It can be so hard
Waiting in my boat
Being tossed by the waves
Barely able to float
The thunder roars
And the winds overwhelm
My fear overrides
With no captain at the helm
Suddenly I remembered
At the apex of my fright
I am supposed to live by truth
And not by sight
As a child of God
I learned to obey
And anticipate miracles
When I fervently pray
So I will bow my head
And do more than survive
With trust in my heart
As long as I am live
I make the choice today
To not worry about my strife
And live every day in faith
Despite what happens in life.
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.
As I write this today, I am sitting outside enjoying the afternoon breeze. The sun is shining, the grass is green, and the gentleman no more than 15 feet away from me puffs nervously on his cigarette. His vice is one that I can not rightly pass judgement on because I imagine people look at me the same way when I am at my prime at a local all-you-can-eat Asian food establishment. I have learned to understand that whatever we consider an idol involves an attitude of sin. Sin that separates us from God. Regardless, I am still enjoying the beautiful flowers. They are perfect.
Jesus talks about sinners in scripture. Many times in fact. He doesn’t condone it. Quite the opposite actually. Often, when He approaches those in sin, Jesus takes it much more seriously than I do. In the “Parable of the Weeds” He compares those living in sin as figurative weeds in a garden or a pasture. Jesus says that God will not remove the “weeds” because this would have negative consequences for the “good plants”. So, when reading that throughout my life, I have always been on alert. “Weeds (sinners) are all around me…I need to be on guard”, I have always thought. For a long time, I developed an attitude of defense when it came to these dangerous sinners. The idea was that I should not get too close or the evil darkness of their hearts will infect my pure, innocent soul.
I thought this until my brother taught me a little about landscaping. My interpretation expanded a bit. He taught me something he did not intend to be spiritual, but now guides my ministry thought process. It also gave me deep insight on the parable mentioned above.
My brother owns a small farm and understanding the needs of the land is a massive passion of his. He raises chickens, grows vegetables, and takes pleasure in God’s creation. Every time I visit the farm, we walk together and talk about things like ministry, work, and parenting. A few weeks ago, I presented him with a question I had been saving up for a few weeks. The question had to do with how to get rid of the ugly weeds in my front yard. So, I asked. The answer somewhat surprised me.
“Don’t be mad at the weeds”, he said. “The presence of weeds simply tells you what the greatest need is.” I stared at him with a puzzling look. He knew I didn’t understand so he expounded. “When you have weeds in your yard, many times it means there is some nutrient that is lacking…the weeds tell you your needs.” He went on to describe scenerios pertaining to more and less nitrogen, chemical balance, and other things that brought about certain families of pesky flora. I learned more than I cared to know in that instance. At the time, I really didn’t want a long explanation…I just wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to avoid them.
When we read the “Parable of the Weeds” in scripture and we begin to think of “weeds equal bad” and “no weeds equal good” I think we miss the point. The presence of weeds tell us the needs. So, we can think of it this way…God calls us to look at the sinners around us through His eyes. These are people with needs. Not just stubborn folks with no moral compass and lacking in wisdom. The need is food. The need is relationships. The need is healing and hope. The need is Jesus. How can we really judge, when God is trying to open our eyes to the great need?
Pray for God’s eyes today. Let’s attack sin.
It was 101 degrees and the building had no air conditioning. Instead, the attempted remedy for this minor inconvenience was one that would not have been my first choice. Those in charge decided to open every door leading to the outside so that the wind could circulate around the room. It didn’t work. I was sweaty, tired, and somewhat hungry.
I was a teenager on a mission trip in the middle of a Navajo reservation, so I decided to take these discomforts in stride and accept the experience for what it was. It was different…and it was their way of doing things.
First…a little background: I was raised in an amazing church. One that was (and still is) known for its thriving ministries, wonderful preaching, and inspiring music. Everything was polished and perfect. No distractions other than the occasional baby crying, but no one minds for the most part. People lined the altars on a regular basis to give their heart to the Lord, and no one doubted the anointing in that place. You could (and still can) feel the Holy Spirit thick and active in that place. I have become accustomed to a certain type of experience.
The church I was sitting in on this particular Sunday morning was different. The moment I sat down, I was uncomfortable. Hot. Sticky. Tired. We were there early, so not many had arrived. To be honest, I really wanted to go to a big church; one with better programs, great music, and a dynamic preacher. I suppose, however it was only one Sunday morning, so I could survive this little church (that could only seat about 40-50 people at the most) for one Sunday.
Ten minutes before the church service started, a few more people trickled into the tiny worship space. It wasn’t until about 2 minutes before the beginning that, we as a group of teenagers, got to see the true commitment of the worshippers dedicated to that church. We saw it alright. A space that would feel full with 50 people sitting in it was packed with over 100 attendees. People were on the floor, sitting on the back benches, and standing in the doorways. There were people everywhere.
The pastor walked up to a podium. He looked like what Colonel Sanders would look like if KFC were a biker club. What he said next blew my mind (because there were so many people there)…He looked to the left and the right and asked if anyone knew how to play the piano. They needed a piano player to play the hymns for the day. One of our teens knew how to peck out a few tunes and had taken some lessons, so she was the one chosen. No other musicians were in attendance. The songs were old too…really old, but the members sang at the top of their lungs. Our poor piano player tried to keep up.
The offering plate was passed, the announcements were made, and pastor prayed a prayer. He then stood up to preach, but was less seasoned in the art of preaching than I had hoped. I started to grade his performance and delivery. Meanwhile, I couldn’t hear some of the message because so many were “amen-ing” every word he said. It was bizarre. This one room church, that could not hold many people, was overflowing with people eager to experience the love of God through worship. Then, something even more powerful happened. The pastor called the congregation to a special time of prayer. This was a time of requests, confession, and praise. The power was palpable. There were some on their knees. Others were sitting with their head bowed. A few were standing while holding their fussy babies. All were praying out loud.
At the time, my mind could not compute what I was experiencing. The music was not planned out well, the preaching was not amazing, kids were running in and out of the sanctuary, and the building was unattractive. In fact, the sign in front of the church was old and rusted so you know that this church was not heavy into marketing. There were other churches in town, too.
I realized the presence of God does not favor the polished, put together, and the talented. The presence of God favors (for lack of a better word) things like desperation, desire, and dedication.
That small, Navajo church taught me something I have never learned in any church growth book. God must be present if real impacting growth is to happen. As a pastor, I can manufacture excitement, and manipulate people to fill the seats in many different ways. I have studied enough psychology. What church, though is really worth being at if God’s spirit is not there? There must be power.
That day changed the way I look at church. It is not about an incredible experience or impressive marketing campaign. If God is real, then he can take the preparation that we are able to give, the heart we sacrifice, and the attitude that we offer, and use that to change hearts. His spirit works.
Love you all.
A couple screams at each other with words that are sharper than any battle sword. Friendships and familial ties are broken because tension pulls them apart. If we were to be brutally honest, we would openly admit that relationships in any context are sometimes extremely difficult to maintain. We see this proven practically by the concept of divorce, legal actions, and passive aggressive social media comments indirectly directed at that one person who has caused grief in someone’s life.
These interactions take work, and to keep a steady and healthy disposition means that I must have “skin in the game” emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and even physically. Even though this is true, it does not negate the fact that I (we) often succumb to the temptation to control the world around us. The desire to will things to be different. Our innate sense of self sufficiency takes over and we desire to become kings and queens of our immediate surroundings.
When we are in conflict, we often wish that we can force the other person or situation to change. Why is this? Well, probably because we, as flawed humans, have a natural aversion to the idea that we may be part of the problem. In any case, we desire change, but it is hard to desire change within us. Obviously, we can agree that this is unhealthy.
There is a healthy side to this desire, though. If we, as Christ-followers, observe people who are living in a captivity of their own design, then there should be a deep desire to see them transformed by the gospel. Or, maybe someone is far away from God, and they have seen nothing but hostility and perceived hatred from those who claim Christ as their savior. Like any other similar impulse, we want to be the hero that changes these individuals. That way, we can stand in front of God in the afterlife and be showered with praise for a job well done. Our crown, gleaming with prizes.
No matter how hard we try, we can’t change the hearts of anyone. No amount of arguing, stubbornness, convincing, or even manipulation can redirect their hearts and eternal destiny. So stop trying. When we look at this from a broad perspective, it is easy to become discouraged. We may think that we have failed at our life’s calling. This is not true. There is more to consider.
When we look at scripture, and what Jesus teaches us about being His disciple, we realize that we are still vitally important in the rescuing of lost souls. This is because there are only 2 things we can change about people. That is… 1) what they hear from our lips, and 2) what they see in our actions.
It starts with us. We must be the example. Share joy today.
The conversation started after a few attempts of trying to reach my brother. My parents also tried, and were already stressed because of the circumstance we all now found ourselves in. We knew we were never going to go about life as usual. Nothing was going to be the same.
Finally, my brother picked up the phone.
Me: We have been trying to call you…Papaw didn’t wake up this morning. He is gone. Mom and Dad just told me. I can’t believe he is gone.
Rick: What?! How? What happened?
Me: He went to sleep last night and he didn’t wake up.
Rick: (long pause) Ok…..yeah…..ok….yeah…You know. I have peace. I have peace about this…it’s all going to be okay. So, he died last night..as in Saturday night?
Me: Yeah…awesome huh? I think he knew the whole time. He has known for a while.
Rick: Yeah…it’s exactly what he wanted. He always wanted to go in his sleep and wake up in Heaven in time to sing in the choir.
The difficult conversation was followed by laughter and rejoicing. We had just lost a giant of a human being. He was a man who walked with Jesus daily and did not compromise his faith for any earthly comfort. Jesus was more than a storybook character to him. Jesus was friend, confidant, brother, teacher, master, and king. Jesus was everything.
If you have ever know someone who can be described this way, you can understand our reaction to Papaw’s death. While it was devastating that he was gone, our hearts were full of gladness and a sense of worship. It was a sad day, but a glorious one.
We felt a loss in our hearts, but it was a different loss than we have ever felt. The pain felt like one that a person would feel when sending a loved one to deployment (obviously multiplied). We knew we would see him again and could picture him dancing, eating, and rejoicing.
It was hard to explain it to my son. “Great Papaw go?” (translated: Where did Great Papaw go?) was a question we would hear often. So, we told him the truth. Papaw went to live with Jesus. We won’t see him anymore, but he is very happy. You can imagine the rest.
What is the point of this story? Well, when a person has lived a faithful life, centered in Jesus then death is simply a right of passage. While sadness, and grief is natural and healthy, there must be acknowledgment that the ultimate mission of the individual was achieved.
I want that. When I finally leave, I want people to laugh and be inspired to dedicate their lives to that which they may have once considered a hobby. Jesus is all.
Papaw left a void that no one will fill…and that’s okay. It was for a great cause. Do I think he is looking down on me right now, smiling? Um…I am not sure. He is probably too busy serving God, singing, and doing the work he was made to do. Worship.
I thank God that I had him as one of many examples.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I present to you
A very sad story
Every word of it is true
The tale I am about to tell
Comes as a surprise
A narrative of a sad little bird
Who, in the end…dies
I may have given the last chapter away
Perhaps you think it ended too fast
Hold on, though, because I assure you
The lesson has not yet passed
Consider this tiny store bought bird
To expound, let’s call him Pete
Wings clipped and caged up
He was a domestic parakeet
Pete could see out of his cage
He admired the owner’s wares
He saw fancy linens displayed around
He admired the wood-carved chairs
There was something he longed to touch
He imagined himself having fun
A bright red ball, inviting him to play
Shiny and glistening in the sun
The temptation took over his mind
So much, that he thought of a plan
One day, he would escape his cage
and take the ball before he ran
The day had come when he chose
To make his final run
He knew he could open his cage
His operation would soon be done
Little did he know his wings grew back
He found out he could soar
But, he so desperately wanted that ball
And now free, even more.
He approached the ball slowly
But had a horrible surprise
The ball was too heavy
To lift it into the skies
So, not wanting to let go
Pete played with his toy
Until the family cat came by
and stole the little bird’s joy
It was fun while it lasted
But temptation took his soul
Little Pete died that day
And ended his lifelong goal
Pete could have flown away
And chosen to be free
Instead he was devoured by the cat
Without a last wish or plea
So when you are caught
Not knowing where to turn
Remember this bird
And the lesson he should have learned.
One day the choice will be in your hands
And the temporal will look so great
Simply choose life over death
Fly to freedom. Don’t take the bait.
– Landon DeCrastos