Lesson Time- He Used Their Memory

Check out the video for this week’s teaching! This is such an important concept to grasp.

www.youtube.com/watch

The Amazing Power of the Small Church in Times of Crisis

Since the genesis of the Christian church in the early 1st century, God has blessed the missional efforts of His people. In the last 2000 years, we have seen small, medium, and large congregations emerge as an expression of mutual care and corporate worship. Functionally, the Church has changed very little since these humble beginnings. Sure, technology and culture have helped to evolve discipleship methods but the basic staples of service, spiritual formation, and proclamation have stayed consistent These evolutions are needed, and should stay steady in anything we do as pastors and leaders. I however think that there have been some misunderstandings and false idols that have been constructed within the Church we have come to love.

The apostle Paul spoke of this mentality in a few of his letters to the relatively new Christian church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, for example, not only was he addressing basic doctrinal issues and Christian behavior, but he also touched on the concept of following leaders merely for their charisma. These teachers were great at their presentation, but the content pertaining to the sovereignty and work of Christ was blatantly false. These are things I have been reflecting on lately.

I have been thinking about what Paul would say about the world we are currently in as a Church. My guess is (taking clues from his writings) he wouldn’t concern himself much with the things we do as a Christian leadership culture. We spend a lot of time reading books, and going to conferences in order to learn from men and women who have built empires…and who no longer call themselves servants but “influencers”. I wonder what our beloved apostle would say about the Kingdom validity of a local congregation merely based on attendance and financial status. If Paul walked into a church and saw a bunch of people all carrying coffee in the same hand, wearing the same kind of scarves, with the same skin color, similar socio-economic backgrounds and a facility that is brand new and immaculate…I wonder what his observations would be. Just a thought… Nothing wrong with a new building, but often aesthetics becomes the focus.

There is something happening in our world currently that begs to be mentioned. In a time where churches have to be flexible and sustainable for the long term due to this pandemic, I actually believe smaller churches are best suited for this task. Small churches are nimbler in times of crisis and are set up better to take on the charge to intimately serve their neighbor. Megachurches are wonderful expressions of worship and programs…but I have felt burdened for the mere financial overhead of daily operations that exist. Especially in a context in which they are not having regular physical services for the purpose of safety. Also, I don’t want to be crass in the way that I say this…but there are churches out there who thrive on the addiction to their programs they have created in the community. I’m sure there is a better way to say that (and I will get reamed for it), but I am not sure how else to express the idea.

One of the largest misconceptions of the smaller church has to do with financial resources. The idea is, a small church can’t possibility be a valid expression of the kingdom of God unless money is pouring in and constant enthusiasm is being created. Pastor David Platt said it best when he observed, “The greatest hindrance to the advancement of the gospel may be our attempt to do the work of God apart from the power of God.” In this address he was saying that we have become really good at piling resources around us so that we are no longer in need of God’s intervention. We can even grow our churches through psychology, marketing, and manufactured excitement. Let’s look at Paul once again and his thought pattern evidenced in scripture. In many of his letters, Paul actually makes a plea to other churches to support the churches of lesser means. He even acknowledges the vitality of their work. This is counter-cultural to our Darwinian view of congregational support. So, let’s just agree that all sizes and financial statuses are valid. My purpose in these statements is not to “bash” or condemn larger churches…only to establish a respect for smaller ones.

Right now, we are seeing an amazing reawakening of the small church like never before. Leaders are coming up with new ideas on how to engage and serve their communities. Sure, many of these congregations don’t have the most polished or professional presentations, but why would that matter? I suppose that would only matter if we were trying to attract people to charisma or prowess. This is unbiblical, and we need to melt down that golden calf.

That’s my two cents.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

5 Possible Reasons Why Pastors Are Depressed

5 possible reasons

As I have become more experienced in pastoral ministry, I have developed theories pertaining to many different areas of the vocation. I have ideas about what motivates volunteers, how people best learn about God, what type of leaders are most compelling and many other things that relate. Like any other career or calling, there are still subjects that perplex me. These are things that I am not sure I can fully explain. I have found myself simply having to embrace my lack of understanding and trusting God for guidance.

We have all seen the news in recent months regarding pastors who have succumb to their depression. After these types of instances, rhetoric flies and everyone seems to have an opinion about the spiritual state of the individual, their eternal destiny, and what could have possibly prevented the horrible outcomes. By “horrible outcomes”, I am referring to everything from common (perhaps wrong word to use here) moral failure to taking their own life. Today, I am not writing this to even remotely attempt to dive into the subject listed above from a clinical perspective, but to simply propose some ideas as to why a pastor would begin to develop (circumstantially) a bitter or deeply discouraged attitude.

Disclaimer: I completely understand that all professions have difficult circumstances and stresses…but I can’t speak to those instances. This blog, also, will not pertain to every single pastor…and that’s okay. I can’t speak for everyone. I am not speaking about the chemical imbalance (chronic illness) of depression, but that which is caused by a constant emotional erosion.

Below are 5 Possible Reasons Why Pastors Are Depressed.

Lack of Friendships

No matter how friendly a congregation is, there seems to always be this “elephant in the room” concerning deep meaningful relationships. Many congregants have the idea in the back of their minds that pastors are temporary hired workers who do not need friendships to survive. They may not want to pursue relationships because of the belief that they are not going to be a part of the worship community long term. Pastors need friends…and, to be honest, pastor’s spouses are even more deeply affected in this way.

“We Need To Talk”

Pastors dread this email or text. When a church leader receives this, we already know what is coming. His means that the person who wants to set up a meeting is upset about the way things are going, or they are planning to leave the church. We completely understand that there are things to be changed, or that people are called to other churches, and that is largely okay, but there are not many times when a pastor is called to a meeting to simply exchange encouragement and support. It is normally all about business. Granted, sometimes it is necessary.

“Just Trust God For Your Provision”

I completely agree with this statement, and I think every Christian should maintain this belief. This phrase often emerges when a pastor’s compensation becomes a topic of conversation. The implication is, a pastor should not concern themselves with financial well-being because they have a higher calling that requires them to be willing to be sustained on faith day by day (which is true). For some reason, though, this seems to be an unwelcome conversation when the pastor is not the topic of discussion. For instance, if I were to say this phrase to someone with a Masters in Information Technology or a school teacher between jobs, I would be met with severe push back, and accused on insensitivity. Should pastors be “in it” for the money? Absolutely not. All I am saying is…don’t say this phrase to your pastor if you are not living it. Side note…pastors are often the poorest people in the congregations, and simultaneously the largest givers.  I’m not trying to sound arrogant. I am just being an advocate. And by the way…why is money such a sensitive subject for people? I digress…

The “Performance” Mentality

Pastors are not sales people. When they are called to ministry, there is no guarantee for a “return on investment”in a worldly sense. When God calls, the pastors obeys (at least I would hope so) and there is plenty of Biblical evidence showing that God often calls people into areas of service which may never yield an exciting result. Many churches use sales metrics to rate and measure the pastor’s performance, and sometimes they are even let go if they are not producing. Behind the scenes, this is a great burden for a minister who is simply called to care for, and challenge a flock they have been called to. Besides…the pastor should be training people to invite, evangelize, and to be a part of the mobilized force to help disciple. You can lead a horse to water, but… (you fill in the rest).

Pastors Are Not Allowed to Complain

I know this seems like an odd point, but hear me out. In every other area of life or profession, there is healthy room for venting or decompression. Often times, when a minister or church leader is struggling and needs to express what is on their heart for the purpose of catharsis, they are met with immense push back because God called them so they “shouldn’t be complaining and be so ungrateful”.  The fact is I am fully aware I am going to get a lot of flak for this post, but I feel like these things needed to be said for this very purpose. Pastors are afraid to say these things because of this exact brand of backlash. We also don’t want to harbor a victim mentality. Overall, this concept is very much connected to the friendship idea due to the fact that there are few people to be able to unload these concerns on.

I am not a mental health professional, so there is only so much I can say about root causes pertaining to deep discouragement in this way. I happen to be blessed with an uplifting and supportive community but these are things that I have heard from pastor friends and those I have coached that do not share my blessed privileges.

Pray for your pastor. They love you very much.

I love you too.

-Landon DeCrastos

A New Ministry Model

ministry modelWhether or not I have consciously realized it, I have been on a quest for over a decade to discover the perfect ministry model. In pastoral circles, we use the phrase “ministry model” to categorize a system of programs and ideas that lead the pastor on a trajectory of success in their respective calling.

In ministry, according to what most instructors, consultants, books and mentors tell us is that success in the role of a pastor has more to do with people accumulated under our scope of ministry than anything else. The bigger the church or program grows (in the shortest time possible), the more successful the ministry. In recent years, I have challenged leaders to redefine success as “a consistent and unwavering focus on God’s mission in the world.” So, in essence, I guess you could say that I am challenging our definition of success.

I know what you are thinking. I am a heretic when it comes to ministry preparation. I hear the justification all the time that the interaction of the Holy Spirit in the life of ministry automatically means exponential growth. “Biblically, anything that the Holy Spirit has [his] hand in grows quickly…” is a phrase or inference that is often conveyed. This, however, is actually not always true. When this justification is brought up, the mental image of the massive growth of the New Testament Pentecost event is visualized. The spiritual domino effect of this was mind boggling. In many people’s minds, when the Holy Spirit is unleashed and active, this is what happens. Things go crazy and, as scripture says “people are added to the group daily”. There is not much wrong with this thought process, but it doesn’t give a full look at a larger story. The fact is, when we truly look at scripture as a unified story, we realize that the Holy Spirit has initiated growth on many different levels and in many different ways. At times, we see the Holy Spirit’s transformative power in one on one interactions. Other times, we see power unleashed through the healing of a man or woman. In even more rare occasions, we see massive groups converted in bulk. Whatever the case may be, there is great evidence to suggest that God’s awesome power is not limited by our metrics, and He is creative. Keep in mind, Jesus’ ministry was not one based on rapid expansion but consistent commitment to His purpose on earth.

My heart has been heavy for a long time concerning ministry preparation. I feel like we, as a Christian culture, have adopted a “Henry Ford” model of education and training (assembly line). It seems as if pastors have stepped into a process in which they are given a “cookie cutter” system of practices and expectations to help them be successful in the task of attracting large crowds. In the same way, whether it is purposeful or not, we are being told that there are only certain personality mixes that are eligible for pastoral ministry. I will write about this concept in my next blog post.

I think we need to rethink the way we do ministry. Passing clergy through an assembly line of preparation is simply not Biblical. I also think we need to consider a new model of ministry. There are 3 things I think we need to emphasize in this new thrust (which is not new at all):

  1. Shepherd shaped development– Too often, we are calling a new minister to seek to be someone God has never called to them be. We think that, in the best case scenario, and if everything goes well, this pastor will become the local community celebrity and gain a massive following (as long as God “blesses” them). Instead, when a leader does not reach that expectation, they become frustrated and even question their ministerial call. What if we put more effort to teach new pastors to become a shepherd? The position of shepherd implies not only a mentality of guiding, but also sending. A shepherd will send the herd forward, and when they need it, come alongside and direct. When a pastor is shepherd, they dedicate themselves to a community, and they spend energy in making sure that each person is cared for, and loved. They develop trust and deeper concern. It is hard and messy. It is not easy. It will frustrate the leader. It is immensely worth the time.

  1. Pastor as Healer – Sometimes, as Christians, we get a wrong impression about the word “healing”. Perhaps we cringe or our mind drifts to televangelists who misunderstood the gifts of the Spirit. In this context, the word healer and soother could be interchangeable. The idea is that a leader can and should seek to be an influence that provides care, infuses peace, and speaks life into everyone they encounter. Also, the minister should develop a desire to see that other leaders are brought through rejuvenation.

  1. Minister as a trainer/ mentor – There is nothing more satisfying than to experience someone, that you have poured time and energy into, grow and take ownership of their own area of ministry. This person may have started out as skeptical about the Gospel, but now they are leading others to Jesus! This is energizing! Pastors across the board should be doing this. I know that many leaders would say that their role is to pour into a smaller group so that this small group can pour into the masses. This is absolutely true. This would be a great example of what this concept looks like in a larger ministry setting.

Let me be clear. I have nothing against the larger worship communities and I think that they can be incredible assets to the Kingdom of God. My problem is that we often expect every leader to look the same and we base success off of statistics and sometimes arbitrary metrics. I understand that many are only trying to harness these principles for efficiency…and many are doing this….but let’s not take these ideas and consider every other ministry arbitrary if they are not “falling in line”. Some leaders are gifted and called to lead smaller communities, and they should be encouraged, and equipped to develop passionate disciples in that context.

In my next blog post, I will speak about the personalities that make up a church and the internal wiring of a pastor. I think we are being told, as implied before, that only a certain type of person is a valid candidate for ministry. Spoiler alert: scripture counteracts this idea.

Love you all,

-Landon DeCrastos

3 Things All Pastors Should Know

3 Things All Pastors Should KnowOne of the most important lessons I have learned as a pastor is that I must always maintain a teachable spirit. Ministry can be stressful and require a lot of physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental energy so making a vow to humbly learn all one can is vital. I am, by no means, an expert in the area of ministry, but I have realized that there are things I didn’t necessarily learn in seminary.  I do believe that my schooling was very valuable and I would recommend it to any pastor I speak with, but there are just so many things that must be learned on the “field” that can’t be taught.

Today, I want to speak about 3 Things All Pastors Should Know.

Sometimes your ideas are not the best ideas– Often when a pastor enters into their ministry calling, they have big and beautiful ideas about the programs, sermons, partnerships, and impact they will have in their church or organization. These types of thoughts get them excited about the endless possibilities. Then, reality sets in and when the minister makes their attempt to change the world, discouragement comes because the people they are leading are not responding in the way they imagined. Sometimes, this makes church leaders frustrated and want to give up. The fact is, this realization does have to be a bad thing. Often times, the best thing that could happen in pastoral ministry is for the anointed leader to come to terms with the fact that they are not the most creative person in the church. Perhaps there are others that, if listened to, and given authority, can set the church up to fulfill the call that God has given them. Now, don’t get me wrong, the pastor is the person who articulates the agenda for the group they are shepherding, but don’t forget that there are others who are blessed with great talent and creativity. They can be a powerful force for ministry too.

Don’t make your ministry a career – My heart breaks when I see pastors moving from church to church in a relatively short amount of time. In a way, I get it. Sometimes one church is not a great fit and we make mistakes discerning where God wants us. The problem comes, though, when a minister is always in search of that next larger church as if it is some sort of “promotion”. When we do this, we start to look at people as a consumer good or inanimate object. We also begin to look at each spiritual interaction as a means to an end for our benefit. Pastor…YOU MUST STOP THIS! The people who are in front of you are hurting and need someone to lead them into their own Promised Land. You could be their Moses (well, technically Joshua but you get my point). Don’t leave your ministry until God calls you to do so. And, no, God’s only way of “calling you” is not through the avenue of more influence, comfort, and a higher salary. Snap out of it.

It’s okay to admit you are wrong – It is often tempting, as a pastor, to believe that the people who we lead in ministry think of us as flawless human beings who can do no wrong. This is obviously false. There are times when the pastor is wrong, and if they are stubborn about admitting this quickly then their influence will be tarnished. People want leaders who are transparent and who understand their pain. If their shepherd won’t admit and embrace their humanity then they become irrelevant. We don’t have all the answers and we can’t fix every problem. We can, however love people through their own mess.

I wish I would have learned a lot of these things earlier in ministry. I think it would make me a better leader today. It’s okay, though, because God is still using me and I am anxious to continue to grow.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

For the Love…

For the loveMy 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.

-Landon DeCrastos

Just One More

one moreI 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.

-Landon DeCrastos