The Importance of a “Quality” Worship Experience

23316618_10155901198814214_4888853113538265950_nKid gloves: that’s what I’m using while addressing this issue. The risk is that readers will think I’m not very spiritual. Or perhaps they’ll think that I’m the self-appointed judge of worship. It may be said that I’m watering down the message of the Gospel. But please, hang with me.

I have the honor of visiting many churches. I’ve attended services in approximately 50 different churches over the last 15 months. So if you think I’m referring to your church in this post, odds are, you are incorrect. My unique position affords a great vantage point. I can observe the good and the bad and the in between in worship services in a variety of churches. I seek to make the most of the privilege that God has given me.

For the sake of clarification, I consider a “quality worship experience” as one in which God is glorified and worshippers are inspired to live their lives in a God-honoring way.

Let’s talk about the quality of our church music and the preaching and the flow of the service. What happens when the preacher loses track of his point? How about when the worship leader can’t carry a tune? Should the same lady who has been playing the piano for 39 years keep playing, even though she is a terrible piano player? Does it matter if the sound system feeds back or if the light bulbs are burned out or if the restroom smells? How about a dirty nursery or grass that needs to be cut or rude ushers?

When I visit a church and the person leading the service has put no forethought into it, it is apparent. A preacher that doesn’t prepare a logical flow in the sermon can’t hide behind enthusiasm. And singers that can’t sing are painful to endure!

Am I just being “carnal”?

How about this? God deserves our best! In worship, we perform for an audience of one – God! Unprepared preachers and musicians that can’t play do not qualify as our “best”. The Scriptures paint this portrait in Malachi 1:8, where worshippers were condemned for offering sick and weak sacrifices. The modern application involves us leading ministry with an “it doesn’t matter” attitude. Quality matters to God and it matters to other people. Therefore, it must matter to us.

Why should we expect people to support a worship service that is less than pleasing to God? I think that God may not be pleased by some of what we offer Him. If what we present at worship services causes people to want to plug their ears and run away, God may be doing the same thing.

Here are some practical ideas to improve our quality in worship:

  • Ask unbiased friends to offer suggestions on ways to improve. Don’t be overly sensitive. While people may be reticent to tell you what they think, they are thinking it for certain!
  • Watch yourself on video. If it’s painful for you, imagine how your weekly listeners must feel!
  • Allow plenty of preparation time. Procrastination is no excuse for poor preparation.
  • Discuss the service ahead of time with everyone who leads in the service. You aren’t programming the Holy Spirit out of the service; you are providing an atmosphere where He can move in an orderly fashion, as Scripture details.
  • Work on smooth translations. Jagged and awkward shifts between service elements are distracting. Basically this means, keep things moving without unnecessary dialogue and explanation.
  • If the music is lower quality than desired, utilize tracks or video worship. God can move through prerecorded music as well as through live music. In fact, removing the distractions of low quality music may free up the worshippers.
  • Train volunteers. Raise the standards. Don’t demand perfection but model excellence. People will follow your example.
  • Expect to improve. The longer you serve in ministry, the better you should be at it.
  • Most importantly, ask God to help you to get better at leading worship services.

You may assume that I am preferring large churches that have a lot of talent over small churches with fewer gifted people. I am not. But note, being small is no excuse for low quality. While smaller churches may require greater creativity, they can offer to the Lord something that brings Him honor – and edifies people.

Disclaimer: I am in no way referring to a performance-based approach. Church is not show business and we don’t need performers on the stage. We need women and men who are gifted, skilled and well-prepared to lead us in worship.

Think about it this way: Would you keep eating at a restaurant that serves bad tasting food? Would you let a stylist cut your hair if they don’t care enough to do their best? How about going to a doctor that didn’t prepare by studying medicine? Well, worship is more important than all of those things. Worship deserves our best!

Work to get better. Practice, prepare and pray!

It should go without saying, our best without God’s anointing results in nothing. But I believe that God desires to anoint our best, rather than our leftovers.

Church leaders: I challenge you – lead your next service through the eyes of a new worshipper or an unbeliever. Is there any reason for them to be inspired to return regularly?

Finally, the Bible focuses on leaders who were excellent. David was skilled. Ruth was recognized as a woman of excellence. Daniel possessed an excellent spirit. Paul was recognized as a great communicator. How dare we approach worship with a lackadaisical attitude?

Is it more godly to sing or preach poorly than to offer excellence to God? Then let’s give God nothing less than our best!

If I have inadvertently offended you, please accept my apology. In my attempt to increase our effectiveness I would prefer not to anger folks. But if I can inspire one person to raise the bar on their worship service experience, I will have succeeded.

Should a Church Have a “Nest Egg”?

designSome churches have money in the bank. A few have a lot of money in the bank. There is nothing, in my opinion, inherently wrong with that. An emergency fund is a great idea, and none of us know the future so a few months of operational funds is probably a great idea.

But I have great concern about churches that hold on to a fund and refuse to invest it in ministry. I know of several churches and organizations that hold a large amount of money in the bank while the needs of the ministry go unmet. I do think it is wrong for a church to have a large account while people need help.

What can happen:

A fund can become our hope. Some churches no longer practice stewardship because they have money in the bank.

A fund can become our trust. We no longer rely on God to bless the church – we have money to take care of that.

A fund can become a god that we worship. I have personally witnessed churches fight and divide over what to do with money in the bank.

A fund can earn interest that can prevent us from sharing it, because we don’t want to lose the interest.

I even know of groups that loan these moneys out to brothers or sisters – at a significant percentage rate.

Something is wrong with this picture.

No, I am not a proponent of giving away all of the church’s funds. We shouldn’t enable the entitled. Jesus said that there will always be needy people so we can’t fix everyone’s problems. Since these funds belong to God, we are required to handle them with great caution. But that leads me to my basic point:

God does not provide money to the church so we can keep it safe in the bank. He provides money so we can do ministry.

The Parable of the Talents is all the evidence we need. When God puts money in your hands, He expects you to multiply it by investing it into ministry. See Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28.

I do not want to give money to a church that hoards it. When people are in need, the church must find a way to utilize the money to help people.

Consider these Bible verses on the topic:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:16-17

If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:11

And perhaps the most direct: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion how can God’s love be in that person?” 1 John 3:17

With all of the scrutiny being placed on churches, we must be fiducially responsible.  More importantly, the money belongs to God, not to us.  He states unequivocally how He feels about selfishness.

So if a church has an account for the building fund, or for missions or for a special purpose – that is a great thing. But churches that are holding a sum of money that is not earmarked for ministry should be challenged to invest it into effective ministry. If you need help with some ideas on where to invest your money, contact me – I have a few ideas.

 

Dealing with a Chronic Kvetcher (Complainer)

designDefinition of kvetch (intransitive verb): to complain habitually, gripe.

We all know one or more kvetchers. He is the guy in the neighborhood who is always grouching about something; the gal you work with who whines about everything; the bellyachers, gripers, crabs and grumblers in our lives.

What a pain!

In my life and work, the issue needs to be addressed this way: what are we to do with the church grouch? (However, I think these principals can apply universally) Every church in which I have worked and I believe most churches in the country have at least one, and in some cases, several people who feel it their duty to complain. “The music is too loud.” “The room is too cold.” “The parking lot is full.” “The children are too noisy.” “The pastor preaches too long.” While some of these complaints may be legitimate, there are a few people who can only see the negative and are happy to communicate their disapproval to anyone who will listen. It can become a serious problem with significant ramifications if left unaddressed. Leaders do not have the luxury of overlooking the negative potential of allowing a crab to do his or her thing in the church.

Before we deal with solutions, let’s discuss a few of the intricacies of an attitude of complaining.

  1. Chronic complaining reveals the weakness of character. Francis Jeffrey said, “The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest sign symptom of little souls and inferior intellects.” While this is harsh, I think it is spot on. We seldom meet very successful and productive people who are grouches. Too much griping may rat you out as a weak thinker. Ouch!
  2. Chronic complaining annoys others. Think about it: we all know someone who, as they approach the crowd, elicits a collective but silent, “oh no, not him/her!’ There aren’t many social or organizational settings where it is fun or productive to listen to someone bellyache. The negativity is just too much sometimes, right?
  3. Chronic complaining discourages others. Nothing sucks the momentum out of a room like a guy who fusses about stuff. While leaders must be strong enough to value constructive criticism, we are discussing those who enjoy bringing others down to their level of doldrums. Be advised, uncontested complainers will destroy your healthy organizational climate.
  4. Chronic complaining makes matters worse. Like worry, complaining has no positive, results-oriented qualities. And habitual grumbling clouds the vision of people who are working hard to make things work. I personally have been distracted from important, potentially life-changing opportunities by individuals who successfully throw a wrench into the organizational machine through their moaning.
  5. Chronic complaining costs us relationships. If you are committed to complaining, those who have a choice will walk away from you. Family may be stuck, work associates may not have a choice, but no one wants to spend time around a crab. “Complaining is dangerous business. It can damage or even destroy your relationship with God, your relationships with other people, and even your relationship with yourself.” (Joyce Meyer)

This is why I said earlier that leaders (or family members or colleagues) can’t allow the complainer to dictate the future for others.

Now the question becomes – How should we respond? What, if anything, are we to do about chronic complainers?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Remember that people are hurting. When someone spends a significant amount of time complaining, this is an indication of a deeper problem in their life. Perhaps they are ill or in pain. Maybe they are lonely or depressed. Those who have been deeply hurt by others may feel the need to deal with offense; and that can impact their relationships with others. When this is the case, we must be patient and must seek to help.
  • Complaining is a good way to get attention. Think about it. There are folks who have no one to listen to them. The old adage about the squeaky wheel getting the grease has valid application here. If maladjusted people can garner attention only by grouching, they probably will grouch. While I want to say it gently, some people create their our miseries. Monica Johnson expressed it this way, “Many of our choices have led to the predicaments we are presently complaining about.” If this is the case, perhaps we shouldn’t reward the bad behavior of crabbing by listening, but instead, pay attention and give credence to them at other times. It may not work but it surely can’t hurt.
  • A effective way to control others is by making them so uncomfortable and awkward that they don’t know how to respond. Chronic complainers know this. Complainers are sometimes manipulators – sometimes we’ll give in to them just to shut them up – and they know that. So, the answer? Stop giving in; stand your ground and stop enabling the complaining.
  • Recognize that complaining is a spiritual problem. Complaining can reveal a lack of gratitude, insecurity about one’s condition or a desire to control the lives of others. Chronic grouches sometimes suffer from feelings of insecurity – so they live with the need for attention. The best way to get attention sometimes is by whining about something – anything. While we can’t solve the insecurities of others, we can affirm them to the point that they don’t get the response they desire from complaining.

In any case, there is something spiritually that is missing in the life of a complainer. If we recognize this and deal with it as such, solutions may be discovered.

In a brief 3 point conclusion, allow me to offer this:

  1. Pray for complainers. They need God’s love and grace. Rather than complaining about them (!), ask God to help them. And ask God for more grace to deal with them.
  2.  Offer solutions. If you have the time to invest, address the issues of a complainer one by one. Sit down with them, have them document their grievances and respectfully answer them. I have shocked and disarmed a few grouches by my willingness to logically discuss their concerns. Develop solid answers and present them to them. Point by point, show them that you are sympathetic but that you insist on a solutions–oriented approach to the problems. The truth is, many chronic grouches do not want solutions – they want to complain. This approach will reveal the truth.
  3. If none of this works, walk away. Now, I am not talking about abandoning a spouse or neglecting a friend in need. I am talking about distancing yourself from the yuck that is involved with complaining. If you are not in a personal relationship with this person, leave. If they are a family member or if you are forced by circumstances to endure them, distance yourself by not allowing them into your head. Walk away by making yourself impervious to their negativity.

One final challenge: join me in assuming that we are one of the crabby people – just possibly. I don’t want to be that guy that people dread being around. Zig Ziglar says, “Be grateful for what you have and stop complaining – it bores everybody else, does you no good, and doesn’t solve any problems.” If you are the town grouch – work on it! You and I can do better!

Philippians 2:14 says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” Have a positive outlook. God is good. He loves you. Live your life in a way that reveals your gratitude for all that He has done for you.

This Was My Pulpit

IMG_7183It’s been said that some of the best sermons aren’t delivered in church behind a pulpit but, rather, in everyday life situations. I tend to agree.

I have nothing but respect for the spiritual responsibility of preaching the sacred Gospel. Men and women of faith have been the mouthpiece of God for generations. This is in obedience to the Scriptures that command us to preach the Word. Pastors, Elders, evangelists and missionaries will continue to declare the truth of the Bible from pulpits around the world until Christ returns.

However, this week I was not the preacher in the pulpit; I was the preacher in disaster relief. I was privileged to be able to serve with a team of volunteers who ministered to the people of Houston, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

I did not preach with words. I preached with a hammer and crowbar. I was responsible for removing rotting wood from the floors of a home that was occupied by two elderly ladies. The work was hot, smelly, time-consuming and strenuous. I had several hours to myself so while I worked, I prayed, worshipped and contemplated.

The inspiration came to me that the floor was my pulpit for the week. I was living out in real time the words that I speak on Sunday. I speak the Gospel on Sunday; this week, I got to live out the Gospel. The preaching was pretty good, too.

Admittedly, I am not the best preacher in the world but I struggle even more with my construction skills. But it’s hard to mess up demolishing a floor. Though monotonous and painful, I offered this service to God – to an audience of One.

True ministry is not glamorous. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun. But true ministry serves the purpose of glorifying God and bringing hope to people.

I don’t plan to quit my day job. But it feels good to put some works to my faith.

None of us are interested in listening to a preacher who doesn’t live what he preaches. That thought puts me in a quandary. How can I talk others into doing something I do not do?

IMG_7172You may be wondering what the second picture is. I fell through the floor. While carrying a heavy box, the rotten floor gave way. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt. And my buddies had a good laugh at my expense. So, this kind of preaching can be dangerous but still humorous.

Why Does My Pastor Want Me to Attend Every Church Service?

20799375_10155681399684214_8063187496515257957_n.jpgChurch attendance is on the decline in America. Most statistics point to a reduction of commitment to local congregations. Some feel that church attendance is overrated and others believe that attendance is not a reflection of one’s faith. Regardless of your opinion about or practice of church attendance, we must admit that things are changing.

According to an article by Kelly Shattuck on Churchleaders.com, less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church. David Murrow writes about how church attendance is declining even among “committed” church members. A church surveyed “their young families and discovered they attended church an average of 1.6 times per month (out of a possible 4.3 weekends/month). In addition, only 20% of their members attend at least 3 times a month. And just 4 percent are “full attenders”, attending at least 48 Sunday out of the year. You can read the full article here.

I am processing this phenomenon from the perspective of a local church pastor. Having pastored full time for over 25 years, and now working in a leadership role among pastors, it is my hope that the average church attender will look at things from a pastor’s point of view.

Your pastor wants you to attend every service! Here are 7 of the reasons why:

Your Pastor cares about your soul. Spiritual transformation is a process; the more you engage in spiritually uplifting activities, the more consistent your progress will be. When you attend church services, you engage in worship with others. You sing with the church family. You give with your peers. You learn more about the Bible and God. Obviously, when you do not attend church services, these things do not happen, at least not in the church setting. It would be a negligent pastor who doesn’t care enough about your soul to want you in church services.

Your Pastor knows that the church is stronger with you there. Other people are inspired by your participation in church services. Your possess gifts and talents that the other church members need. If you are not there to exercise these gifts, perhaps no one will – and the church will do without.

Your Pastor knows that others need you. If we believe what the Scripture says about the value of each member of the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12), we know that we are of value. We are important and our presence matters to others. Perhaps it is as simple as a handshake or hug, or maybe it is as complex as a mentoring relationship or a spiritual parenting need that is filled. Other people need you and if you are at the church service – you can be available to them.

Your Pastor believes that you need what is being presented. The music, the message, the fellowship, the tithing and giving – are all necessary parts of your faith development. As a Pastor, I prepared messages with particular church members on my heart. I could envision how a particular attender would respond to a certain part of the sermon. I would pray and prepare keeping the needs of the people at the forefront of my mind. Imagine the disappointment when those who were on my heart did not attend the service. Perhaps the essence of the message was exactly what they needed at that time in their life, but they were not there to receive.

Your Pastor sees that you are an example that others will follow. Never underestimate the influence you have among your church family. Someone is looking up to you. Whether or not we like it, someone will follow in our footsteps. If we attend, they are more likely to attend.

Your Pastor knows the Scriptures indicate that you should worship in a corporate setting. “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25 CEB) You will be blessed if you attend faithfully.

When you don’t attend worship services, your Pastor is concerned about your perspective. I am of the opinion that church attendance is a direct indicator of how one feels about God’s family, and therefore God. While you may not care what your pastor thinks, your pastor cares about what you think.

I could go on. But you get the point. I hope you can consider your pastor the next time you contemplate missing a service. One statement I hear a lot from Pastors: “If I could get everybody here at the same time…” Imagine it. I wonder what would happen if we would all show up at the same time, for several services in a row.

On second thought, your Pastor may have a heart attack!

Empty Nest Churches

What Do We Do About Our Kids Leaving the Church?

designThe problem was been well documented. Lots of analysis and research reveals that the generation gap in the church continues to widen. There is an issue, especially in the North American church, in that many younger people are not staying or they aren’t coming in the first place. The statistics are alarming. It’s a concern for many Baby Boomer parents and a dilemma for church leaders.

As far as I can ascertain, no one else has coined the term, “empty nest church.” You get the concept: the kids leave, and mom and dad are left alone. In the home, though adjustments need to be made, this can be a refreshing and fun time for couples. In the church, it is a sign of looming extinction. If adjustments aren’t made, the church will soon no longer exist.

Conferences and ministry forums are addressing this problem. Books are being published and denominational leaders are deep in dialogue. It’s baffling, however, that others seem to be unaware of the problem. Or perhaps they are aware but are clueless about solutions. But make no mistake, this matter is not going away, and sooner or later, we will deal with it.

So, what are we to do when the next generation disengages from the church? I would like to discuss 3 possible responses.

Would we allow our kids to walk away from our home and their relationship with us without pursuing them? Most parents would make every effort to assure their children that they are loved and valued and an integral part of the family. It’s unthinkable that we would stand idly by as they depart the house, promising never to return. Would we refuse to go after them in the name of “tough love?” (Sometimes tough love is a cover-up for a hard heart). Would we accuse them of being entitled or spoiled? Why then do we see this in the church? All indicators point to a several year crisis that has developed in many evangelical churches. The problem is not new – but where are the solutions? When discussing the issue of the younger generation leaving the church, we hear people say things like, “it’s up to them to come back” or “we’re not the ones who left.” In a recent social media discussion, an article addressing Millennials leaving the church created a lot of dialogue. The author of the article encouraged churches and ministry leaders to take the initiative to go after people who leave the church. One commenter, a Christian leader said, “Instead of: “it’s your move church,” I keep saying, “it’s your move millennials.” Stop looking for others to change things for you and just start being the change you want to see.” While I concur with the concept of personal responsibility, when it comes to spiritual disengagement, this type of thinking creates more problem than solutions. We cannot expect those who have left the church to assume the responsibility to make the needed changes.

It seems to me that older Believers have the responsibility to go after, even pursue younger Believers who walk away from the church. I think that is what the Father would do.

By “go after”, I don’t mean simply trying to talk them into coming back. While this is an excellent place to begin, we must be willing to face the difficult truths behind the decisions being made. Rather than being defensive or dismissive, we must be open and willing to learn. Teenagers and young adults should know beyond any doubt that we love them enough to come find them – wherever they are. We can’t wait for them to come home; we must go after them with our words and our deeds. And once this dialogue has begun, we must be solutions oriented.

In addition to pursuing them, we should be willing to explore new ideas in regard to ministry. So many of the conversations I have observed between the generations involve an assumption that “my way” is the best way. I think every generation is guilty of this. Until we are ready to explore a different way of doing ministry, the potential of the harvest will be limited. Adjusting methods is not a matter of watering down the Truth. Let’s not fall prey to the claims of our unwillingness to compromise our standards in order to reach people. Many of us compromise every day in order to keep the people we have. Let’s be honest with ourselves.

If I can adjust my preferences, be flexible in my approach and possibly compromise on my methods, and thereby win a younger generation to the Lord, why would I not do so? (Previous experience compels me to state that I in no way propose lowering the standard of God’s Word!) By the way, I am simply providing for others what was provided for me. My elders didn’t insist that I do it their way – they allowed me to connect in a fresh and new way. I owe this gift from an older generation to a new generation.

In addition to going after the new generation and compromising on methods, one more consideration may be helpful.

This week I once again heard someone refer to today’s youth as “the church of tomorrow.” We simply must stop saying this! The message implies waiting. While younger people certainly will be the backbone of the future church, they must be viewed as an indispensable part of the church right now. We wouldn’t think of segregating our children in our home when it is mealtime, only to let them join us for special occasions. I believe that young people should be integrated into every worship experience. Youth Sundays are awesome but highlighting the new generation a few times a year is inadequate. Allow them to serve now. Respect their gifts and talents. While they may not be mature enough to lead every ministry, there must be a place for people of all generations in the family of God. Young people must be a part of the church of today!

One more thought: prevention is key. Let’s not wait until there is an exodus of young adults from our churches. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive. Start the dialogue before the bridge is burned.

In summary:

When we observe the problem of younger generations leaving the church:

  1. Go after them
  2. Consider a shift in methods
  3. Recognize them as an important part of the church today

I think we (the church) should accept the responsibility for fixing this problem. If we refuse or fail to do so, it is likely that we will lose a majority of people age 30 and younger. No one, especially the Lord is good with that.

No more Empty Nest Churches!

You are Needed on the Mission Field

designWouldn’t it be great to pastor or attend the perfect church? Imagine a church where everyone loves the Lord, loves each other and loves the pastor! Everyone is a tithe-paying member. Everyone attends every worship service and everyone always volunteers for every ministry opening. Too many nursery workers, not enough work to go around on church workdays and everyone agrees on the kind of music we sing.

This may sound like the perfect church, but this side of heaven, it will never happen.

The truth is, we are not called to the perfect church; we are called to the mission field. Our communities are full of hurting people. The people attending our churches have been hurt by life. They are far from perfect. God did not ask us to find people who have it all together, He told us to find the sick and minister to them. Jesus Himself had to clarify his mission: Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The church is not a gathering of perfect people – it is a place of hope for the hurting.

We make a mistake when we expect our place of service to be easy. When we get frustrated with the sinful nature of the people we serve, we misunderstand the call into ministry. Your town is your mission field. The county where your church is located is your harvest. If everyone in the city limits already knows the Lord, you can feel free to move on. However, God never calls a missionary where everyone already knows Him. Working for God in today’s culture is hard work and sometimes frustrating. But “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:24)

You are needed right where you are. Those within walking distance of your church need Jesus. Broken families and rebellious teenagers and strung out street people need the Lord. Successful businessmen and lonely homemakers and hopeless senior citizens need Jesus. THEY are our mission field!

Please don’t undervalue the people you serve. God loves your community. He has placed you where you are and He expects you to love them as well.

You are called for a purpose. Jesus asks you to join Him in His Mission. You are needed in the mission field – in the mission field where you are right now.

Gotta’ Keep the Preacher Hungry

designA long time ago, there was a wicked little statement going around some churches that indicated that it was to the benefit of the church members to keep their pastor poor. Sometimes used as a joke, there were cases where no one was laughing.

I absolutely believe that purposefully keeping anyone in poverty is evil – but that is not the focus of this article.

Preachers need to stay hungry. By “hungry” I mean having a strong desire or craving. If I do without a meal or two, I feel it. My empty stomach complains and I start focusing on my next meal. As in any line of work it is easy to become complacent in ministry. Pastors can become apathetic toward their calling. This isn’t because they are lazy or otherwise unfit for the ministry. We simply get weary. And sometimes disappointment can lead to stagnation. When we don’t see progress like we envisioned, it is easy to allow discouragement to cloud our passion. This discouragement morphs into impassivity.

Preachers – stay hungry! We can’t do what God called us to do if we are bored with our calling.

We stay passionate when we:

  • Keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t get sidetracked with peripheral stuff. Know what God called you to do and do it.
  • Stay in close relationship with colleagues. Isolation is dangerous and lone wolves get outnumbered.
  • Practice the spiritual disciplines. Pray. Read Scripture (outside of ministry preparation), fast and give.
  • Read. If you don’t have time to read current books and articles on ministry, you may dry up.
  • Access resources: conferences, podcasts and live video feeds can be a great source of inspiration.
  • Take time off. Sabbath is not a suggestion – it is a Command.
  • Regularly renew your experience with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that keeps us passionate for the work we do. Stay in His presence.
  • When you feel yourself growing cold – pursue God. We don’t stay hungry for ministry by pursuing ministry. We must pursue God!
  • Know that regardless of how talented you are or how hard you work, you simply cannot be effective in ministry with the power of God at work in you. This keeps us hungry for Him!

Here is the main point I am making: it’s normal to lose your hunger! It happens to everyone. You can’t do ministry very long without struggling to stay passionate. But we don’t have to stay in that rut. It is not a crime to lose your drive but lasting indifference is preventable.

There are a lot of really good pastors who stop producing – because their fire has dimmed. Don’t let it happen to you; and if it has already happened, stoke the fires of passion again!

Preachers – stay hungry!

If You Want It, Focus On It

designWhile the above title may appear oversimplified, in essence, it is true. If you wish to accomplish or attain something, you usually must pay close attention to that thing and determine ways to acquire it. This is a point worthy of consideration but it is not my main point today.

Assuming the title is true, and using deductive reasoning, you get what you focus on.

If I focus on a friend’s flaws, the way my neighbor offended me, or reasons why I can’t be successful – well – that is what I am going to get.

This happens with ministries, churches and Christian leaders. It is so easy to focus on things that actually distract us from what we should be concentrating upon. When a leader can’t accomplish a task because their predecessor messed up, they are focusing on failure. When a church squabbles over music style or budgets, they focus on division. Politics, pet projects, even traditions, even though good and necessary, can rob us of our focus on the most important issues of life.

What should we want badly enough to focus upon?

While you must seek for God’s direction in order to discover your specific divine purpose (and yes, I believe that every person is born with one), we must decide today what is worthy of our attention. Let me ask you: that thing you are focusing on…

Does it bring lasting fulfillment and satisfaction to you?

Does is reflect the heart of God?

Does it offer hope?

Does it impact eternity?

If the answer is no, it’s probably not worthy of your attention.

My opinion about focus-worthy issues is narrow. I believe the New Testament indicates that our priority must be the salvation of souls. If it is not directly related to winning people to Christ, I should limit my focus. The Mission of making Disciples of Jesus is our primary task.

Say no to any distraction, even if it is a good thing, if it pulls you away from your honorable and God-given goals.

Be stubborn about your purpose and life’s mission. Refuse to take your eyes off of the prize. Invest your time, energy, brainpower and money in something that matters – forever.

If you focus on it, chances are you’ll end up with it.

 

When You’re Mad at Your Pastor

designIt is part of human nature and relationship dynamics that, from time to time, we get angry with the people around us. When we spend lots of time with others, we will get irritated, aggravated and sometimes mad at them. Spouses, kids, neighbors – they all have a way of getting on our last nerve. It is no different with our church leaders. Without a doubt, someone reading this post is particularly ticked at their local preacher right now. Take a deep breath and read on!

In my line of work, I deal with what, at times, seems like an inordinate amount of anger at pastors. Disappointment with preaching, frustration with decision-making and annoyance with quirks are a regular part of my conversations with church members. Don’t be mistaken, the vast majority of people are perfectly happy with their pastor; at least that is my takeaway. But occasionally, I hear some pretty fiery vocabulary centered around the ineptitude of the shepherd.

Let me quickly share one positive aspect of people getting mad at their pastor: they care enough to be passionate. I have met too many church members who are so disconnected with their church that they just don’t care what happens. So thanks for caring enough to get angry. But be very careful not to allow your passion to cause you to do something that is hurtful.

What do you do when you are mad at your pastor?

Don’t talk negatively about your pastor. When you express your displeasure with the pastor with anyone besides the pastor, it more than likely will be damaging. Fight hard to keep your discussion appropriate. My experience is, more damage is done by inappropriate conversation than by the pastor’s infraction. The Bible has a lot to say about this. Ephesians 4:29 is a great example.

Save communication until your emotions are in check. We are told in Communications 101 to guard our mouths when we are emotional. It’s best to put off decisions until one’s excitement is under control. This is true whether we are happy or sad, angry or glad. Hold off on discussions about your anger until you can clearly and concisely articulate your concerns without saying detrimental things. Adopt the “24-hour rule”: Wait at least 24 hours before firing off an angry email. This allows you time to pray, consider more details and communicate more effectively.

Understand how challenging the role of a pastor is. There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks who think they could be a great pastor with one hand tied behind their back. The “you only work one day a week” joke isn’t funny. Pastors (like many other professionals) are faced with the pressure and stress of organizational finances, legal issues, volunteer personnel management, social tensions and personality differences. Add to that the extreme strain of the spiritual health of church members and the load gets heavy. While I am quick to defend pastors, I am also quick to admit that we mess up – a lot. But never assume that the pastor has an easy job. That simply is not the case. Being reminded of this will help you to better process your frustrations.

Express yourself face to face, not in writing. Issues like the church are too important to be handled impersonally. Emails, texts and letters don’t allow for the reader to see facial expressions, to hear the intonations and inflections of the voice or to see a tear running down a face. Reading between the lines is a very imperfect science. Don’t risk being misunderstood. If you are angry with your pastor, respect yourself and him enough to talk in person.

Never express your anger at your pastor on social media. Ever. In fact, social media is not the place to deal with anger at anyone. It is unfair, rude and childish.

Respect the office of the pastor. While you may be angry with your pastor, please honor the office and calling of the pastor. They are no better than you and they do not deserve special treatment. However, it is the mistake of some to disregard the significance of a person who is appointed by God to serve as a spiritual leader over a church. In your anger, maintain respect and dignity, if for no other reason, because God is watching.

If it’s bad enough, and you’re mad enough, what do you do?

1st. Recall that God appointed them and, if necessary, God can unappoint them. Trust God with the church – She belongs to Him.

2nd. Pray for your pastor. It is difficult to be very angry at someone for whom you are praying. When something happens to frustrate you, spend a moment in sincere prayer for your pastor. I assure you, they need it and welcome it.

3rd. Watch your influence. Be aware that others are watching you and your behavior will impact them. You never want to be guilty of leading others into an offense.

4th. Guard your heart. Too many times, anger against a pastor morphs into anger at God. Pastors fail, God never does. Keep your spirit pure.

5th. Forgive! Whether or not your pastor deserves it, forgive them. The Gospel is full of instruction on how we must forgive others as God has forgiven us.

6th. If you must go (leave the church), go the right way. It is unfortunately inevitable that some people need to leave some churches. There is a proper way to do this but we see very little demonstration in today’s culture. While much can be said about this topic (and others have), at the end of the day, we must be right with God and with others. If leaving a church does not coincide with that, you’d better not leave.

If you’re angry with your pastor, welcome to the church! It’s normal. But let’s not allow our emotions to damage the church, our pastor or ourselves.

5 Ways to Change Your Church (When You’re Not the Pastor)

design.pngFew things are as painful as watching a church you love struggle.

Many church members would agree that churches must adjust to the needs of the people in order to stay effective. A church that refuses to change will soon cease to exist. But what is a church member to do if the church they love is stuck, in decline and headed toward extinction?

This article has nothing to do with signing a petition. You won’t see the idea of secret meetings or anonymous letters to the pastor. Nor will I justify withholding financial support in an effort to “starve the preacher out.” For years, these antics have been successful in giving the church a bad reputation but they have never resulted in positive change in a church.

I believe that there are many things that an average church member can do in order to bring change and transformation to the church they love, all without compromising integrity or dignity. I list only five below:

Invest: Those who give of themselves over the long haul tend to gain the respect of others and enjoy influence among other church members and leaders. If you do not support your church financially, with your prayer and your faithful attendance, you have no business trying to affect change (IMO).

Study: What exactly is the problem and, just as important – what is the solution? Any critic can point out a problem – it takes a real leader to discover solutions. A lot of thought must go into an evaluation of a church. Assessments, evaluations, and investigation into successful ministry models may be necessary. If it seems that you don’t have the time and energy to put into this effort (and if you think it is the pastor’s job to do all of this) maybe you should just keep quiet about your feelings of dissatisfaction. Bringing change to a church is harder than you may want to imagine.

Pray: Because I didn’t want you to dismiss this section as obvious, I saved it for third on the list. Positive transformation will never occur in a church unless someone is praying. Diligently. Before you say a word to anyone, prior to expressing dissatisfaction, and ahead of any meetings, the whole idea must be bathed in prayer. The Lord is the only One who has the power to bring true lasting change to a church.

Communicate: This may be the diciest part of this conversation. Members who want to influence change in their church have a spiritual obligation to communicate their desires correctly. Complaining, gossiping, murmuring, and politicking are not solutions; they are problems.

I believe these “change” conversations begin with the pastor. Please understand, your pastor is not perfect. They are human and they deal with lots of issues. Before you call the office to schedule coffee with your preacher, please, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. How would you feel if someone called and asked for a meeting and you did not know the topic of discussion? How would you respond if someone starts the conversation with, “you know I love you, but…”?

The absolutely worst time to speak to a pastor about issues like this is just before a worship service. Just please don’t. And blindsiding a pastor with a “may we have a word with you?”, as you and the Elders wait in the lobby after church is a really bad idea. Treat the church leader with respect. Approach them with a humble spirit. Dignity and decorum are not too much to ask. And please give your pastor some room. By this I mean, you may have been kicking these ideas around for months but this may be a new thought for them. It is always a great idea to pray together and to ask for future conversations. Involving others in the discussions will come but in the beginning, keeping the group small may be a good idea.

You simply must do well at communicating the desire for change. To fail in this point may be to sabotage any hope for transformation.

Lead: If a church member desires to see change, it is important that they change. It is not reasonable to expect a group to change when individuals of influence refuse to change. If you want to change your church, lead by example. What is the problem in the church? Not enough evangelism? Become a more effective soul winner. Not enough new people? Invite and bring new people with you. The church is spiritually dead? Catch on fire in your relationship with the Lord. Many times, we are the solution to the problems in our church. We can affect change and impact the church simply by becoming what we want the church to be.

So what does a church member do if they follow these steps and nothing seems to change? Please keep in mind the church does not belong to you. Nor does it belong to the pastor or to the members. You will not give an account to God as to how the church progressed. But you will give an account to God as to how you handled yourself in regard to the church. If you have given it your best shot and nothing happens, my advice is… do nothing. Wait on the Lord. He is in control. Don’t get frustrated and don’t leave. Wait on the Lord. The church is His. You are His. And He will handle it.

Investing in Others: Buy Low and Never Sell

designPlease don’t take financial investing advice from me. My pattern has been, “buy high and sell low.” Actually, to my shame, I don’t even put that much thought into investing money. I tend to ignore it, hoping that magically, my money will increase. Not a productive plan.

When it comes to relationships, especially ministry relationships with younger ministers, I seem to have more of a knack. One of my greatest joys in ministry is to invest myself into the ministry of a younger man. This isn’t something I have to remind myself to do – I tend to gravitate naturally to it. For that, I am grateful.

I feel as though we should find people younger than ourselves – unproven, raw and green – and “buy into them.” And we shouldn’t “sell” on that relationship unless it is absolutely necessary. Perhaps it is because my elders invested so heavily in me. Some never gave up on me, although they had every reason to do so. Maybe I innately grasp the truth that, if I invest wisely, my influence may live on after I’m gone. It is certain that we have heard too many young people say, “no one else believed in me or gave me a chance.”

The Apostle Paul is the standard bearer when it comes to investing in others. Rather than viewing his famous relationship with his spiritual son, Timothy, let’s consider his lesser-known, but equally as efficacious relationship with the Thessalonians. Paul writes to them from his heart: “…Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV)

Here is a very busy man with a lot of responsibility that is willingly and joyfully investing his life into the lives of others. They didn’t have it all together. He had little or nothing of earthly value to gain from his investments. Yet he saw something in them that motivated him to give of himself to them.

We all need to love someone enough that we give our time and attention to them.

Paul expresses his compassion for his friends:

“…we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children.”1 Thessalonians 2:7b (NLT)

We see tenderness and empathy and patience. In this passage, unlike others, we do not see Paul demanding progress nor censuring them for their failures. Rather, he presents his relationship as a mother – feeding and caring for his friends.

Too many of our relationships are performance and productivity based. I am guilty of running short of patience when a leader is slow to develop or, even worse, unproductive long-term. Perchance this is the case because I have been the one who is unproductive.

The “buying low” part of this equation has to do with recognizing potential. Anyone can spot an Apple stock, once it has developed. In other words, there are plenty of people to jump on the celebrity bandwagon. Once a person becomes successful, everyone wants to be his or her friend. It takes true perceptivity and discernment to be able to identify a diamond in the rough.

But, what do I have to gain from my investments?

While this is a reasonable question and we should not be ashamed to ask it, the point is not about returns – it is about investment. Many of us who impart into others expect and even demand productivity. However, an honest evaluation of our relationships may prove that we have actually become a burden to those in whom we are investing. We consider ourselves as serving but we actually are being served.

Paul says,Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” 1 Thessalonians 2:9 (NIV) He makes it clear that he is the one sacrificing. This is not a pity-party – he is simply pointing out that he has been a giver and not a taker.

   Leaders: If we only take from a relationship, we cannot consider ourselves the investor; we have become the beneficiary.

Relational investments are expensive. When endowing and entrusting others, especially less experienced people, we owe them. We owe them the extremely valuable assets of honestly, integrity and character.

You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers.1 Thessalonians 2:10 (NLT) In the times in my life when I was hesitant to invest in others, perhaps it was because of a lack of these elements in my life. I simply didn’t have enough to share!

     Relational investments are expensive for a reason. The resources we are investing and the return we are expecting are not monetary – they are eternal.  

Buy low and never sell. This is all about promise and potential. It’s about patience and productivity.

So, find a less-experienced person than yourself. Same gender. Less-than-perfect. Build a relationship. Serve them. Pour into them. Care for them. Be patient with them. Invest in them, and watch how you both grow.

 

Cafeteria Preachers

cafeteria-preachersWho can forget the school cafeteria? Bland food, hairnet ladies – and those plastic trays! If your high school cafeteria experience was like mine, it wasn’t a matter of gourmet recipes and discriminating palates – it was a matter of being hungry enough to eat whatever they plopped on the tray. As I recall, there wasn’t a lot of choice of menu items. Eat the goulash or don’t.

I am sorry to make the comparison, but there may be a few churches and pastors who have modeled their ministry after the school cafeteria. Whatever do I mean?

We are aware of some preachers whose mantra could be, “I don’t care what you want or need, this is what I’m preaching!” Of course, effective preachers take their cues from the Holy Spirit. They preach the Word of God in an uncompromising way, regardless of the opinions of others. But there is something to be said about being in touch with the people to whom we preach and with whom we worship. A renewed sense of compassion, connection and care would do us preachers some good. While we must preach what God directs us to preach, there is nothing wrong with being aware of the needs of the people and presenting God’s Word as the solution.

I am not a fan of a watered down Gospel. We have witnessed great damage in our churches and culture as a result of “feel good preaching.” But pastors who are more determined to preach their sermons than they are to minister to their people are missing the point of preaching.

Spiritual hash is not very appetizing. Non-imaginative and stuffy spiritual pontification has never changed a life. Modern-day preachers must learn the art and discipline of exegeting a passage and expositing that truth into the practical lives of everyday people. Our job is to present the Bible in clear and meaningful ways so that the hearers of the Word can become doers of the Word. I believe that it is the responsibility of the preacher to offer the Bible in a relevant and purposeful way. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to open the minds of the hearers, but we are the spokespersons for God. This is a heavy responsibility.

We shudder to think that a person in need could attend a worship service and find no solution to their problem. While the Gospel is always the answer, some searchers may find some spiritual direction helpful. God help us to never turn away a hungry seeker.

My simple advice to preachers would be: Know to whom you preach. Understand their struggles. Be in touch with their personal lives. Study the Bible. Pray for the preacher and the listeners. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to passages that address the needs of the people. And preach passionately and compassionately what God lays on your hearts. I believe you will see lives changed.

I don’t want to be a cafeteria preacher that plops unappetizing spiritual food on the trays of people’s lives; I want to serve Gospel gourmet meals that satisfy the longings in people’s hearts.

Avoidance Coping by Leaders (or when leaders refuse to deal with problems)

design11There are some pretty heavy psychological observances that can be employed when studying leadership. At the risk of overanalyzing, we are considering what causes some leaders to refuse to deal with failure. I define failure in this instance as the lack of taking a group or organization where God wants it to go. While I certainly am not the ultimate judge of the leadership effectiveness of anyone, I do have the responsibility of helping some leaders be as efficacious as possible.

Diversion may be defined as something that takes attention away from what is happening. When leaders are diverted from their primary task, the organization under their care suffers. We have all witnessed this. It’s interesting to observe leaders who are serving organizations that are failing, but the leaders don’t focus on the solutions. A tendency of some leaders is to concentrate on something else and, thereby, deflect the attention that may reveal that they are neglecting their duty. The focus that is required in order to solve the issue is lost.

We leaders may be like the bird dog described by Aldo Leopold:

“I had a bird dog names Gus. When Gus couldn’t find pheasants, he worked up an enthusiasm for Sora rails and meadowlarks. This whipped-up zeal for unsatisfactory substitutes masked his failure to find the real thing. It assuaged his inner frustration.” (A Sand County Almanac, p. 200)

Another example may be (hypothetically, of course!) a pastor of a shrinking church that chooses to spend his or her time debating politics or bemoaning the decline of the culture or criticizing the church members. In the few precious hours of leadership influence they have available, they point out the faults of others. I do not think that these leaders are necessarily malicious. I believe that diversion is a tactic that some leaders employ because they simply don’t know what else to do. They are frustrated by their failed efforts to fix their organization and they are compelled to do something. So, blaming others, attacking others who are having success, minding the business of others and conflicting with team members becomes their default response.

To refer again to a psychological term, rumination “refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991)” (psychologytoday.com). When people engage in rumination (overthinking) they are typically trying to think their way out of uncomfortable emotions. This is in the place of focusing on solutions to the problems. It can be easier for a leader to come up with reasons rather than answers. There have been times in my experience when I have spent more time blaming my predecessor, analyzing the dysfunctions of the organization and justifying my lethargy rather than working toward resolutions for the problems at hand.

Avoidance coping is a maladaptive coping mechanism characterized by the effort to avoid dealing with a stressor. (mentalhelp.net) A distraction or a non-essential issue can steal the attention of a leader, especially when she is under stress. It can be relieving to think about another topic rather than to continue to wrestle with one’s own problems.

Then there is the more diabolical diversion tactics. If a leader under duress can create a diversion that will focus the attention of followers on someone or something else, the pressure can be alleviated. We’ve seen this personified in blaming/projecting (pointing at others as the problem), distracting (changing the subject or avoiding confrontation) and procrastinating (putting off the inevitable).

Some unscrupulous leaders are masters at clouding the issue or offering a “red herring” – misleading or distracting from a relevant or important issue. Slight of hand or misdirection is useful in magic tricks and sports but it has no place in the leadership of an organization.

A railroad engineer is at the helm of the train, which is speeding out-of-control down the track. As it heads toward the train station where, short of preventive maneuvers, lives will be lost, the engineer discusses the poor condition of the tracks, the outdated equipment of the engine, the bad attitudes of the passengers and the lack of wisdom of those who chose to build the train station in that location. What he needs to do is hit the brakes; but instead, he focuses on things that are out of his control. The result is devastation.

Leaders, we are the engineers. The train is our organization. Let’s take ownership. People are desperate for leaders who can identify the solutions to problems and to lead the organization through the crises.

Honest Church Names

design10Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a rule that required churches to use names that actually and accurately described their ministry? Think about it. The churches that select an exaggerated name (ex: The Glorious Tabernacle of Blood-Bought Saints of God) or an ethereal name (Ex: Transfiguration Church) or an ambitious name (ex: World Transformation Church) may have some adjustments to make. While church names may be used to describe a location or a denominational affiliation, some are designed to give us some insight into the church before we ever walk through the doors. While simply in a jest-mode, I think it may be interesting to require some authenticity when naming a church. I can image that some people have been shocked when they see the name of a church (and see the great exploits on their website) and then visit the church. I get it – it is common for churches to be named in way that reflects the vision and aspiration of the church leaders. We want to be identified in the way that we wish we were. But this thought is worthy of consideration.

Some suggested honest names for churches, along with some tag lines:

Tired Church (we’re too exhausted to care)

One Generation from Extinction Church (no young people allowed)

Desperate church (we’ll tell you anything you want to hear)

Anything Goes Church (we have no standards)

Crabby Church (there’s no smiling allowed in church!)

Clique Church (no, you won’t fit in here)

Money Church (that’s all we talk about)

Latte Church (caffeinated for Christ)

Rules and Regulations Church (you’ll never measure up)

Holier Than Thou Church (you’ll still never measure up!)

Wannabe TBN Church (Lots of gold on the stage and hairspray on the hair)

To Be Like Joel Church (Smiles all around)

Wannabe Hipster Church (skinny jeans and beards required)

Stuck in Our Ways Church (we don’t care what reaches people for Christ)

It’s All About Me Church (have it your way)

1970’s Church (no explanation needed)

While we shouldn’t intentionally mislead people with church names that cause people to doubt our integrity, addressing this issue is not my goal. The serious point of this post is not that we should change the names of our churches to accurately reflect our challenges. Nor am I trying to make fun of ministries. Rather, I would hope that we would all aspire to make our churches as healthy and productive as possible.

What if the name of our churches revealed what really is going on at the church? While not so glamorous, wouldn’t it be great to see names such as:

Healing Church

Restoration Church

Hope Church

Forgiveness Church

Jesus’ Church

Our Church Has a Bad Reputation

design9“Our Church Has a Bad Reputation.” We’ve all heard the stories. A lying preacher. A stealing deacon. An immoral elder.

In the last few months, no fewer than a dozen pastors and church members have used the above phrase to describe their church to me. Like people, the church has a name among the citizens of the surrounding area. Our conduct has an impact on how people perceive us. Church leaders and members should remember that we represent the church. Unfortunately, many churches are paying the price of the misbehavior of the people involved.

So what do we do when our church has a bad reputation in the community? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t give up! Reputations can be repaired. In John 4, Jesus spoke with a woman who had a jaded reputation. She was living in sin and everyone knew it. But Christ forgave her, restored her character and actually used her brokenness to heal many others. Read the story in John 4:1-42.
  2. Do the right thing. Pay bills on time. Don’t gossip. Tip well at restaurants. Manicure the church lawn. All of these things help others to determine their attitude about your church.
  3. Sometimes you have to start over. New churches are planted every day because so many old churches won’t or can’t recover from a bad rep in the community. But let me encourage you – while God begins new things, He also specializes in reclamation projects! God’s Spirit made a valley of dry bones into a powerful army! (Ezekiel 37). Church revitalization is as important as church planting.
  4. Recognize excuses. While there is little doubt that some churches have been guilty of causing irreparable damage, this “excuse” can be manipulated. If you are a church leader or a member of a church, please don’t allow a checkered past to serve as your reason for not accomplishing something great for God. Job speaks of the potential of a tree stump. Even though it has been cut down, “at the scent of water it will bud and sprout again like a new seedling.” There is a time to get over a bad past and create a good future.
  5. Recognize blaming. Not every critic of the church is authentic or right. Some simply want to find fault with the church. When this happens, there is no need to try to defend the church – Jesus can handle that. But let’s not assume guilt for something that we haven’t done.
  6. Pray for, work toward and lead a renewal process. Assume responsibility for turning around the reputation of the church. Take ownership of the ministry (under Christ, of course). Throughout history, God has utilized men and women to influence the culture on behalf of the church. He can do that through you!

As a closing note, if you are a victim of a transgressing church; if you have been hurt or mistreated or injured by a church, a ministry leader, church members or a denomination, I sincerely apologize to you and pray for your healing and restoration. Hopefully you can find renovation for your brokenness. Please don’t allow bitterness to control your life. Jesus has healing for you.

Let’s pray for our churches and do all we can to represent Christ and His Church well!

A Culture of Conflict

img_0290Not unlike the culture of the iconic Wild West, America is currently enthralled with fighting. From political elections to reality TV to road rage, we love our conflict. It is not uncommon to witness a verbal altercation on the subway or in the boardroom. Metaphorical “shootouts at the OK Corral” happen every day in the classrooms, courtrooms and bedrooms of the U.S.

This is a culture of violence. It is a culture of disrespect. It is a culture of conflict.

Even something as simple as sports teams rivalries are steeped in conflict. Good-natured trash-talk goes, in my opinion, way too far to the point of dividing friends and family.

Let’s not confuse debate, confrontation and conflict.

We need to be able to discuss matters of difference and do so in a civil manner. When we are wrong, those who care about us must possess the responsibility to lovingly confront us. Conflict, however, is a collision, a war, a clash. The Latin conflictus means “a striking together, to contend, to fight; combat.” According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, a conflict is a turning point during which an individual struggles to attain some psychological quality. (https://www.verywell.com/what-is-conflict-2794976) One researcher defines conflict as “a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.” (ohrd.wisc.edu) I would add that conflict often includes a response to those perceptions; and many times the response is ugly.

It is one thing to fight for one’s family or freedom. But many in today’s culture thrive on conflict. Some people just love a good argument. I literally had a women tell me last week that she was a Hatfield of Hatfield and McCoy fame; and she proceeded to explain that this was the reason for her position of quarreling in her church.

We have become so accustomed to conflict, it feels normal. But it should not be normative for Bible believing Christians. Church fights have been known to be bloody, vicious and eternally destructive.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Lucado says: when those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

Why?

I am of the opinion that the foundational issue behind our propensity to conflict with one another is spiritual. There is a deep-seeded discomfort or irritation that, when fueled, becomes a source of contention. Many times, those who fight with others are also fighting with themselves as well as with God. The enemy of our souls wants to make us miserable. An effective way to accomplish this goal is to cause us to turn on one another.

It is a matter focus. When we don’t focus on what we are called by God to do (the mission), we focus on one another. When we focus on one another, we fight. I love the writings of Max Lucado when he said:

   When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

   When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive.

   Instead of casting nets, we cast stones.

   Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers.

   Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved.

   Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers. 

http://pastorhow.com/tanseowhow/when-fishermen-dont-fish-by-max-lucado/

We can concentrate on minutia or we can concentrate on mission, but we can’t do both.

When we are not fulfilling what God called us to do.

We are frustrated. We know there is more to life.

We have a divine purpose and we are not fulfilling it.

They are focused, on the wrong things. Other people.

And when this happens, we are failing.

So, the question really isn’t, “why do we have so much conflict?” but “how can we get back on mission?”

We must get good at conflict resolution. However, we must get even better at conflict prevention. Let’s embrace the responsibility we have to do what God told us to do so we won’t fight with each other. More importantly, let’s do what God wants so we can honor Him.

Healthy Pastor Healthy Church

13557721_10154376814459214_6871678460088746686_nIn order for churches and ministries to be healthy and productive, their leaders (pastors) must be healthy. When we think of health, we usually think only in terms of physical health; but a more holistic approach is needed. Too many of us limit our definition of health, and possibly limit our effectiveness in the ministry.

Let’s focus on our wellbeing in regard to a spiritual, relational, emotional, mental and physical point of view. Balance is needed in order for us to remain productive for the long term. The demands placed upon an individual by modern ministry are significant. We’ve all seen friends who did not survive the rigors of church leadership. It takes a strong person to remain active in ministry for many years. While we all agree that we must be spiritually healthy, let’s not ignore things like our physical condition. In today’s world of authenticity and transparency, we can appear hypocritical if we preach a Gospel that doesn’t include every aspect of our lives. If we are perceived as inauthentic or disingenuous, our ministries will suffer. If we are not growing intellectually, if our relationships are unhealthy, if we are unstable emotionally, our message will be hindered. Let’s fast and pray but let’s also gain education and work out.

Here is an idea to consider: these things are all connected. When we are healthy spiritually, our emotions, our health, our relationships and our mental capacities are impacted. We can’t truly say that we are healthy spiritually if we are ignoring vital aspects of our being. We can’t segregate the elements of our health. If the pastor is out of balance, the church will be out of balance. That’s what we call leadership.

Pastors, let’s take care of ourselves so that we can lead healthy and productive ministries but let’s also take care of ourselves so we can enjoy the benefits that God provides for healthy people.

Before We Throw Out That Tradition

IMG_2929I’ve never been a real traditional guy as tradition is considered in the church. In fact, I’ve spent the good portion of the last several years trying to enact change. It seemed as though many of the things that defined the church were actually a hindrance to what we were supposed to be accomplishing. Well, I must be getting older. I’m coming to the place where I am a little slower to eliminate older ideas. My young friends may call me a sell-out.

I came across a few Bible passages that have me thinking.

 

Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (II Thessalonians 2:15) and “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.“ (II Thessalonians 3:6b). The Greek word for “tradition” means instructions in Christianity. It’s the same word Paul uses in I Corinthians 11:2 “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.” Some more modern versions replace the word “tradition” with teaching”; still many say “traditions.” For this article, I’m going to use the idea loosely to mean: “the way we’ve been taught to do church.”

Here is the point of this post: There are traditions in the church that should stick around. Simply because something is traditional doesn’t mean we should get rid of it!

Let’s be clear; if it is harmful, get rid of it. If it is damaging, stop it now. If it impedes the fulfillment of the mission, it is your responsibility to purge it.

However…

If a tradition is not harmful, it may be helpful to just hang on to it.

Here is the problem. Some things that, a few years ago, I thought were harmful turned out to be helpful. But they’re gone now. An example: in the 90’s, we minimized discipleship ministry (Sunday School, etc.) and focused more on worship. We’re living through the results of that now when Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. Another example may be eliminating evening and midweek services. While times have changed, we now find ourselves struggling to get people to attend services once or twice a month. There was a time in my ministry that I thought eliminating these things would help us. Turns out, we should have held onto the traditions and revitalized them.

But some of us are absolutely certain that we know what is best for the church, both now and in the future. Please allow me to challenge your thinking for a minute.

Dare we be so presumptuous as to assume that we presently have all the knowledge that we will ever need?

We have gotten rid of some things that, at the time, didn’t seem valuable. We now realize that they were. Surely we will keep growing in knowledge and wisdom. It is remotely possible that one day, we will realize that way back in 2016, we didn’t know as much as we thought we did.

We find ourselves in a culture where people are longing for the tried and true. Predictability and stability aren’t as old fashioned as they used to be. Liturgy, ritual and tradition are making a comeback.

A message for emerging leaders: please don’t discard the things your elders worked so hard to achieve. You may not see value in them now, but one day you might. Then, if they are worthless, drop them. And one day, when you are an elder, maybe you will reap what you’ve sown and the kids will not kick your ideas to the curb.

Before we throw out that church tradition, slow down. Give it some time. Consult with an elder. If, after thorough examination and prayer it needs to be eliminated, you can do it then. But once it’s gone, it’s sure difficult to get it back.

Pastor, You Can’t Fix Everybody

IMG_0268Let me begin by saying, pastors can’t “fix” anybody. Only God heals broken people.

A while back, I met an individual and, within 20 seconds, they unloaded a barrage of information about their spouse that stunned me. Their graphic language, their sharing of personal details and their willingness to discuss intimate information about their spouse with a total stranger was a bit shocking. I’ve been in ministry for close to 30 years so this experience is nothing new. But this conversation told me a lot about this individual. My concerns were later confirmed. Before the event was over, this person spoke to me 2 additional times, both times, sharing the same details. I talked to them a total of about 6 minutes but I heard information that only the closest intimate friend should know. I finally had to stop them mid conversation.

What’s my point?

I was not able to help this person. I prayed for them (and still do). I advised them to seek professional help. I encouraged them to connect with their local church pastor. Later, in a brief conversation with this person’s pastor, I learned that they were perpetually in need and that this situation was long-term. Apparently, this couple has shown themselves unwilling to make the adjustments necessary in order to solve their issues.

Pastors, let me share this with you:

No one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help.

We all know people who are perpetually needy. I am not talking about those who are in chronic pain or with a life situation not of their doing that is creating continual suffering. I am speaking about those whose lifestyles prove that they do not want to recover. Some even get a thrill from the attention they receive from their issues.

Here is a little advice for pastors who are expected to help those who may be very difficult to help:

  • Humble down: You are not the Messiah. You do not have all of the answers. It is not a defeat to admit you don’t have the answers – in fact, it is sometimes a victory.
  • Know your limits: A renown scholar once said, “A good man’s gotta know his limitations.” (Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Magnum Force). If the issues are beyond your scope of authority or expertise, admit that. No one is an expert in every area.
  • Recognize the users: Some only want to monopolize your time. Others wish to play on your sympathies. While we must not become hard-hearted in regard to the needs of others, we must learn to spot those who are not looking for solutions.
  • Refer, refer, refer. Doctors do it all the time. When they see a patient that needs the care of a specialist, they refer to that specialist. Pastors may find it beneficial to follow suit.
  • Grieve for them but don’t take up their grief: A good pastor will hurt when his/her sheep are hurting. We must carry the spiritual burden of loving people that are in misery. However, it is a mistake to assume the load of their pain. We are strong but not superhuman. We must learn to be sensitive and compassionate without damaging our spiritual and emotional health. Don’t be afraid to draw the line of distinction.
  • Give them hope: God never gives up on people; we shouldn’t either. Let them know that you are not their solution but that God has their answer. While we are not to try to be a savior to needy people, we are to point them to their Savior.
  • Remember to whom they belong. You are the pastor and you are the under shepherd, but they belong to Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. When and if people are pulling too much out of you, give them to Jesus.

Once again, no one is beyond God’s ability to help; some people are beyond your ability to help. If you try too hard, it may have a negative impact on the people you are trying to help, on yourself and upon your ministry. If you try too hard to fix others, it may break you. I don’t want to see that happen.

I’m praying for you pastor!