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

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  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.

Pastor: Smile!

IMG_5316The world is full of negativity. People are swamped with pessimism. Doubt, fear and pain paint the world in a pale shade of gray. People need some bright colors of Good News.

My wife and I recently visited a brief church meeting. The entire team of leaders was full of joy. They cheered one another on. They smiled and gave high fives. The atmosphere was electric with joy and expectation. What a wonderful ministry climate! Immediately, I found myself drawn into their joy. But I also realized how rarely I have been a part of an atmosphere such as that.

If we hope to reach our communities, churches must create a sense of hope and optimism. (Actually, God has already created that atmosphere; all we have to do is tap into it.) If we expect to attract unchurched people with a frown, we should think again.

It may sound elementary, but pastors must be positive. Let me give you a few easy ideas:

Smile when you see people. Make eye contact and be genuinely glad to say hello.

Smile when you talk, sing and worship. Looking as though you are in anguish is not necessarily godly, and it may send the wrong message to others.

Smile when you preach. Unless the topic of your sermon is sad or painful, a smiling face creates an atmosphere of well being and confidence.

If you raise your voice when you preach, be sure not to yell at people. You can be enthusiastic without appearing angry. Few emotionally healthy people are interested in being screamed at.

Ask your leaders to smile. Greeters, ushers, worship leaders, and children’s workers should be happy.

Consider a pre-service meeting to set the atmosphere of joy and happiness. You will find it is contagious – the atmosphere will be transformed.

Admittedly, leading a church is an arduous task. There are times that the burdens are heavy. It is easy and perhaps natural for us to become so serious in our efforts that we appear to be stressed and distressed. But a smile communicates inner peace and joy. Jesus brings us true joy and He wants us to share it with others. Marcus Aurelius said, “The mind reveals itself in the face.” What does your face say about what’s going on in your mind?

We may need to retrain ourselves and others. Old habits (frowning) are hard to break. But let’s encourage the people at our churches to take advantage of the nonverbal and body language signals we send to others.

So, here is a lovely Bible verse that communicates my hope for you: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:14

Let’s overflow with hope and joy, and observe the positive impact it has!

Counting Attendance Can Kill You

design-17It’s Resurrection Week and church leaders all over the world are headlong into a massive ministry week. Most dream of capacity crowds and are focused on either filling their buildings or a specific numerical goal. While this is reasonable and usually honorable, the focus on “counting” can become deadly.

Allow me to explain.

God cares about numbers, so much so that He wrote an entire Book in the Bible called “Numbers”! But there are serious considerations in the Bible when leaders focus on numbers – when they should be focusing on obedience.

King David counted his military troops in I Samuel 24. This wasn’t the first time the troops had been counted, but this time was different. God was angry with Israel and some versions of the Bible says He incited David to count the men. F. LaGard Smith says that the problem may have been with David’s motivation for counting. “Selfish ambition for aggressive expansionism” is a possibility. Regardless of the motivation, God was not pleased and Israel paid a heavy price.

Listen, God is not against us counting our influence and impact. We are expected to know how many people attend our services and it is an important part of fulfilling our Mission. But God is against us trying to make a name for ourselves, competing with other ministries, manipulating God’s work to advance our reputation, or simply trying to make ourselves look good.

Thankfully, we are now under grace and God rarely acts in such harsh ways (at least perceived as harsh) when He punishes us. But this makes us wonder if we are being punished nonetheless.

This Easter, let’s keep track of numbers for the right reasons. We want to make progress; we must bear fruit. But let’s not fall prey to trying to impress anyone – except God.

Blessed Easter!

6 Reasons Why Easter is So Hard for Pastors

(and what we can do about it)

design-16I’ve never been fond of the references to Easter as the “Super Bowl of the Church”, but it has some validity. Most ministries are very active during Holy Week as they build up to a Resurrection Sunday Celebration. Excitement is high and we all hope for a great season. But for some pastors, the season is very stressful. There are several reasons for that.

  1. High expectation: most people realize that Easter is the highlight of the church year and they demand that the church be firing on all cylinders. There is little room for subpar ministry.
  2. Comparison: The advent of social media has unfortunately fueled competitive flames among ministers as many tout what an awesome day/service they had.
  3. Guests: we all know that some folks only go to Church on Christmas and Easter (CEOs). This places a lot of pressure on a minister to reach these people in the very little time that they will be in church.
  4. Critical culture: Pastors are being critiqued as never before. People watch famous television preachers and expect their pastor to “perform” on a similar level.
  5. Visiting family and friends: when people bring their family to church, they don’t want to be embarrassed. Preachers feel this pressure.
  6. Concern for souls: Pastors care deeply about the spiritual condition of the people in their Easter services. While we know we can’t save anyone, if we blow this opportunity, there could be eternal consequences.

What can we do to help our Pastor (or ourselves) to find some relief during Easter?

  • Pray for your pastor, especially this week.
  • Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself or your pastor. Billy Graham has gone to heaven so let’s not expect that kind of effectiveness.
  • Don’t criticize a pastor. Instead, encourage them. A note card or quick text expressing appreciation and prayer support can have a huge impact this week.
  • Distribute expectations. While Easter is the big week, taking a longer view of ministry will help to balance things. While we want the church to be full on Easter, we really desire long-term growth in our ministries.
  • Prepare ahead of time. Pastor, work early on your sermon. Try to be finished early in the week so the last few hours can be spent in quiet reflection and rest.
  • Don’t compare! In fact, stay off of Facebook on Easter Sunday afternoon.
  • Give God the glory for the privilege of ministry, even in stressful seasons like Easter.
  • Take Monday off!

Easter is all about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not a performance or production. Keep it simple; don’t try to impress people. Relax, and worship the Risen Lord!

Blessed Easter 2019!

 

 

 

Hiding Behind Servanthood

IMG_5262About 20 years ago, my father in law was visiting our church. We had a meal event after the service. As the meal was finishing up, I grabbed a broom and started cleaning up. He called me aside and told me that I shouldn’t be doing that, I should allow others to do the clean up. I told him that it was important for me to exemplify servant leadership.

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t being a servant leader, I was hiding behind servant leadership.

I am an introvert, so my first preference is to do something other than engage with people. I called it servant leadership, but in reality, I was in my comfort zone.

Servant leadership is not necessarily doing what others don’t want to do; it is doing what you don’t want to do, but need to do.

My father in law was correct (as usual). It wasn’t that I was too good to sweep up, it was that I was more needed interacting with people.

How will you serve? My advice is, find something that really needs to be done but you don’t want to do. Then serve.

Where Are The Young Leaders?

IMG_4998-1Moses raised up his replacement, Joshua. But Joshua did not raise up his successor, and the people suffered as a result. Let’s not make the same mistake.

We have a problem brewing. For a variety of reasons, there seems to be a lack of leaders coming up through our churches. Of course, there are some young women and men who are preparing themselves for productive leadership in their churches. But considering the great need that we have for leaders, the number of new churches that must be planted, and the age of many of our current leaders, we need many more young leaders! We are experiencing a decline in the number of young people that are entering the ministry; this trend must be reversed.

There are a few legitimate reasons for the decline in young leaders, but some of the reasons must be addressed and turned around. Some young people feel that there is no place for them in the church. They feel unwelcomed and unneeded. They are not included in the life of the church. Their participation is not encouraged. They are told that they must wait their turn. They are ignored. Brothers and Sisters in Christ – these things should not be.

While most of us love the young people in our communities, we can inadvertently drive them away from the church. When we criticize a generation for being different than us, we drive them away from the church. When we refuse to allow them a voice in the direction of the church, we drive them away. When we refuse to change anything in the church, we drive them away. When we look to the past more than we look to the future, we drive them away. When we disrespect a generation, we drive them away from the church.

God help us to turn this tide!

We all agree that God loves the young generation and wants to include them in His church. We simply must do whatever it takes to engage these young people as leaders in training. Here are a few practical things you can do:

  • Pray for the young people in your church and community.
  • Purposefully engage young people in the life of the church.
  • Build personal relationships with young people in the church.
  • Strategically identify young people with the gift of leadership.
  • Develop a plan, formal or informal, to develop the young leaders in your church.
  • Share leadership responsibilities with young leaders.

If the current trend continues, we will not have enough leaders to lead our churches and churches will close. If the current trajectory of many of our churches continues, they will close within the next 10 years – simply because no one will be leading or attending. Of course, we plan to change this course.

When I was a teenager, some leaders in the church pursued me and encouraged me to engage in the church. They recognized leadership potential in me and affirmed me. This changed my life. Can you do the same for a young person in your church?

Let me state: we value all people, young and old. The church family is made up of multiple generations. We cannot focus on one generation to the detriment of another. So let’s change the current direction. Please, young lives are at stake and the future of the church hangs in the balance.

God, help us to raise up a generation of young leaders!

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!