Good Communication Goes Beyond the Stage

Good communication goes beyond the stage

 

Preaching and communicating are not necessarily the same thing.

This is not a post about preaching. This is a post about how some people are great preachers but not great communicators. There may be a difference.

I know and have heard some dynamic preachers. They can hold an audience in the palm of their hand. They evoke passions and emotions with their sermons. But too many of them are terrible communicators. What in the world do I mean?

Simply because a preacher can engage an audience does not mean that he or she is good at communication. The difference may be understood by categorizing communication into two groups: Group communication and individual communication.

Good preachers know the Bible.

They know how to utilize inflection and tone in their voice.

They use effective body language.

They are authoritative.

They are convincing.

But a guy or gal can be great at these things yet suffer from poor communication skills.

Good communicators look you in the eye and you know they are listening.

Good communicators return phone calls.

They answer emails.

They respond to others.

They remember what they told you and what you told them.

It is very difficult to be a good communicator unless you actually care.

I am not saying that good communication is more important than preaching. It is not. I am saying that preachers need to be reminded that good communication goes beyond the pulpit.

In my opinion, in order for a preacher to be effective, he or she must also be good at communicating with individuals. If he or she is not, they will need to make sure that someone close to them is good at this kind of communication and keeps them connected to the people around them. Otherwise, they lose credibility when their individual communication falls through the cracks. Their preaching will suffer because their smaller-scale communication is weak.

If you are a preacher, work on improving your preaching – it is a vitally important calling. But also work on your one-on-one communication. Pay attention to people. Respond accordingly. I think you will find that your preaching also improves.

Critical of the Church? Better Think Twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praying for each other.

Preaching the Good News of Jesus.

Building up the Church.

Fighting our enemy, the devil.

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

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

11 Reasons NOT to Give Tithes

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The word “tithe” mean “tenth”. It is a biblical principle that indicates that people are supposed to offer 10% of their income to the church. 10%! That’s a huge percentage. Like you, I can think of many reasons why I should not give away that much of my money!

Here are just a few:

1. I need that money. I need to pay bills; my family has needs. I’m in debt over my head. I am responsible to take care of my financial obligations. If I give tithes, I may not be able to do so.

2. I need to save for the future. Who knows what tomorrow holds? Anything could happen…and I need to be prepared for an unknown future.

3. What if something bad happens? My car could break down or our refrigerator might stop working. If I pay tithes, I might get stuck in a bad spot.

4. I don’t like everything that happens in our church. The pastor doesn’t always do things that way I want him to. I’m not sure where all the money goes. The staff probably makes too much money. I think they waste a lot of resources. I could go on and on…

5. Tithing is an Old Testament concept. Jesus never said, “Thou shalt tithe”.  In the New Testament, we are free to do whatever we think is best. Tithing is legalism. We are no longer bound by the Old Testament rules.

6. I don’t have enough money. It’s simple: I already run short of money. Common sense says that if I give money away, I’ll have less. One day, when I get rich, I will tithe.

7. I don’t feel called to give tithe. Generosity is not my spiritual gift. The Bible clearly says that some people have the spiritual gift of generosity. I don’t have that gift!

8. Let the rich people take care of the church. They could write one check and pay all the church bills. That way, those of us who have less wouldn’t have to deal with that responsibility.

9. I know of too many crooked preachers and churches. I’ve heard too many stories about Mercedes Benz and vacation homes in Vegas. There is no way I’m helping that preacher get rich!

10. I pay my tithes in different ways, like volunteering to serve at church and singing in the choir. If I give ten percent of my time, that’s the same thing.

11. God doesn’t need my money – He owns everything.

I trust by now, you understand that this is a parody. Pardon my sarcasm. The above are all reasons that I have heard as to why some people don’t give tithes. And any excuse will do. The truth is, among a hundred other good reasons, other people will be blessed if you do tithe. That should be enough – helping other people. Helping them to find Christ, to serve God, to find healing for their marriage and family, to have something to eat, to know that God loves them.

It’s simple. Just give God your 10%. You will like the results.

The Problem with Guilt-Free Church

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I saw a billboard the other day advertising a church in the community. In huge letters, it said: “Guilt-Free, Grace-Full!” Having grown up in a spiritual atmosphere where guilt was used like a hammer against those trying to make spiritual progress, I find myself paying attention when I see a sign like that. I realize that many churches use guilt to control people and to get the kind of response they need in order to stay in operation. No one wants to be put on a guilt trip and most people will no longer tolerate that kind of treatment from church leaders.

But there is a problem with a guilt-free church: We are all guilty.

Our culture loves to deflect blame. We love to point at someone else: our parents, the government, our spouse – anyone but me! There is a significant move within the evangelical community to remove the sense of guilt from the lives of people. We don’t want anyone to feel badly about themselves. This is basically because so many people reject personal responsibility. But we ARE responsible. We have all sinned (Romans 3:23).

Here are some things to consider:

1. A feeling of “guilt” is required in order to be forgiven.

By guilt, I do not mean that we should beat ourselves up or feel as though we are hopeless. One of the definitions for guilt is: “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc.” (dictionary.com) We must come to terms with our sin. This “guilt” can be defined as godly sorrow. An old fashioned church word for this is “conviction”.  II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (NKJV)  Worldly sorrow is the destructive kind of guilt – godly sorrow produces repentance, which leads to salvation. We must first be aware that we are sinners; then we can be saved.

2. If there is no guilt, there can be no grace.

Back in the 80’s one of the more popular Bible verses I heard was “There is therefore now no condemnation…” (Romans 8:1) This verse was used to cover people who desired to do whatever they wanted, but did not want any of the associated guilt. The problem was, many people forgot the rest of the verse…”for those who are in Christ”. Once Christ forgives sin, there is no guilt; but until he does, we are guilty!  As much as some church leaders would like to be “all grace all the time”, be aware that God’s grace only covers those who confess their sins to Him. According to Scripture, not everyone is going to heaven, only those whose sins are forgiven. Pastors cannot let people off the hook for their sins. Churches who do this may enjoy growth for a season but the end results will be empty lives.

3. People deserve all of the truth.

Just because a dessert says it is “guilt free” that does not mean there are no calories. We can tell people that they will only feel good about themselves if they come to our church. But when the Word of God is preached and the Spirit of God is involved, conviction will take place. This is painful; people avoid it. But we should never remove the opportunity to for people to repent.

4. Don’t force guilt or grace.

These are properties of God; allow Him to do His work in the lives of people. Churches and pastors should preach the truth in love. They should not condemn or judge. Neither should they exonerate or liberate. This is the work of God. The church is only a conduit through which God works.

Think it over. The next time you feel guilty about something, don’t dismiss it as a guilt trip. Don’t find a preacher who will tell you how awesome you are. Pray and ask God to reveal any wicked way within you, and if He shows you something, repent and accept His free gift of grace!

Psalms 139:23-24 “Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

People-Growing (for church leaders)

People GrowingGod has called us into the most wonderful work in the world! Much of what we do can be compared to what a farmer does. He grows crops; we grow people. He reaps a harvest of grain or vegetables; we reap a crop of souls.

Like farmers, pastors must know the purpose of their work and we must be willing to do whatever it takes to produce disciples. Fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is not an option for today’s church leader!

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be intentional. Discipleship and spiritual growth among your church members does not “just happen”. If there is not a specific plan, our church will not grow. Conducting church services is not enough. We must engage the people in an intentional and consistent plan of personal spiritual growth. There are many simple plans available; develop one or find one and get your church involved. What is your plan?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be willing to measure our success. Numbers aren’t everything but they do measure our progress. Attendance = real lives. If we are not reaching more people now than we were a few years ago, it is time for an adjustment. Refusal to deal with the bottom line (disciples being made) will lead to failure in the ministry. Go ahead and answer the question, “what do our numbers say about our discipleship process?” Are adjustments necessary? If so, what adjustments?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be skilled. The Bible instructs us to study to make ourselves approved unto God ((II Timothy 2:15). If we expect the people we lead to grow, we must also grow. I recommend that each of us read various authors on the topic of spiritual growth. We need to feed ourselves outside of the church services we lead. We must worship and pray and fast. It may also be beneficial to learn from others – consider a coach or mentor who can help to develop you as a leader. If we grow as leaders, those we lead will also grow.  What is your personal growth plan?

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be diligent. James 5:7 says, “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” We cannot be in a hurry to grow people. It talks a lot of plowing and planting and watering and fertilizing. There are no shortcuts! But we cannot be satisfied if we have had no harvest for years. God works through seasons – when is our season to harvest people? It must be soon!

In order for us to have success as “people growers”, we must:

Be aware of our accountability. We should be accountable to one another. We should be in cooperative relationships with those in our faith family. But we WILL give an account to the Lord for our productivity or lack thereof in the field of souls. The field belongs to God. The people are His. The Ministry is His. We don’t want to stand before Him empty handed. We certainly desire to stand before Him one day and hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant”! (Matthew 25:21).

Respect the Generations

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Having grown up in the church and making my livelihood in ministry my entire adult life, I have an observation: every generation thinks they are right. In the family of God, there is a big problem between people who just can’t seem to accept the way the “other generation” prefers to do church. There are divisions about music style, Bible versions, proper attire for church services and even whether or not coffee should be served in church. This problem is not going away and it keeps the church from being as effective as it could be. Rather than fighting the devil, we fight each other.

I have a proposal for our consideration: Let’s not disrespect what God is doing among generations other than ours. This goes for every generation.

For the elders: Of course the younger generation is making some mistakes. We all do when we lack the experience and wisdom that is needed in life. They want to change everything and they have no idea of the ramifications. This is part of the growth process. They act like they know it all. Keep in mind that those who went before you thought the same thing about you, and it was probably true. Our job is not to force the younger crowd into our interpretation of the “right way”. Our job is to encourage them to experience God in a fresh and authentic way. That way will be different than your way, just like your way was different from those who went before you. Remember, there was a generation before you that could have criticized every thing you did. Hopefully they supported you. Offer the same benefit to those who are coming along behind you. They are counting on you – they are looking for heroes, not critics.

For the younger: Remain teachable. Those who have been around longer than you know more than you do. Don’t presume to have it all figured out. Be sensitive and respectful.  They have paved the way for you. If they hadn’t paid the price, your life would be harder. Show gratitude. Find a mentor, a spiritual grandfather. Listen to him. Obey the Scriptures: I Peter 5:5-6 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (NIV)

For all generations: Let’s share mutual respect and support. Celebrate the differences. Operate with grace and tolerance. Be intentionally multi-generational in ministry. If a church does not include every generation, it is out of balance.

And finally, stay humble (we are not God).  It is very presumptuous to think that whatever we prefer is what God prefers. Our ways are His ways, my music is His music, and so on. On judgment day, God will sort out Bible versions and hymns vs. hip hop. Until then, let’s embrace those who are different than we are.  The future of the church and the salvation of the world depends on it.

Don’t Give Up On Justice

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Don’t give up on justice (even when it doesn’t come)!

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:4 (NIV)

We don’t need another Martin/Zimmerman commentary. Apparently we could use a primer on hoping for justice. In light of the recent verdict, and the resulting turbulence, I’ve heard so many people comment that they have simply given up on the idea of true justice in our world. This is a dangerous position to assume. If we lose hope of the possibility of justice, our morality will deteriorate, and quickly.

How to keep justice alive:

  • Understand that only God can be truly just and we can’t expect humankind to behave like Him.  We are the same people who crucified Jesus, how dare we think that we will treat one another any better? We must have a realistic expectation. It has been this way from the beginning – people have been mistreating one another since Cain murdered his brother Abel in Genesis 4.
  • We must be redemption oriented. We have to work to provide a way to heal what has been broken. We must work toward wholeness, though it is slow in coming.
  • Forgiveness must be offered even when justice is refused. Lack of forgiveness turns to bitterness which turns to destruction – both of the victim and the perpetrator.
  • Have a Kingdom of Heaven mentality. Until we get to glory, all of this will continue. Look beyond today to what will come. This is hope that lasts, in spite of prevailing injustice.
  • Practice it. Justice must be for all, including you and me. Treat other people with equity and respect and humility. This is the Spirit of Christ at work within us.

Don’t give up on justice; it’s attainable, even if only by a few. And God alone knows justice – we can count on Him to make all things right one day.  Fix your hope on God!

You are Needed

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The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. 27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” I Corinthians 12:12, 18, 25-27 (NLT)

We need you to be at your best. You possess unique giftings that are necessary for larger success; when you win, we all win. As part of a team, we will all get more done. Individually, none of us will accomplish much of significance.

The challenges our generation faces require someone with your abilities. There are enough problems; we need you to be a part of the solution.

You can opt out, but someone else will need to step up, your job still needs to be done. If someone else steps up to do your job, who will do their job? It doesn’t take long for the entire thing to unravel.

We need you to contribute. Please join in. If you do, you will enjoy the fulfillment of a job well-done as well as great success for the body of Christ.

You are needed!

The Great Equalizer in Preaching

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You’re pouring your heart out. You preach like a man possessed (in a good way). You wax eloquent. And then it happens; you make eye contact with the one person in the crowd that can truly humble you – your spouse.

You can fake it with others, but not with her.

Possibly the most difficult part about being a preacher of the Gospel is that at least one of the listeners knows everything there is to know about you.  I think God plans it that way. The great equalizer for many preachers is that their spouse knows better.

It is easy; very easy to impress some crowds. Say the right things in the right way with your best preacher voice and you can wow the crowds. But when someone siting there knows the intimate secrets of who you really are, that is another story.

Preach about faith; she knows your doubts. Preach about prayer; she knows your prayer life. Preach about integrity; and she may smirk (inside).

I think God plans it that way. To keep you humble…to stay real…God reminds you that, no matter what you say, one other person there besides you and Him knows your bathroom habits.

I think the toughest part of being a preacher is that my wife sits there, amening me, nodding her head and being supportive, but knowing full well all my flaws. And still she graciously receives the Word. Quite humbling, I must say!  And good for us preacher-types, lest our arrogance get the best of us. Without these humbling realities, our heads would probably explode with pride. The way it is, it’s sometimes difficult to hold your head up while preaching when she’s in the crowd.

I’m thankful for grace from God and from my wife.

By the way, any preacher who won’t admit to this is either a liar or more spiritual than I am (which isn’t always saying much).

Jealous Husbands Don’t Scare Me

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There is one reason why I am not concerned about a jealous husband coming after me: I have not been doing things that I shouldn’t be doing. I have not cheated with someone else’s wife nor have I cheated on my wife.  Please don’t take this as bragging and I know better than to get prideful; but there is a deep sense of comfort that comes from knowing that my conscience is clear.  I remember hearing my pastor talk about this topic when I was a kid and I didn’t really understand. He spoke of the freedom of walking down the street with confidence, knowing that no one was gunning for him because he’d been messing around – because he HADN’T been messing around! I understand now and I treasure the fact that God has taught me the value of relationship integrity.

I know too many guys who have been guilty of adultery and I also know many who have been victimized by it. While Hollywood normalizes these activities, the results in real life are always devastating; lives are being destroyed.

Let’s pray for men in general and husbands specifically. Pray for purity and fidelity among us. Pray that we older guys can model for younger guys what it means to be a man of purity. Pray that young men in America will not believe the lies being pushed by our culture that say manhood is determined by sexual activity. Pray for fewer reasons for crimes of passion. Let’s ask God for forgiveness of our sins and that He will help us to overcome our temptations and make us more like Christ.

I Corinthians 16:13 in various translations…

KJV: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.

MSG: Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute.

Douay-Rhelms: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, do manfully, and be strengthened. (I love that: “do manfully”!)

Whitter: Keep your guard up, dig deep in Christ, don’t be a weakling, win the war!

I Found Myself Numb

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I heard myself saying the right things but I felt myself feeling nothing. As we were at the bedside of a yet another dying person, I was disturbed, not at the idea of death or even the mourning of a family but that I had grown so accustomed to the scene. This was after many years of pastoring. Too many funerals, too many emergency room visits, too many death-bed experiences. I had become the pale-faced, cold-blooded undertaker we’ve all seen on old westerns – except that I was supposed to be a pastor. It wasn’t that I didn’t care; I really did and was hurting for the family. It was simply a matter of overexposure and lack dealing with grief properly.

I didn’t get numb overnight. Unfortunately, I’ve had more than my share of morbid experiences: Identifying bodies burned in a house fire; gruesome deaths of children; and having to do things in hospitals that nurses didn’t want to do and family members couldn’t bring themselves to do. The breaking point seemed to be the slow and agonizing death of a young friend. I stood helplessly by his side for months and watched as his wife and young son let him go. I helped the undertaker load his lifeless body on the gurney.

I had allowed a shell to build up around my heart. For years, while conducting funerals, I have heard remarks like, “I don’t know how you held it together.” But this was different – this wasn’t composure.

I got my wake up call before it was too late. When I realized I wasn’t experiencing the proper response to death, I knew something had to change. I have since made necessary adjustments. These changes are too personal to share but they were precise and effective.

So how does one in my profession avoid becoming cold-blooded? My few suggestions would be:

Allow yourself to grieve (possibly in private because your breaking down in public could cause a tidal-wave response).

Be sure to debrief after especially difficult experiences.

Seek counsel when the load is heavy. Even those in the helps industries need help.

Pray that God will keep your heart tender. See Ezekiel 36:26.

I don’t regret my life work. In fact, I treasure it and am honored to be called by God to do this work. But I would like to avoid this pitfall in the future and help others to also avoid it.

Don’t let yourself become numb.

Deciding Controversial Issues

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Big decisions are being made right now. Many people are strongly opinionated about some current issues. Lines are being drawn.

But I wonder how most people arrived at their conclusion.

If you will allow me, I will humbly make some suggestions for anyone who is considering which side of the fence they are on regarding the issues in the news.

Don’t allow the media to influence you. They have an agenda. And they have no interest in your best interest.

Don’t trust the political parties. Once again, they merely use the citizens to get what they want.

Don’t form your opinions based on social media. Most people who voice their positions there have not studied the issues.

Don’t be influenced by celebrities. I heard a quote the other day: “What happens in Hollywood doesn’t stay in Hollywood.” While I wish that were not true, it is. Without being too harsh, we don’t need a bunch of dysfunctional rock stars directing our lives.

Don’t go by polls or popular opinions. These change with the wind.

Don’t make your decisions based on your emotions. These also are subject to change.

Don’t side with what seems right. Like it or not, we are sometimes easily deceived.

Don’t even base your opinions based solely upon the church because the church is made up of imperfect people.

So, where do we go to get the correct guidance when we are making our decisions about controversial topics?

I bet you saw this coming: Go to the Bible. And here is why:

The Bible is here to stay. It has withstood the test of time. It has survived all the scrutiny. It will not change. It takes no regard for what is popular or trendy. It is not influenced by popular vote. It is not even concerned with hurting people’s feelings. It simply is the truth. The reason it is the truth is that is it authored by God. He is the only One who never changes. What He says has always worked and it always will work.

A really good reminder about this is found in Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

Whether it is gay marriage or abortion or the economy, you just can’t go wrong siding with God. He has never been wrong, and never will be.

Don’t Blame Me, I’m Just the Leader

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Hey leaders, when something goes down within your organization, don’t let people blame you.

Step up and blame yourself!

That’s right. Leaders don’t run from blame and they certainly don’t blame other people. Leaders accept the responsibility for the need for change and they lead it! That’s what leaders do.

Leadership guru John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  There have been times in my career that I have hated that adage. When things are going poorly and the team is not producing, I want to point at someone else and take the pressure off of myself. But it’s my job to lead the team into success. With certain qualifiers, as goes the leader, so goes the team. There will be times when someone else messes up. As the leader, we must be strong enough to shoulder the blame and do what it takes to correct the direction.

I heard a ministries consultant take another angle: If you’ve been at your current appointment for at least 3 years, you own every problem. You can no longer place the blame on your predecessor.  You’ve been there long enough to address it. As the current leader, it’s your duty to deal with it and fix it. We can’t exonerate ourselves from it or abdicate our responsibility.

Let’s use Jesus as our example:

In John 18:10, Simon Peter cut off the ear of Malchus. Jesus rebuked Simon and healed the guy’s ear! He explained that His kingdom was not one of violence.

In Matthew 17:24-27 Peter commits Jesus to paying taxes without consulting Jesus. Again, Jesus fixes the problem.

In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus’ disciples failed to remove a demon spirit from a boy. Jesus took care of the issue and set the boy free.

Notice something – not only did Jesus accept responsibility and fix the problems, He also showed His disciples how to prevent the problems from being repeated. He utilized them in the solution, training them for the future.

I love that! Real leaders are willing to meet a challenge head-on. They do whatever it takes to correct the crisis. They utilize the problem to train their team. And as a result, the team grows in its abilities.

So once again, when something breaks in the organization, don’t find someone else to blame. Just lead the change. That’s what leaders do.

Rules that will Keep your Church Building Like New

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Below are some easy to follow rules that will prevent your church building from getting dirty and worn out. Implement these rules and you will have no worries about the carpet wearing out or the paint getting fingerprints on it.

Rule #1: No children allowed! Kids are messy and they spill things. Parents who have small children should be discouraged from allowing them at church until they are old enough to behave themselves.

Rule #2: No activities! Lots of feet are tough on the flooring. More people flushing the toilets increases the water bill. The janitor has to work harder when the building is used. No activities will result in paint and carpeting lasting for 40 years plus.

Rule #3: Members only! The building is not available for use by community groups.  These “outsiders” didn’t pay to build the building and they don’t respect God’s house. Besides, some of them will smoke on the parking lot. (By the way, a couple of well-placed “No Trespassing” signs will send the message to the neighbors).

Rule #4: No multi-use of rooms. Each ministry should have exclusive use of their room and keep the door locked. Be sure to include many signs warning people who are not in that group to “keep their hands off” of the materials and supplies in the respective rooms.

Rule #5: No change of decorations, furniture or room usage allowed! Never consider updating from pews to chairs, from the awesome “mural” in the baptistry to something more modern or creating fresh venues for worship or ministry. If the décor was good enough for grandma, it is good enough for us.

Of course, if you follow these rules, your building won’t be necessary. People won’t come to church. They will find a place that is inviting and will discover a faith family that cares more about them than they do bricks and mortar.

The bottom line is: Ministry is about people, not buildings! While we are not to needlessly abuse the facility, if it is not wearing out, we are not using it to its fullest potential.

What “rules” would you add?

Get Over Yourself and Ask for Help

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I am being recalibrated. Until 6 months ago, I had enjoyed the kind of work and ministry that didn’t often require me to request the financial support of those around me. As a pastor of a local church for many years, we relied solely upon the generous donors in the church. They did this out of obedience to the Bible and commitment to the vision.

Now, as the leader of a ministry that requires the support of others in order to survive (a “mission state” for our denomination), I am compelled to ask outsiders for help. Interestingly, they are giving it. I am humbled and blessed to be a part of a faith family that believes in us and wants to invest in our future. I am learning how to ask for help.

This (the asking) does not come naturally for me. I still struggle to ask for money. But because I believe in what we are doing, I have to overcome that struggle.

There were 3 things I had to get over in order to be able to ask for a little help from my friends:

Pride: (arrogance, self-reliance). I simply had to come to terms with the fact that I needed help, that we could not do it alone. This is difficult for a leader to do. It is a humbling thing to ask for help.

Fear of being a pest: I do not like to be the one who makes others uncomfortable.  The thought that someone rolls their eyes when they see me on caller ID makes me cringe. I had to overcome that.

Disrespecting myself because we need help: We do not have less value because we are small in number.

It’s good for us to be in a spot where we need help.  This has been a healthy adjustment for me; a time of growth. I do pray and work toward the day when we will no longer need the financial assistance of our friends. I really want to be the one who provides the help to others, and we are trying to do that, even now. But thank God, we are getting by and even making progress as our friends are helping us.

Let me encourage you – ask for help when you need it.

God has no Grandchildren

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I had the distinct privilege last week of meeting a pastor from Mongolia. This man is a pioneer Christian leader and is responsible for training young Christians who will shape the future identity of Christianity in their country. The Gospel is new in Mongolia. According to this pastor, as recently as 1998, there were only a handful of Christians in the entire country. Today, the are an estimated 400,000 Christians.

The Christian church is only one generation old in Mongolia.

The opportunities are significant because the people are hungry for God. Their hearts are pure. They have not been corrupted by familiarity.

I encouraged this pastor to fight hard to keep the people pure. We discussed the difficulties that will be faced by future generations. There is a tendency for people to drift from God. Each generation removed from an initial experience with God suffers lukewarmness. I talked to this new friend about the spiritual lethargy in America and how they can avoid this problem in Mongolia.

Every generation needs its own encounter with Christ. There is no such thing as hand-me-down faith. I explained to this humble pastor, the American phrase, “God has no grandchildren.” In other words, today’s generation must cultivate a personal relationship with God distinct from their parents’ relationships with God.

In America, we have a glut of the Gospel. Most everyone has seen and heard. Hearts are hardened.

We need a first generation experience with the Spirit of God.

Pastor, There is a Target on your Chest!

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Pastor, you are being targeted. It is no secret that if the enemy can take you out, many of your followers will also be taken out.

In Matthew 26:31 Jesus informed His disciples that they would scatter when He was attacked: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ He was referencing the prophecy in Zechariah 13:8 which detailed His brutal death.  He was also telling them that none of them would be there for Him in His darkest hour.

If you are a spiritual leader, make no mistake; the devil is zeroed in on you. He has you in his crosshairs.

Should you be afraid? No, but you should take some precautions:

`Surround yourself with a prayer covering – both from yourself and from other people. This needs to be more than casual. Intentional and strategic prayer is needed.

`Don’t take unnecessary risks: don’t go where you don’t belong, stay away from the things that tempt you, avoid people that pull you the wrong direction.

`Maintain your spiritual disciplines. It is in prayer and meditation and fasting and the Word that you remain strong.

`Stay accountable. While solitude is important, too much time alone is unhealthy. Be close to your spouse, your family and your friends.

`Stay close to God – it is in Him that you are secure.

There is a target on your chest! Don’t underestimate your vulnerability and don’t undervalue God’s protection.

World AIDS Day

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Today is World AIDS Day. A few news agencies are carrying the story in an effort to raise awareness of this crisis and to motivate action so that we can make progress against this horrible disease. Unfortunately, not many Christians are talking about this topic and few churches ever do anything to address solutions.

I wonder what Jesus would do. I doubt seriously that He would, when confronted with the ugly realities, just go on about His business. I think He would do something. I believe He would heal people. I know He would love the victims and minister to them. He would care.

I want to be more like Jesus. I want to help the hurting. True, I cannot heal anyone. But I can love people with the love that Christ puts in my hearts for them. I cannot change the world, but I can make a small difference in the life of one person.

AIDS, human trafficking, abortion, the orphan crisis in the world, famine, contaminated water…there are so many opportunities for Christians to engage in meaningful and life-changing work. I think this is what Jesus wants us to do. He wants us to do what He would do – address these crises with His love.

I Admit it, I’m an Alien

Spending most of our time with fellow Christ-followers can cause us to approach our lives as though we live in a bubble. One indicator is when our conversation centers on how shocked we are at the condition of the world and the depravity of the people around us. Christians are aghast that non-straight people want to get married.  We are stunned that some choose to end the life of a child while it is still in it’s mother’s womb. We are incredulous that everyone doesn’t agree with our political stance.

We have to stop expecting those who do not follow Christ to behave as though they do. Make no mistake: We are a minority and the majority is not impressed with our morals. They will continue to do as they do – regardless of how shocked we are or how much we complain about it.

Remember, we don’t belong here. I go back to 80’s Christian rock band, Petra, when they sang, “Not of This World”.  We are not at home here; we are citizens of another place. We are aliens. Not of the outer space variety but of the heavenly kingdom variety. Philippians 3:20 reminds us, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV)  No wonder we don’t feel at home – we are not at home.

While we must share the Good News of Christ, we will never change our unChristian culture into a Christian culture. The quickest we can expect things to get perfect is the moment we make it home.

So behave yourself as a short-term visitor – an alien. That’s what I am, I admit it.

Be Kind to Your Successors

Let’s talk about big decisions and long-term consequences.

I am going back to a discussion I had with a friend a couple of years ago. He serves as an Executive Financial Administrator at a large, well-known church in the south. He was telling me how, on a daily basis, he wrestles with decisions that leaders of the church made forty years ago. I was blown away by that idea. Specifically, he was trying to pay for and maintain buildings that never should have been built. It was currently hamstringing their ministry. They were having trouble fulfilling their God-given vision because they had to manage the choices made by guys who were no longer around.

Be reminded that, some of the things you decide today will be around for a long time. Long after you are dead and buried, some of your choices will still be going strong.  Before you decide to commit an organization to a long-term arrangement, consider those who will follow you. Before you jump on a bandwagon, before you follow a trend, before you do what other well-known leaders are doing, ask… how will this affect people who come along behind me in 10 or 20 or 30 years?

Go ahead and dream big, and act big. But do so with the knowledge that someone gets to deal with the residual of your decisions.

Be kind to your successors! They will love you for it.

(by the way, I took the picture above while on a bike ride in the swamp in South Florida)