not logical to expect this). 

And, of course, the Pastor may be endangering himself and his family by exposure to sick people. 

CoVid-19 has seriously hindered Pastoral Care. But Pastoral Care must continue, so, Pastors must be strategic and intentional.

Here are 6 ideas on how Pastors may provide effective Pastoral Care.

1. Invest in relationships. Since effective Pastoral Care is based on trusting relationships, wise pastors will invest more time in relationships than ever before. This requires proactivity and availability. In the pre-CoVid days, a phone call wasn’t nearly as effective as an in-person meeting. An email dealing with a sensitive topic could do more damage than good. But now we must rely on these forms of communication. 

2. A Care List. More time must be invested in communication before a crisis happens. I suggest you create a list of people that need to hear from you.  Establish a schedule and stick with it. While we may think that an organic expression of care is more “spiritual”, this is a great way for people to fall through the cracks.

3. Increase contacts. If you used to check on individual church members once a month, understand that, because you can’t do so in person, you may need to check on them twice a month or more. Remember, you don’t get as much “bang for the buck” with electronic communication. 

4. Group texts. One text that is sent to large groups can be an effective method of care. Now, we must be careful not to try to mislead people – some Pastors unsuccessfully try to make their group texts appear personal. Most people know better. But addressing the entire flock at once is better than no contact at all. 

5. Enlist and empower others to make contacts on your behalf. While contact from a Deacon or Elder or volunteer isn’t the same as the Pastor doing so, multiple contacts show true concern by the church.

6. Pray! This may seem like a given, but pray specifically for discernment about what is happening in the lives of the people. The Holy Spirit is well able to make us effective care givers even when we can’t be there physically. “The Lord laid you on my heart” is an excellent statement to open up a conversation with a church member. 

Pastor, your flock needs you like they’ve never needed you before. Your job is harder than it’s ever been. But God has placed you as the spiritual shepherd of that congregation. He will equip you and help you as you equip and help them.  

Finally, be sure to provide good Pastoral Care for yourself and your family.  

One day, we will overcome CoVid-19. But until then, let’s fulfill Acts 20:28; “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Church: It’s Not About Me

In a culture that is driven by consumerism and self-gratification, it is wonderfully and deeply fulfilling to be a part of an holy organism that is focused on others. While involvement in church makes an eternal difference in our lives, we may be better served to consider our involvement in church a matter of benefitting others.

It’s not about me…

It’s about those who went before us – the trailblazers. They paid the price back then so we could have church now. They sacrificed and served, not knowing what the future would hold. And here we are, enjoying the fruit of their labors. My involvement in church is not about me, it’s about our foremothers and forefathers in the faith. We honor them when we go to church.

It’s about those who will come behind us. We are planting seeds in the ministry now that will one day be reaped by future generations. If I don’t sow seeds now, there will be nothing for them to reap. That is a heavy responsibility. My involvement in church is not about me, it’s about those who are not yet there. I owe it to them to pass the faith down. 

It’s about the people at the church. There are many good people, very good people that are the backbone of the church. They attend faithfully, serve and give, many of them year after year. They pray and work hard to see their church succeed. When we participate in the church, we help to answer their prayers. Believe it or not, your very presence at a church services is a major source of encouragement for other people in the church. 

It’s about our pastors and leaders. They work hard. They sacrifice. They give so we can receive. They pray and prepare ministry with us in mind. If I am not involved in church, I am missing the opportunity to encourage their work and serve them. Your Pastor and leaders are blessed by your commitment to the church. 

It’s about the surrounding community. Our churches are beacons of hope. When we engage in ministry with the church, we serve our community for Christ. If we are not engaged, our community will miss the hope that is offered. 

It’s about the lost. There are many people who don’t know Christ who may only come to know Him through the ministry of your church. Your faithful involvement in the church will help make the church more effective at reaching the lost in your community and around the world. 

It’s about the Lord. Without doubt, Jesus wants you involved in his church. He knows the church is not perfect. But He also knows that your contribution will help it to improve. Jesus is honored when we commit to His Church.  

Church is not about me.  Oh sure, I receive tons of benefits from my commitment to the church. But countless others are deeply impacted when I make church a priority. 

Let’s go to church!

What Do I get out of Going to Church?

This is an excellent question and one that is easily answered. The greatest thing you “get” out of going to church is that you get to give. Of course, you receive lots of encouragement and spiritual nourishment and fellowship when you faithfully attend church, but those who are really plugged in realize the amazing value of giving, investing, contributing and serving the local church. 

Jesus said, ‘it is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Casual attenders or those who have no use for the church will not understand the spiritual truths contained in this verse. Some treat the church like a free store – they take what they want with no regard for what it costs to provide those goods and services. Our human inclination is to take and not give; this selfish approach results in frustration and emptiness, and a desire for more. Those who discover the joy of adding value to the church experience an unparalleled fulfillment. 

When you think of going to church to get something, the Lord understands. He is patient with us when we need to mature in our faith. But His desire is that we will grow to the point that we participate in our local church family, not to receive but to give. We give our worship, our talents, our energy, our time, our financial resources. And God turns all of those investments around and makes our lives rich in every way. 

What do I get out of church? I get what I give. I reap what I sow, and so much more. 

Don’t miss this awesome aspect of commitment to your local church!

Do You Know Your Pastor?

How would you feel about a stranger speaking over you at your funeral service? Are you comfortable being married by someone you just met? When you have a serious prayer request, would you call a stranger? If you are looking for godly wisdom and advice, would you trust someone you only know from a distance? Is it a good idea to be discipled by a stranger?

We all need a relationship with a local church pastor. We should know them and they should know us. The work of a pastor cannot be adequately carried out by someone who doesn’t really know us.

If you’re out of church, get in. If you’ve grown distant from your pastor, get closer. If you think you have no need for church involvement, you will in all likelihood change your mind at some point. Make that point now, before you really need it.

5 Reasons to Return to the Church Building

There are still many people who have not gone back to in person services at their churches. A few have legitimate physical conditions that may make their attendance a bad idea. However, some of those same people go other places like Walmart and restaurants. Others simply don’t attend services because they have gotten out of the habit. I would like to give you 5 reasons to go back to church on Sunday.

1. There’s no place like church home. Watching services online or on television is a nice substitute, but they cannot replace the experience of being in the same room with fellow worshippers, encountering the presence of God. God does things when the Church gathers that can happen in no other setting.

2. Your church needs you. According to Scripture, each of us are a part of the Body of Christ and each part is necessary. If we are not present to do our part, either our part will not get done or someone else will have to do it. You and I have specific spiritual gifts, talents, abilities and callings that are unique. No one else can fill your role in the church like you. Your church needs you there.

3. Future generations need an example to follow. If our generation abandons the church gathering, there may be no church gathering available for those who come behind us. Know that when you faithfully attend church services, you are setting an example for others to follow.

4. It’s a Biblical mandate. Regardless of what some may say, God expects us to gather with our church family. While missing church may not be a sin or a requirement to go to heaven, it most certainly is an expectation displayed in the Bible. Of course, we are wise if we follow the Biblical patterns.

5. You need your church. You need to hear your pastor preach. You need to sing along with other church members. You need to give in the offering. You need the fellowship of other Believers, even if social distancing is being observed. You need to serve and exercise your gifts. You may be able to survive without these things but, without questions, you will not thrive spiritually without these things.Let’s go back to church!

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

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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.