My heart broke as I sat across from an elderly woman who began to weep in front of me. I didn’t know her and she didn’t really know me. Her husband displayed little emotion directly next to her…as if he was internally numb. Both of them were sitting in front of me because of their deep love for the church that they attend.
Periodically, I am asked by an organization I am associated with, to enter churches and survey members of the congregations that are having deep division and conflict. I provide them with prompts for them to begin speaking, but really they set most of the agenda as they share what is on their heart. The experience is not only used to collect data and the “pulse” of the people who attend the church, but also serves as a cathartic experience for those who are hurting.
The elderly woman in front of me was sobbing as she spoke about what the church was going through. This church was experiencing division, backbiting, and disorganization. At first, her posture was one of anger and bitterness. She had complaints about surface level issues like music style, carpet color, and men not always wearing a tie. She thought, so many times, about leaving the congregation and seeking one with less issues. Over a period of about 15 minutes, though, her attitude changed as she explained the deep impact this local worship family has had over the span of her long life. She told stories that truly embody what the Church is supposed to look like. Her past highlights include service projects, care for unknown people in the community, laughter, and changed lives. She truly loved this church. She was just so heartbroken to see what it was going through.
At first, I silently judged her (just being honest) based on the fact that her initial complaints were rather trite by my standards. If I would have stopped there, I would have jumped to the incorrect conclusion that these type of attitudes were the things holding the church down. What I realized, is that these complaints were simply a symptom of a larger conflict. The woman in front of me had trouble processing the deep division and simply wanted to experience something that made her comfortable in the moment. I can’t really fault her for that.
As imperfect as we are as Christians, and as many times as we all get it wrong, I can’t help but think that there is something redemptive in this woman’s tears, and a lesson to be learned. As a pastor, it is so easy to look at everything with an intense, theologically driven eye, and use my time to criticize people’s underlying motivations. I can give a class on why we are failing as a Christian culture and how value the wrong things. This all, however does not take the sting out of the genuine pain that this woman was feeling.
More and more, I am coming to the conclusion that, the church does not need more charismatic leaders, insightful Bible studies, church growth tactics, or even upbeat music. We need to mourn more losses together, cry, stay determined, keep an open heart, and most importantly; we need unity.
This woman was crying because the community she loved was struggling. Whether she was a shining example of a perfect Christian or not is neither here nor there. She loved.
So, perhaps you are reading this today thinking, “this lady was putting too much faith in people instead of God”. Or, maybe you are ready to lash out at me in an attack on “institutional religion”. Well, you may be right on some accounts, but I surely won’t fault someone who has seen such transformation in people’s lives, and for better or for worse, connects those events to a body of caring, loving, serving, and mutually-accountable people who desperately want God’s will to be done (on Earth as it is in Heaven).
Love you all.
I can only imagine how the disciples and the extended family of Christ followers felt sitting in a poorly lit room 7 weeks after Jesus ascended into Heaven. They probably felt defeated and completely drained of all hope. When you think about it, the only instruction they had was to “go back to Jerusalem” and pray. This would have naturally seemed counterproductive, but then again they have seen amazing things happen because of time spent in desperate prayer. But…Jesus was gone now…and it seemed unlikely that anything memorable was going to happen.
They remembered the good ‘ol days when just 12 disciples and their supernaturally gifted rabbi healed, preached, and interacted with individuals with the obvious power and authority of Yahweh. 12 followers grew into thousands of families who longed to be affected by this man who seemed to fulfill all the requirements of the long-awaited Messiah.
The remnant of followers reorganized themselves and scraped together the last set of believers to pray as instructed. Then, something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit came and empowered this marginally talented bunch of commoners and the masses came to faith in Jesus. They simply prayed and then were faithful to what God led them to do. Each person had a role and a small amount of people impacted the world. The events of Pentecost in Acts 2, created a domino effect that has changed the course of history. God’s power was shown and people repented of their sin. The world was beginning to reconcile with the Creator; one person at a time.
There have been 2 movies lately that have impacted my view of God’s call on my life. They have been used as an illustration for my divine purpose.
The first movie is Schindler’s List. If you have ever seen that movie, you know that the main character, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the brutal reign on Adolf Hitler in World War II. He spent all of his wealth to employ these men, women, and children from death at the hands of the Nazi party. At the end of the movie, Schindler was stricken with grief because he realized there were still things he could have sold to have the money to rescue more Jews. He could have sold his car, his gold lapel pin, etc.
The second movie is a newer one; Hacksaw Ridge. In this movie, Desmond Doss (who was a conscientious objector in World War II) was a medic who saved many men who were injured on the battle field. He single handedly dragged these men and lowered them down a cliff face to safety. Some estimate that he saved over 100 people (true story). While his hands, back, and arms ached heavily as he lowered them to where they needed to be, Doss kept repeating a simple prayer to help him gain strength. “Lord, just one more”, he said over and over. He wanted to save people so desperately, and he knew he didn’t have the strength to do it on his own. He wanted to rescue “just one more”.
There is a theme running through these scenarios. God has shown me that my purpose in life is not to put more butts in church seats, but to help create a traffic jam at the gates of Heaven. I have fervently prayed that God will give me “just one more” person to minister to, and impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart’s desire is to see people transformed by Jesus. I know I can’t do this on my own, but I can do what I have been told to do.
Can you pray that prayer with me? Can you pray that God will continue to put people in my path to love, serve, and grow with?
If you follow Jesus…I will pray the same for you.
Love you all.
I am a young pastor, and I do not presume to think that I can offer up much worthwhile advice and encouragement to a new generation entering the ministry. I do think, however, that any amount of experience has its own level of anecdotal instruction that can be offered to anyone willing to listen.
This week, I have thought about what I have learned in my decade of formal ministry (volunteer and paid) and I think there are some things that are worth sharing. Some items being shared in this blog are a result of frustration that has helped to grow me as a minister. Other points are simply things I that have come to mind. Just know that none of them are meant to demean, discourage, or demonstrate anger. I just feel these things need to be said.
I love learning. Sometimes the learning involved pain, and other times it was a result of great joy.
Today, I want to share 5 Things I Have Learned As a Pastor.
People prioritize what matters
Sunday after Sunday pastors all over the world work their hardest to preach, teach, and display the Gospel in their lives. Their families often feel the brunt of the time and effort they put into sharing vision, meeting with those in need, and attending business meetings. Sometimes a pastor will give their all for a congregation who seem to look at the idea of worship as “something they will attend if they have nothing else to do”. Don’t get me wrong. Pastors are thankful that anyone shows up for worship, but we now live in a Christian culture that has prioritized other things over meeting together as was commanded of us in scripture.
Discouragement is only temporary
I’m going to let you in, behind the scenes, for a moment on what pastors talk about when they are together. Sometimes we talk about how things are progressing with the church. Other times we talk about how discouraged we are in a particular area of ministry. For some people in ministry, short seasons of discouragment end in resignation. It is easier to quit than to persevere. When discouragement comes, and it certainly will, it is always vital to lean into God and rely on His promises. The seasons of discouragement do not last forever. They can just be painful. When we tap into God’s resolve, then we find times of great spiritual wealth and ministerial progress.
There will be resistance
No matter what God has asked a person in ministry to do, resistance to that call is inevitable. Sometimes there is resistance because the author of lies is creating unnecessary conflict in the church. Other times (I am speaking to myself here) it is because personal pastoral agendas are forced and God’s will is not taken into account. Pastors are not exempt from being stubborn or having human thoughts, emotions, or actions. A consistent prayer life trains the mind and heart to more readily pick up Christ’s signals and gentle nudgings.
Lives matter to God
When looking at scripture, it is apparent that God has spent a lot of time showing humanity His love. Sure, there are times of discipline, but the way He guided the Israelites out of captivity, restored them multiple times after their transgressions. sent Himself to die, and gave us the Holy Spirit, no one can deny the energy that has gone into God’s affection for us. He calls pastors to be distributors of this love and grace. Christians in general have this call on their lives as well, and are compelled to share this message with the world. So, when someone comments that a pastor’s focus is “all about numbers”, they are actually somewhat correct. Every person matters to God, and He came to die for every single one. A pastor’s job is a response to this concept.
Often times, more energy is spent on lemurs than butterflies
Ok, so this one is a difficult topic to talk about. Now, I do not want to sound harsh or condescending, but this idea breaks my heart so I felt as if I needed to share. You may read this heading and be somewhat confused, but allow me to explain. I wrote another blog post a while ago that compared the personalities found in the church to animals that live in a zoo. Lemurs are animals that live in trees and eat berries and bugs. When there are no more berries or bugs in the tree they move on to another one that will suit their needs. Butterflies start as caterpillars, and camp out in trees or bushes. They are sheltered by the tree and allow themselves to be transformed. Often churches respond to God’s call to help those in need (in and out of the church), and sometimes it is the “lemurs” get the most attention. In the church, it is often the case that the ones that are the most helped are the first ones to leave. The church is a great place to seek transformation. No matter the result, though, we are called to serve.
Overall, I can honestly say that God has blessed me more than I deserve. His calling on my life to participate in the transformation of souls is something that invigorates me. Ideas keep me going, and His spirit not only makes up for my inadequacies, but moves me out of the way completely. He has also given me an amazing church family.
If you are a young pastor leading a church today, I implore you to lean on that calling. Don’t quit. It is a very difficult job, and it is not going to get any easier. You are not going to make millions and you may struggle to help grow the congregation you are in. Don’t be a “corporate ladder” type of pastor and just move to the next bigger church for the nice facility and salary package. There is a large family sitting in your pews waiting to see revival, and their souls need it. Be vulnerable, and build deep relationships. What if they leave? Well, then you will be deeply hurt, but don’t run away from being hurt. God’s call means more.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of crossing the stage at Anderson University with my Master’s degree from their amazing seminary. I remember the way I felt as I walked the graduation path with other students. I kept thinking about the logistics of shaking the dean’s hand and taking the diploma along with smiling for the camera. I can barely walk while chewing gum, so I wanted to make sure I retained deep focus.
My years at this school were so helpful for me and my ministry. I have had many friends attend seminary in different places. Some schools were much smaller, and some were much larger. In all of these cases, the general experiences we all had were pretty universal. I would not take back my time at that school for any reason. With this being said, it is impossible for a school of theology and ministry of any type to fully prepare a pastor for everything they are going to encounter. I wish I would have known more going into ministry, but I honestly think God wants all ministers to learn through experience in many cases.
When a pastor leaves seminary, they are so full of life, energy, and hope. They want to enter their first ministerial assignment and change the world, grow the church, and be viewed as the resident scholar of their flock. They often forget that each church is significantly different, and has their own unique culture. Sometimes, changes that are made are needed greatly and other times the pastor simply has an exciting new idea that they have always wanted to implement.
So, here are 4 Things I Didn’t Learn in Seminary.
- Music does NOT equal relevance – As a pastor, I always assumed that if we had great upbeat music and manufactured an exciting Sunday morning service, then this would be the catalyst for people being converted by the hundreds. I fully understand that music is a great medium for conveying a powerful message or setting a certain tone, but people do not come to Jesus because of how up-to-date we are with the music selection. I have had in-depth conversations with younger pastors who would not dare select certain songs to sing at church because they were “no longer on the radio”. In my experience, people can talk about music all day, but true maturity comes from living life with people, visiting them in the hospital, and rejoicing with my congregation when someone has a baby. Relevance comes with relationship and truth.
- The valleys are vital parts of the church’s ministry – If you don’t read or retain anything else from this blog today, please make sure you retain this. In every ministry, pastors experience highs and lows, and discouragement is simply part of the job description. Many, when hit with a devastating blow, will question their pastoral call and they will pray to God to move them elsewhere. Granted, I want to acknowledge that sometimes there are very evident times for a pastor to move on in their ministry, but I really feel like far too many give up far too early. A young pastor is given the impression that God’s call can only be affirmed if amazing numerical growth is taking place and finances are not an issue. The truth is, people in our congregations need to see how we respond to valleys, because that helps us gain credibility and it shows humanness.
- It is okay to truly love your congregation – In the realm of pastoral leadership, there is an unwritten rule about friendships. You can’t have them. Many pastors are looked at as a remote leadership figure who should not have deep loving relationships with their flock, because there is an implication (elephant in the room) that they will eventually leave to move on to another church. In my context, I am learning more and more that this mentality is not only false but could be damaging to the minister’s family and vocation. People need to know they are loved by their shepherd, and that can’t be conveyed unless time is spent with the people that are being led. I know what you are thinking. “What if that pastor leaves? Won’t there be disappointment?” Yes. Of course, but if we never cultivated deep relationships because of the possibility of pain, then we would be empty human beings.
- Your deepest impact won’t come from new and exciting ideas – It is inevitable. If a pastor gives their life to the call God has placed on them, and preaches the good news of Jesus, then there is going to be a time in the future where someone is going to thank them for it. This is not why we do what we do, but it just makes sense that if a family will be transformed by the gospel and will want to shake the leader’s hand who introduced them to the truth. If you’re a minister on the receiving end of this, you will notice something very interesting. The person expressing their gratitude will not cite a cool new program you thought of, or the knowledge you gained from a trendy growth conference. They will tell you that they are thankful that you cared about them enough to be at their surgery or pray for their wife who had a miscarriage. Exciting ideas about new ministries are excellent tools to facilitate learning and outreach, but they do not replace walking alongside families or individuals in their time of need.
There are obviously many other things that are better learned with life experience than “book learnin’ ” but these are simply a few that have recently come to mind.
My prayer is that pastors keep their mind and heart open to what God wants to teach them.
Love you all.
A disproportionally large amount of people (relative to the size of the community) filed into a little Baptist church in rural Missouri. The average age of this congregation can be described in one word; gray. There were a few children present, but the small town was primarily older folks so I would not have expected to see more young ones in attendance.
We were in town because my wife’s grandmother lived there and we were visiting her for the weekend. Grandma would not have let us leave town without going to church, even if we had great excuses to skip. Plus, she promised us that she was going to make her world-famous chili for lunch so that was incentive enough to humor her.
The church was small and the last time the décor was updated was sometime around the late seventies or early eighties. These were the good ‘ol days when aliens invaded the earth and felt like their main contribution to the world be wood paneling in all homes and public venues.
Every square inch of the building needed an update, and the handheld microphones had those awful bright colored covers on the microphone heads that stood out like a sore thumb. All in all, it was a place that didn’t look inviting according to a young pastor standards, but everyone had a smile on their face so I was going to keep my heart open.
You see, by this time, I already had a bachelor’s degree in ministry and was about to start seminary. I was obviously an expert in all things pertaining to leadership and was already developing a critical eye and ear when visiting churches.
The music began and, as was expected, the song lineup consisted of both songs I had never heard and ones that I remembered from my childhood. The older lady leading the music was not exactly gifted for the part but her passion was obvious. No new contemporary Christian top 40 hits were played, and, at the time, I saw this as a serious flaw.
How would they minister to people without the newest methods, songs, or a fresh look? How can they minister to people who were advanced in age when every book I have read on “church growth” tells me that the younger generation should be their laser focus? It obviously wasn’t the case here. They seemed to have a routine that many were comfortable with, and everything had a distinct rhythm.
The pastor began to preach, and the content was great but the delivery of the sermon left a little to be desired. He wasn’t even in the middle of a catchy series! This pastor had been with this congregation for many years, and most people had gone to that church for a long time. There was a comfort there that could be felt with the shepherd of this flock.
As I looked around during worship, one thing was apparent. These people were genuinely interested in what was happening in the worship service. They were responding to the sermon, singing the songs loudly, and taking notes to better absorb the message for the day. Every family had a Bible that was nearly destroyed from use, and the children that were there seemed to pay attention to every word. The bulletin recorded evidence that these people participated in missional activities in the community. Could it be that the books I was reading about ministry distracted me from a deeper truth? Is it possible that I was wrong about what church “should” look like?
Attending that church made me feel a little different about serving in ministry. In an age where so many pastors spend much of their time looking for the next “new thing”, it seemed foreign to encounter a ministry that didn’t try to fix something that wasn’t broken simply to put more butts in the seats. The back of the platform was not painted black, the lights were not dim, there were no laser lights, and there were no fog machines; yet there was something intensely spiritual about this experience. People were lifting the name of Christ, and learning how to love others more. They were simply worshiping.
I have often been intoxicated by worship experiences that were designed to put people into a spiritual trance. Experiences that were defined by scheduled perfection and rehearsed timing. I think God sees through these type of things, and I have realized that a little Baptist church in a place that is not even on the map can be as intensely faithful as the megachurch down the road with much more to offer.
I pray that all Christians will fall in love with God like this small Baptist church. If we do, we will see a genuine revival happen throughout the world.
I still have so much to learn.
Let’s get back to basics.
Love you all.
Teamwork makes the dream work. This is a phrase that is passed around in many circles and I have heard it used to bring light to dark situations. It is an interesting concept. The idea of becoming partners with a group for the common purpose of meeting measurable goals is something that is appealing to most. I have always valued being a part of something bigger than myself and joining with others to collectively pursue a mission. I know that I do not have all of the answers, nor do I think that my way is the best way.
I have had the opportunity, in my experience as a pastor, to talk with many pastors and church leaders from around the world. Many have shared my theological tradition and many have not. One conversation I have engaged in during my ministry with these leaders relates to the topic of Christian denominations. When speaking about this subject, it is quickly apparent that a large number of people are against the idea. The nondenominational movement is something that has gained great steam in the last several years. Church goers cite many reasons for leaving denominations and pursuing a worship community unaffiliated with a larger movement.
Personally, I am thankful that people have chosen a church to attend, so the point of this blog is not to downplay the value of the nondenominational church, because these churches are still a part of the global body of Christ and do great good. I am simply writing this to explain my view as to why I have chosen a larger movement to align myself with.
In my recent past, I have volunteered with a missions organization that has no main parent church affiliation. This ministry has established schools, orphanages, churches, food pantries and pastoral training centers around the world. They have an incredible network of churches that have bought into the vision of the organization and support it with volunteer help and financial support. People are being introduced to Jesus in large numbers because of these partnerships. They have seen success in their work because they have churches that share the passion that they display. This network functions as a denomination in their web of partnerships.
When I think about this nonaffiliated entity, my mind wanders to those who are against denominational entities. Why is this?
I get it. Sometimes it can be frustrating when the general leadership of a certain denomination sends down a decree (for lack of a better term) that sometimes doesn’t fit into the cultural context of a local community. Perhaps, even, a person may discover theological differences that don’t line up with their system of beliefs. But, in my conversations with leaders that have left denominations to pursue independence, the desire to be autonomous was the overriding factor in their decision making process.
A Christian denomination is simply a missional organization with affiliated churches. These churches share a theological identity that is not mandated, but that is shared due to common purpose and passion. In the same way, we see a fast growing movement of nonaffiliated churches that long to be connected in partnership with a missional entity. As a pastor, there is something initially attractive about being disconnected from “outside” accountability. The fact is, this mentality can’t be sustained for very long, because eventually the craving for extended community is realized.
I am a part of something larger and I have learned that I do not have all of the answers. I need my brothers and sisters who are partnering with me to help convey the message that God has given all of us. No individual congregation can do everything they are called to do in complete isolation. This is why I have chosen the path I am on. The sometimes frustrating and flawed movement that I have joined.
Love you all.
What could possibly happen
if the Church made a decree
That no single mother
Would ever go hungry
That no little child
Would go unembraced
That the lowly would be educated
Through the struggles they face
What if the sinner was served
As if it were right
And, instead of spewing venom,
We prayed for their plight
What if our enemies
Were looked at with care
Could we really love them
Would we even dare?
What if we were given
Just one single day
What would we do
Would we give ourselves away
What about if…
We were given only two
Would we still set out
To please God in all we do?
What if all believers
Decided right now
That God’s work was too vital
To simply throw in the towel
I think I know the answer
I think it is clear
For His promises are sure
And can eradicate our fear
A revival would come
Like has never before
We would be the Church
And like Christ even more
So mobilize sleeping giant
It’s time to stand up and fight
We are the hope for the world
Serve others with all your might.