Do You Know Your Pastor?

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

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

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

Church, What’s Next?

design-60Many Pastors, while still working hard on their online ministry are beginning to think ahead. What is next? How will this pandemic play out? Once we get back into our church buildings, how will the Church function over the next several weeks and months?

The “unknown” is the worst part. How do we prepare for a future that is uncertain? I think we can prepare by doing the painful work of considering worst case scenarios. Not expecting it or believing for that, but considering it. What will be the role of the Church if this crisis continues for 6 weeks or 6 months? 6 months on this trajectory would mean communities of hungry people, families in crisis, social breakdown and vast emotional trauma. Ask ourselves: If this happens, what would we, the church do?

We don’t like thinking like this. You might even think that I am having a crisis of my faith. But ignoring possibilities is not a lack of faith. Be reminded that many tried to, in the name of faith, ignore the possibility of the Corona virus in the first place. It is a spiritual leader’s responsibility to prepare for the future as much as possible.

Many are saying that our focus only on online ministry is shortsighted. We’ve got to be prepared to resource people beyond online services, and beyond getting back into our buildings.

I am finding that the churches that were more inwardly focused before Corona are having a harder time making the adjustments needed now. It’s difficult but not impossible. But my concern is, some churches have as their only goal, getting back into their building. While we cannot wait for that!, there is so much more we need to consider.

I think that it is reasonable to consider that we will never return to the old normal.

Let’s pray and seek guidance in what an effective ministry will look like in the future. I highly doubt that it will look like what it has in the past.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m so thankful for online ministry. And I’m very excited for the future physical gathering of God’s people. We need it so badly. But we also need to engage a hurting world with the hope we gain by coming together.

Without question, now is the time for the Church to lead the way in prayer, repenting, fasting and focusing on the Lord. I believe this is the primary starting point to discerning the best path forward. We must hear from Him! Come what may, God’s Church will be strategically positioned by Him to redeem this crisis.

Let’s be the Church!

Who is Christmas for, Anyway?

IMG_8743Lots of retailers make a lot of money from Christmas sales. Major corporations enjoy record profits year after year at Christmastime. Marketers, delivery companies and small businesses count on big sales during the holidays to boost their profits and add to their bottom line.

But is this who Christmas is really for?

We have a problem with the commercialization of Christmas. For too many, the holy season has simply become a money maker. We tire of the incessant commercials, the pushy salespeople and the “special holiday offers.” If we’re not careful, we can develop a bad attitude about the season because so many are corrupting the true meaning of Christmas; Let’s not do that!

Let’s remember who Christmas is for:

Christmas is for children: The little boys and girls of the world who simply embrace the excitement of the holiday.

Christmas is for Christians: the Christ-followers around the world who humbly celebrate the birth of their Lord, Savior and soon-coming King!

Christmas is for families: though perhaps spread across the miles, they hope to be together to share special moments and memories.

But…

Christmas is also for the lonely: those who have no one during the holiday.

Christmas is for the hurting: those who are in physical, emotional or relational pain.

Christmas is for the bound and addicted: those who have no concept of freedom.

Christmas is for the hard-hearted: those who have been so hurt, they refuse to trust again.

Christmas is for the doubters: those who refuse to believe.

Christmas is for the rebellious: those who feel the need to run from God.

Christmas is for the lost: those who just can’t find their way through this dangerous world.

Christmas is for sinners: those who have yet to accept Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Christmas is for those who need Good News!: Those who are tired of the ugliness and sin of this world.

Christmas is even for those who miss the point entirely (they think it’s about making money): God doesn’t give up on them, we shouldn’t either.

God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Way, the only Way to salvation.   

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) These words, spoken by an angel to Joseph, speak to us about the eternal Good News of the birth of Jesus. Jesus came to preach the Gospel (Good News) to all people! This means that Christmas is for everyone! Christmas is Good News for all of us!

This Good News of Christmas triumphs over the bad news. This Good News of Christmas heals the brokenhearted. This Good News of Christmas brings families back together. This Good News of Christmas comforts the lonely. This Good News of Christmas brings hope to the hopeless, joy to the sad, and the promise of a better future to a world that desperately needs it.

But it is not the presents, the money-spending, the holiday stress that brings what we need.

The love that God displays at Christmas is what makes Christmas belong to all of us.  

 Merry Christmas to you. We love you, thank God for you and pray that this Christmas season will be especially blessed!

 

 

What are We Good At, What are We Not?

design-48Definitions for this article:

  1. Product: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Promotion: Marketing or advertising the Gospel.
  3. Presentation: The method utilized to deliver the Gospel.
  4. Productivity: The positive results of the Gospel of Jesus.

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

While visiting a large suburban mall, I noticed that the Apple store had relocated. They had outgrown their space and moved to a larger spot in the same mall. In a few moments, we walked by their new location. But here was my surprise: they had yet to put up their sign. There was no indication anywhere on the outside that this was the Apple store. I wondered about their decision to open the new location without first putting up the sign. But, as you can see, everyone knew exactly what store it was – the place was full; business as usual.

Apple has great products. They’ve done their promotions. Their presentation is unquestionably effective. Of course their productivity is unparalleled. They have been so good at what they do, the temporary lack of a sign had no negative effect whatsoever.

I don’t work for Apple; I work for the Church.

Let me say, church signage is very important. Like it or not, we must brand our churches. We must market the ministry. In our culture, if people don’t know about us, they aren’t coming. But I don’t believe our biggest issue (why more people don’t come) is promotion.

I know for sure that our product (the Gospel of Jesus) is the most valuable and important product ever.

I believe we have two problems that we should address and solve:

  • Our presentation suffers sometimes. The way we communicate the most important product is sometimes subpar. A lack of quality, ill prepared sermons and worship services, and ignoring the needs of our “potential audience” can really hurt our efforts. Our “potential audience” is our unsaved community. Churches that operate in ways that disconnect them from their unsaved community will suffer.
  • Our productivity is stifled. In many churches, very few people are coming to salvation in Christ. The harvest is sitting in the fields. This is a major problem.

I would remind you that the product needs no adjustment. The Biblical Gospel can stand for itself. I would also suggest that better promotion might not be the answer. If our presentation is poor, the best promotion in the world won’t help. The fact that our productivity is suffering is enough to cause us to evaluate and adjust our presentation.

Pastor, don’t change the product. Go ahead and improve your promotion. But if your productivity is less than you desire, invest in changing your presentation.

We’re not Apple. But wouldn’t it be cool if our presentation of the product was so amazing that promotion wasn’t necessary? It’s possible!

We don’t have a product problem. We don’t have a promotion problem.

We have a presentation problem. Because of this, we have a productivity problem.

Focus on your presentation of the most amazing product ever, and productivity will take care of itself.

Do You Need a Mentor?

design-45Phil Pringle, author of “Top 10 Qualities of a Great Leader” has a very good idea. He says, “Mentoring is vital to success. However, this involves more than just chatting with a more experienced person. The mentoring relationship is opened up through serving. People sometimes ask me to mentor them. All they need do is help me do what I do, and they’ll find themselves in my world. They’ll learn more by serving than by any other means.
A good “mentee” makes a great mentor. No matter how good a person’s coach might be, if the person has no heart to serve and to learn, then they will fail to be coached.”
What a great idea! We learn best through serving. Rather than asking to have coffee once a week with a coach (that is also a great idea), how about if we request how we can best serve them? Instead of looking to a mentor to answer all of your questions, listen while they labor. Dig ditches alongside them. Make their life easier by providing practical hands-on help where needed, Honestly most mentors are very busy people and, as much as they may love sitting and pouring into a younger leader, the idea of spending time just talking isn’t always practical.
I’ve always said, I do my best counseling while I am preaching. But I also have a lot to share while I am cutting the grass, painting a room or driving long distances to minister. Serving alongside a mentor is an organic way to learn from them. And by serving them, you are returning the blessing to them.
Serving is not as glamorous as deep conversation which is why it’s an excellent way to weed out people who only want to talk.
If you don’t have time to serve, you don’t have time to be mentored. If you have no interest in serving, you really have no interest in being mentored.
If you need a mentor, think about who you would select as a mentor. Then consider ways that you could potentially serve him or her.
We may be on to something really significant here!

Everybody Loves a Flashy Preacher!

design-39Or do they?

Sure, it’s fun to attend church when the minister is charming. If he/she dresses well and is in touch with culture and quotes current song lyrics, services are never boring. A good joke teller keeps you entertained. And it sure helps if the pastor is good looking!

If we want to attract a crowd (and who doesn’t?), we need a pastor who is articulate and confident. High energy presentations complete with multimedia elements, expensive stage sets and props, and impressive illustrations are required. Cool clothes, perfectly coiffed hair and an attractive spouse are non-negotiables.

I’ve seen some very good people be compelled to follow a pastor precisely because of these things. We have actually heard people say that they selected their current church because the pastor was so cool.

But wait a minute.

Pastors are spiritual shepherds. They guide and lead. They teach and train. They serve and sacrifice and work hard. They make disciples of Jesus. At least, that is the Biblical perspective of what a Pastor should be.

Flashy, exciting, showy, and edgy has nothing to do with sustainable, productive, stable and unrelenting. In order for ministry to succeed, we need more than a show.

While we shouldn’t criticize ministers who pay attention to style and current trends, we also shouldn’t confuse these things with being an effective preacher or pastor. One can look the part but not fit the part. In fact, it’s actually substantially easier to look cool than to be a strong pastor.

If your pastor loves you, knows and preaches the Bible, and can be counted upon to lead well, count yourself blessed. How he or she dresses shouldn’t be a deal breaker. While they may not be able to quote the script from the latest Hollywood movie, if they know you and lead you with integrity, you have a solid pastor.

Be aware than some who call themselves pastors, and may indeed hold that responsibility, never fulfill the responsibility. You may not realize that on a Sunday when the service is hopping. But let a crisis strike – you will then be able to distinguish between who is a Pastor and who is not.

A few necessary points:

  • An out of style preacher does not equate to an effective preacher.
  • Preachers and pastors should try their best to connect with their culture and community. This includes clothing style and awareness of modern entertainment.
  • Substance is to be valued more than appearance, but appearance cannot be ignored.
  • Pastors who think they have a “pass” on relevance because they are a pastor are mistaken.

Let’s not be shallow enough to follow a person because of their persona. Stage presence is overemphasized in some churches. Character is far more important.  Holiness is immensely more valuable than coolness. Give me a pastor who will laugh with me in happy times and cry with me in sad times over one who can put on a great show on the stage.

We shouldn’t want a flashy preacher; we should want a preacher who loves God, loves people and leads us to follow Christ.

Pastor: Smile!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting Attendance Can Kill You

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

Allow me to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Easter!

What Does Your Pastor Really Want From You?

designPastors can be pretty demanding. They want us to come to church every time the doors are open, pay our tithes and then also give in offerings, volunteer to teach Sunday School and serve at work days, invite our neighbors to church and then pray for the church an hour per day! How unrealistic is that?!

Seriously, Pastors only want what God wants for their church members. Most Pastors I know love their congregation with a “shepherd’s love.” They pray diligently for their flock. They do their best to feed them and keep them spiritually healthy. But Pastors do have hopes for the people they lead.

  • Pastors want their church members to be disciples of Christ. We are all called to make disciples of other people (Matthew 28:19-20). Any pastor who is doing their job will teach and train, develop and challenge. Sometimes they come across as pushy, but it helps to understand their motives.
  • Pastors want their church members to grow spiritually. Preachers have the responsibility of feeding those to whom they preach. While personal growth is the responsibility of every individual, pastors want to see their members mature in their faith.
  • Pastors want their church members to spiritually reproduce. It has been said, “sheep beget sheep.” Good pastors train the members to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). You will make your pastor rejoice if you become a soul winner!
  • Pastors want their church members to discover and utilize their spiritual gifts. Good church members don’t just sit in the pew. They understand that they are called by God to fulfill a ministry. If you function in your gift, you will be a great blessing to your church and pastor.
  • Pastors want their church members to experience the joy and fulfillment of being a vital part of a vibrant and growing church. A few church members prefer a small church but most people know that healthy things grow. Let’s embrace church as a dynamic and progressing organism, made alive by the Holy Spirit!

Pastors don’t intentionally use people to get what they want. At times, it may feel like members are only a means to an end – the way that the pastor can build a successful ministry. But true Pastors want only what is best; they only want what God wants for the people they serve.

When your pastor encourages you to attend church, serve and give, he or she is doing so out of a heart of love for you and a desire for your spiritual well being. Pray for your pastor because they have a difficult task. But also pray for your pastors so that they can lead the church with integrity of heart and skillful hands (Psalms 78:72).

Now, make your Pastor’s day: Do the five things listed above and watch your pastor rejoice!

10 Things You Did Not Learn In Seminary

designThere are things about ministry that can only be learned through experience. There are things about ministry that will only be learned through formal education. We need both!

While we treasure our educational opportunities, it is not reasonable to expect a few years at an academic institution to prepare us for a lifetime of ministry. We must be lifelong learners.

Listed below, in no particular order, are a few observations regarding things that hands-on ministry will teach you. You are better to learn these things now before you learn them in the “school of hard knocks.”

  • Ministry is hard and it gets harder all the time.
  • The certainty of the “ministry crucible.”
  • That most people are a joy with whom to work.
  • That you need 10 encouragements for every one discouragement.
  • Preaching is vitally important, but it may not be the most important aspect of ministry.
  • That emotional intelligence is one of your greatest assets; in fact, you will fail without it.
  • That one of the most important things a minister can say is, “I was wrong, I am sorry.” Apologize quickly, sincerely, and often.
  • As a pastor, your heart is revealed more by your prayer than by your preaching.
  • The skill of leading change is a non negotiable.
  • Avoid the trap of dividing your church with politics.
  • The responsible use of social media.
  • The absolute necessity of cultural diversity in ministry.
  • How important it is to stay in good physical condition.
  • How important a retirement plan is.
  • If you don’t observe Sabbath, you are a sinner!

If you are counting, you realize I have 15 items on the list. Perhaps it is akin to the preacher who thinks he preached for 30 minutes when he actually preached for 1 hour. So, number 16 might be: Learn how to count and to tell time. Your word matters.

Who Should Be A Pastor? (10 things a pastor must be able to do)

There are a few jokes about the perfect pastor that continue to make the rounds:

35 years old with 30 years experience.

Doesn’t dress too flashy or too trashy.

Has a lovely but modest wife, and 1.5 well-behaved children.

Can preach, teach, sing, play, administrate, cut grass, clean toilets, visit all the sick and elderly, attend all the church kids school plays and ball games and find time to pray for 3 hours every day.

These are jokes.

But it’s not funny when we see a person trying to serve as a pastor when they lack some basic necessary gifts and abilities.

From my 30 plus years in ministry, I have a few (10 for now) indispensable skills a successful pastor must possess. Please, let’s take some for granted. In other words, don’t scold me for omitting praying or whatever. These things are obvious. The points I want to cover may not be as obvious.

1. Must be able to personally lead someone to Christ. It is shocking to learn that some pastors have never led anyone to salvation outside of a church service. If the pastor doesn’t, the people won’t.

2. Must be able and willing, even eager, to work hard. Sometimes the work is manual, sometimes it is intellectual, but it is always strenuous. In my opinion, pastors cannot work less than 50 hours per week on average if they hope to build a growing, effective church. While we must prioritize our family and health, excessive television, golf, napping or any other “recreation” is a sign of slothfulness. Please don’t be guilty of adding to the “lazy preacher” perception. Of course the above numbers are considering full time pastors.

3. Must be humble. Arrogance, pride and an inflated ego by a pastor will destroy a ministry quickly. Get over yourself.

4. Must be a learner. Whether the education is formal or informal, there is no space for intellectual anemia. You never know it all so learn until you die. You speak on behalf of God; know what you’re talking about.

5. Must not be a racist. Now, this should be a given, but it is not. Pastors cannot discriminate against people of other races or nationalities. Mistreating anyone is not allowable. If you cannot love all people equally, and minister to anyone, you disqualify yourself from effective ministry, and perhaps Christianity altogether.

6. Must be compassionate. Some score higher on the mercy scale than others, but a hard-hearted pastor is an oxymoron. Shepherds must care.

7. Must value other generations. If you can only lead people who are close to your age, you have a very limited harvest field. If multigenerational ministry doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it. The long term effectiveness of your ministry is at stake.

8. Must not fall in love with methods, style or genres. If you simply must preach a certain way, or if you only allow a certain type of worship music, or if you insist that church ministry be conducted in your preferred method, perhaps there is an ownership problem. The ministry does not belong to you; the ministry belongs to the Lord. God never changes. But times change, people change, and what’s effective in ministry changes.

9. Must be accountable to and for others; must be responsible to and for others. Independent pastors (those who answer to no one) are operating outside of biblical guidelines. Followers should not follow this type of a leader.

10. Must be able to increase the impact of the church they serve. If a pastor cannot lead the church to grow, the church will die. A pastor that leads a church to die isn’t a good pastor.

Well, there is the list of 10. Of course, there are tons more, perhaps they will come in the future. In the meantime, pastor on!

Not Everyone Wants You to Succeed

30705103_10156353004229214_3194911651212840577_nMost people in the church are good. The vast majority of the people whom I have served as a pastor or in ministry in general had pure motives and could be trusted. But there are a few, just a minority, that seek to destroy, or at least are happy when destruction comes.

A church member once told me that she has purposefully not spoken to me in 2 months. She wanted to see how long it would take me to approach her. She was testing me – and I failed. Apparently she couldn’t take it any longer and let me know that I messed up. I apologized for my oversight. I hadn’t neglected her on purpose. There were about 500 other people in the church with whom I was trying to interact. Clearly, she wanted me to fail – she set me up – and it worked.

As a college student, I worked part time as a church janitor. For the record, this was the best ministry training I ever received. One of the Deacons secretly placed a toothpick in the corner of the restroom floor as a way of checking to see if I was doing my job. Thankfully, I had been doing my job and the Deacon let me know. But I often wondered what other traps he had set for me.

Once again, most folks are good folks and want others to succeed. But there are a few snakes in the grass. They are the saboteurs; the underminers. They set traps and lurk in the corner, waiting for the next victim.

What is the motivation for this type of behavior?

Some want others to fail because it makes them feel better about their own failure.

Some want us to fail so they can swoop in like a vulture to steal away what we have worked for.

Some are wicked and seek to destroy anything good.

Clearly, these people are dysfunctional. And they can ruin the lives of others.

What are we supposed to do about this?

Guard yourself! Be aware that not everyone is on your side, even if they repeatedly say they are.

Be slow to trust people. Don’t place your reputation in the hands of unproven individuals.

Work hard so as to remove any opportunity for these people to try to make you look bad.

But more than any of these things…

Keep your heart soft and your spirit tender.

My motivation for writing this article is to try to help prevent colleagues from becoming bitter about the pain they endure. Too many leaders who have been in the game for a while get injured. They drop their guard and get blindsided. The result is, they become overly sensitive, defensive and suspicious. Over time, the heart becomes calloused. This is an attempt at self-preservation but the result is self-destruction.

When we begin to expect the worst out of people, this is what we will experience. Let’s understand the concept of self-fulfilling prophets. They are the people who state that a project or person will fail – and they do everything in their power to assure that they are correct. If we are not careful, we can adopt this as a leadership style. If we expect people to stab us in the back, we can create the opportunity for that to happen. Don’t allow your pain to provide ammo for those who are trying to hurt you more.

Don’t allow yourself to expect the worst. Don’t get bitter. Forgive those who hurt you, even if they don’t want or deserve it.

If you can survive the attempts to make you fail, your success rate will increase. But more importantly, you will maintain a pure heart, which is vitally important for success. In fact, these days, having a pure heart may be THE definition of success.

Add to all this, the knowledge that God wants you to succeed! So much so that He provides a surefire way to insure it:

Study this Book (the Scriptures) of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Joshua 1:8 (NLT)

People Don’t Quit Churches; They Quit Pastors

27973493_10156191704034214_6689077253968786515_nA few years ago, I arrived at the church to prepare for the morning worship service that was scheduled to begin a few hours later. As I walked across the platform, I noticed a piece of paper on the piano. I picked it up and read a note from the piano player explaining that they would not be back at the church. This was the first I had heard of it. We went ahead with the service; the lady and her family left the church. (However, they did come back and leave several more times in following years!)

Having served as a local church pastor for over 25 years, I have had more than my share of people who left the church I was serving. I am ashamed of the number of people who quit the church under my leadership. It was never pleasant, it always hurt and, with the exception of a couple of very dysfunctional people, I was very sad as a result of their departure.

In the numerous conversations that took place around these departures, most of the talk centered around the concept of people “leaving the church.” Usually people just stopped showing up. A few times, they informed me personally why they were leaving. I have received emails, text messages and phone calls telling me they were quitting the church. Facebook messenger, grapevine and cryptic messages on the church answering service have also worked well. But I can’t recall anyone telling me that they were quitting me, the pastor. But in essence, that is what many of them did.

Complaints by those who leave a church vary. Some involve talk about the music; others cite the lack of programs for their kids. Conflict is a major cause of people leaving the church. Rarely does doctrine come into play. On most occasions, it’s an issue of style or preference or opinions about the operation of the church. The reason I say that people leave a pastor rather than the church is, all of these things are (or should be) under the influence of the primary leader – the pastor. While the pastor shouldn’t run everything in the church, as the primary leader, their philosophy is, in most cases, most predominant. Most people who leave, leave the Pastor.

As a Lead Pastor, if there is an issue in the Youth Ministry, it is my issue. If the music is bad, I own it. If the nursery is dirty, I am to blame. Of course, I am not a proponent of the Lead Pastor doing all of the work. In fact, a micromanaging pastor is a reason why some some leave a church. But the Pastor must provide a level of leadership that influences the entire church.

Regardless of how many people tell me, “don’t take it personally”, it is very personal when people leave. When you pour your life into a group of people, it is silly to think that it is not personal; of course it is. Today, as a church denominational leader, when someone leaves our group, it is personal. People don’t leave our movement; they leave the leader. It’s personal for everyone – if it’s not, your heart has already departed.

I’ll never get accustomed to the pain of losing people. If I do, I am in dereliction of my duty. I can’t fix everything. And sometimes people need to leave a church. But let’s not try to fool ourselves into believing that, in many cases, the pastor is not responsible.

For clarification, I am not writing this blog post to make pastors feel even worse than they already do. That is the farthest thing from my motivation. I am writing this to let people know, leaving a church is a very painful and personal issue for many people. It hurts. Please don’t leave assuming it doesn’t matter to anyone; It does. If a pastor is being honest, it hurts them deeply. I hope we can see a way to avoid this trend – and yes, it is a trend. My advice would be to engage in healthy communication with the pastor long before you make a decision to leave. Perhaps it won’t work, but just maybe it will.

And finally, Pastors, I love you, but we must own this concept. We simply can’t exonerate ourselves when numerous people leave the church. You may not be directly to blame but, as the shepherd, you are in most cases responsible if the flock scatters.

How about if we stick together and work toward making the church as good and effective as it can possibly be?

What if My Church isn’t Spiritual Enough?

designIf you’ve been attending a church for any significant length of time, you’ve experienced it: the service where nothing seems to flow. It feels tight. The music isn’t engaging, the sermon is dry, the crowd is down, and it feels like you’re just going through the motions rather than entering into the presence of God. I think this type of experience is inevitable although we should never accept it as OK. But what if this type of service has become the norm? What should one do if the spiritual climate of the local church is tepid at best. Long stretches of dead services are a sign of real trouble for a church. What if my church isn’t spiritual enough for me?

How long has it been since someone came to Christ in your church? How long since there has been a significant move of the Holy Spirit? I am not talking about a “feel good” service where everybody was happy. I mean a time when God was so evidently present that everyone knew it, and responded, and lives were changed. I think a key question that church leaders should ask, without fail, while evaluating the effectiveness of a worship experience is: did the people encounter God? If they did not, it’s time for something to change!

The truth is, too many churches are stuck is a rut of mundaneness. Week after week nothing remarkable occurs. The people have stopped expecting anything to happen. There is no sense of urgency, passion has faded and everything is predictable. We might describe the church as “not anointed”, boring, cold, or, as a former pastor used to say, “dry as cracker juice!”

What if my church isn’t spiritual enough for me? What should we do when this happens?

I would like to approach this topic from the perspective of a church member. Perhaps later I will address church leaders and pastors on the subject.

In my opinion, a key mistake many of us make is to perceive the church as an organization. It can easily appear as another institution. While it may be reasonable to do so, we must see the church as something so much more.

God strategically established the church as an organism; the living breathing Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to explain the deep spiritual nature of the church and he utilizes the body metaphor to do so. When we gather on Sundays for corporate worship, it is so much more than another institutional meeting. God has summoned the Body of Christ to gather for the purpose of worshiping Him!

There are many reasons why this body metaphor is important, especially when considering the dry times that we inevitably experience. Among the greatest reason is – we each play a key role in the health of the Body of Christ.

Regarding church services, there is a huge difference between spectators and participants. Worship was never intended to be a “spectator sport.” Of course, ministers play a key role in leading worship services but the Bible identifies little if any distinction between clergy and laity. Everyone in the church should play a key role in church services.

Think of it this way: your spiritual development is not primarily your pastor’s responsibility. While they are to shepherd you, you must assume the responsibility for your own discipleship. This is also true when it comes to worship services. Sure, the pastor leads but if folks don’t follow, it will be a disconnected experience. Everyone has the responsibility to make the church gathering better.

I think some church members require a higher level of spirituality from their church services than they require for themselves. Keep in mind, the “church” is made up of individuals and the church is only as spiritually developed as the individual people are. We are simply a sum of the parts. Of course, Christ is the Head of the Church but we are the various parts of the Body. If each of us will pursue spiritual maturity, our churches will also move closer to God. If we come to church with an attitude of expectation and surrender to the Lord, great things are bound to happen. On the other hand, if we come to services disinterested and apathetic, nothing will happen.

So, rather than feeling as though the church is lagging (and sometimes complaining about it), perhaps we should focus on ourselves. No more, “I’m not being fed” or “I wish we had a more exciting church”. Rather, accept the responsibility to be a positive influencer; make the church better. Do whatever it takes to bring life to the Body of Christ.

We are the Church! Let’s enjoy it.

Dangers for Pastors

designRecent violent tragedies in churches around our country remind us of our vulnerability. This can be a frightening time to lead a church. I know a lot of pastors who have their head on a swivel right now.

In my opinion, it’s not an armed gunman that poses the greatest threat to churches and pastors. The odds of an attack by a terrorist at your church are miniscule. But on a daily basis, you are exposed to grave danger. Churches are scrambling to put security in place and they should. But be aware that there are 1,000 ways the devil seeks to destroy you and your church and none of them involve guns. While we should have a security plan in place, it is absolutely crucial that every pastor protect themselves against less obvious, but just as deadly attacks.

My original plan for this article was to create a list of potential hazards and write a paragraph about each. I came up with 13. As I dialogued with some friends, it became apparent that the topic deserves a little more. So, I’ll launch with the original plan and then proceed with more in-depth ideas.

Pastors, look out for…

Ministry becoming a business. Like any other job, ministry can be stressful. After years of dealing with highly important issues of eternal nature, we can devolve things into a bottom line – and that bottom line isn’t souls saved. We must pay the bills. Especially in larger churches, legal matters, real estate, tax laws and human resources concerns can blind us to the spiritual nature of our work. When this happens, we will soon find ourselves disheartened. God did not call us to run a business. Although the church must be viewed as a business that runs above reproach, ministry is spiritual at its core and must function that way.

Becoming hard-hearted. I am not aware of any ministry veterans that don’t struggle with this issue. Part of our work is dealing with trauma: deaths, crises, family turmoil, etc. can wear one down. If we do not intentionally focus on keeping our spirits tender before God, we will become cynical, jaded, and skeptical. I find that few things do more damage to a minister than a hard heart. It is necessary to stay tender before the Lord.

Accepting status quo. Keeping the ministry machine running smoothly and keeping church members happy can be a full time job. When most of our time and energy is expended simply to survive, growth can unintentionally become a back burner issue. God did not call us to maintain – He called us to make disciples. He appointed you where you are to advance the ministry. Maintaining is not good enough.

No strategic plan. Let’s be honest for a moment with this query: what is your plan to build your ministry? If your answer is, “have church services”, you may want to dig deeper. A strategic plan is a wonderful gift that God provides for us so that we can prepare for what He is about to do. I agree that the Holy Spirit must direct us but He does reveal His plans to us if we will pursue Him. Being Spirit-led doesn’t mean that we fly by the seat of our pants. Seek God today for what He wants to do tomorrow.

Selling out to money. It is a very deadly thing for a church and pastor to become money-focused. For many pastors, the members who tithe the most have the most influence. Ministry decisions are made, not based upon what the Spirit is directing but upon what can be afforded. I believe in budgets but I do not believe that budgets should dictate ministry. I wrote another article on the problem of churches amassing bank accounts with no plan to invest them into ministry. You can read that here.

Stop learning. Bible College and seminary are wonderful tools. Pastors should be well educated in matters of Scripture and ministry and leadership. However, there should be no such thing as a pastor who has completed his/her training. Pastor, if you haven’t read a book outside of the Bible for the last few months – I suggest you start.

Displacing family. Much has been said on this topic. Don’t neglect your family for ministry. Your family will fail as well as your ministry. Your family is your first ministry!

No plan to rest. It is a very dangerous thing for a pastor to have no day off – no Sabbath day of rest. Perhaps you think you can work week after week with no vacation, but the end is coming – sooner than you think. Those who refuse to retire because they are too insecure to do so are only hurting themselves and their flock. You are not superhuman – the church survived without you for generations and, if necessary, can do so again.

Doing all of the ministry. This is a real trap for small church pastors. No one volunteers to lead a much–needed ministry so the pastor does it. Rinse and repeat. I understand the dilemma. But if this becomes a pattern, the church is doomed to stay small and the pastor is destined to burn out. If you find yourself here – slowly wean your folks off of their expectations that you must do everything.

No personal, only professional spirituality. Time for some quick self-evaluation: do you pray and study outside of your ministry responsibility? If not, your personal relationship with God is suffering. Fix that and you may fix many of your ministry issues. Don’t fix it and you are in grave danger!

Comparing yourself to others. If you are remotely competitive, it is natural for you to measure your success as compared to others. My advice – just stop. God called you to be you and to do your work. You won’t be like anyone else.

No original ministry ideas. Why do you do ministry like you do? Odds are, you saw someone else do ministry that way. I would suggest you examine every ministry activity through this lens: God called you to do what only you can do. Perhaps God uses other people to give you good ideas but don’t get stuck there. God is quintessentially creative and He never runs out of fresh ideas. Just ask Him, dream big and take a risk.

Assuming a call is enough. If a stranger were to ask you about your qualifications for ministry, what would you say? Being called by God to do ministry is a foundational necessity but it is not enough. I believe that every Believer is called into some type of ministry but the vast majority of people never take the necessary steps to fully engage in ministry.

These are just a few simple ideas. We’ll be digging deeper on the topic in coming days. Please stay tuned. I’d love to hear your idea on other dangers for pastors.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.