The Gospel According to My Brother (Repost)

TaraxacumOfficinaleSeedAs 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.

-Landon DeCrastos

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The Navajo Way: What Really Grows Churches

The Navajo Way- What Really Grows Churches.

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.

-Landon DeCrastos

6 Things I Wish Pastors Understood (Including Me)

clergyunderstoodI can only imagine that many of you veteran pastors out there are opening this blog post to read it, and you are thinking, “Hey…wait a minute…you are a young pastor. How are you qualified to say any of this?” You are probably right, but these are things that I have observed as I have seen pastors at work, and as God has guided me through His word. I think many pastors can relate to the following thoughts as well as those who consider themselves Christ-followers. More than anything else, I hope young pastors who have not yet stepped into professional/ vocational ministry will read this and prevent their hearts from being overtaken by these ideas.

When I entered formal ministry, I made sure to read the full content of dozens of books, and I even read the back synopsis of many more (oh c’mon pastor…you have done the same thing) and assumed I knew the gist of them. Pastors, by nature are lifelong learners and students of God’s word as we all should be, but I wish I would have known a few more things before entering ministry. I know others should know these things too. I say these things because I observe so many pastors that fall into the same habits and thought processes as their collegues. These thought processes seem like a great idea, or are very convincing, but I think we began to lose the point of who we are supposed to be…

So, here are 6 Things I Wish Pastors Understood (Including Me).

1. It’s okay not to have all the answers– It is true that pastors are designed and called to be resident theologians. They study for many years, and read many books to understand scripture better so they can be a resource for their congregations. Sometimes, it is okay to be stumped. You are human, and it is okay to admit you do not have the answers…but you know where to get them. God’s word is a living organism, and the people who seek you for advice or thoughts will respect you if you give time to research specifically regarding their inquiry.

2. You are not as hip as you think– So you just got a new tattoo, you are not afraid to say a curse word from time to time, and you are lenient on social drinking? Bravo pastor, you are as cool and hip as they come! Ok…so I do not know many pastors that are setting the standards for “coolness” in our society, but there are so many that try. You do not have to be hip…you just have to be there. No, not one just preaches on Sunday morning, but a person who desires to sit with, and comfort those who are away from God or even those who know Him…those that are broken. We are in the mending business. God can use you even if you do not have a v-neck tshirt and frequent coffee shops.

3. You are not as lame as you think– Many pastors can relate to this one. If you are like me, you find yourself accepting the negative self talk that you are not relevant and that people are looking for someone more exciting. You are called to be obedient, and attentive to the Holy Spirit. It’s great to feel young and vital, but if God has called you to ministry, you can guarantee that He will resource you with the skills needed to get the job done. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking no one will listen, because God can open ears, hearts, and minds.

4. God has better ideas than you– You have so many good ideas and your church marketing pieces are beautiful. I get so excited and pumped up when I am listening to your church’s music, and when I watch all of the clever videos you make. Is this what ministry has come to though? All of our time (and I am now speaking to me) is now caught up in things that give glory to us, and our creativity, than the pure word of God? I will let you wrestle with that one…because I am still struggling with it.

5. Put down the leadership book for a minute– You have read every book that has the word “leader” in it and you perhaps have given leadership workshops. Excellent! Now…slowly put the book down and look around you. Imagine people that are lined up in front of you and all they need is an infusion of hope that will get them through until tomorrow. Granted, we all know that they need to know Christ more and grow in Him…but take a little time to listen. Oh…and grab a bucket. One of the kids just threw up in the nursery. Books are vital, but being a servant should be your first posture.

6. Your role matters– Whether you believe it or not, the art of pastoring is not going anywhere. What is looks like in a practical sense may change drastically over the next several years, but there will always be people that are called to lead, guide, and shepherd. Not a CEO of an organization. A pastor. One who hurts with people, prays for them, and has the resources to be ready for the collapse of society. A person who is not a politically driving mastermind, but a prophetic voice to the culture.

Pastor, you matter, and we are called together to storm Hell. Thank you for being my coworker…now let’s get back to work.

-Landon DeCrastos

4 Ways The Church Has Misguided America

misguidedIf there is one thing I can’t stand it is pastors or theologians who spend most of the time bashing the church and telling us all the things we are doing wrong. On one hand, I understand that there needs to be a firm, prophetic voice that arises from time to time to get the bride of Christ back on track. This should not be news to anyone. There are some, however that are just plain (for a lack of a better word) grouchy about every square inch of what the church takes part in. Brothers and sisters, I hope you do not think this is me, and you realize that I love being a pastor, and wouldn’t trade my calling for anything. As many pastors, much smarter than me, have reiterated, “the Church is God’s plan to convey the Gospel to the world…there is no plan B.” So, I hope today’s post helps us to think, and perhaps stretch ourselves a little.

I have preached the cliche’ message over and over. You know, the message that the Church is supposed to influence the culture and not the other way around. This is true…unless we start to see things like laziness, fear, and insecurity as default postures of the Church. Then, our influence will naturally be human-driven instead of Spirit- empowered/ resourced. Ok Landon, get on with it…tell us why deserve Hell. Ohh….alright….

I think there are 4 evidences that we see in the Church that suggest we are misguiding America (or even the world):

1. More people are moving from church to church– There are many reasons why someone leaves a church and moves to another one. Many of these are completely understandable, and in some cases I would even advise this way. For instance, if a pastor is not preaching with scriptural integrity, or if there is a catastrophic immoral system that has taken over the church…then you need to run for the exit. There are many who leave because the church is not big enough, they don’t like the music, someone has hurt their feelings, or there is something “better” going on somewhere else. People are moving churches, in our culture, at a rapid pace. Here is the truth…we as pastors have conditioned the world to do this very thing. We rarely preach anything that is challenging for fear of offense, we try to tip-toe around conflict, and we abandon deep discipleship for a community carnival (hoping more butts will plop themselves in our seats). Church…stop blaming the world…we have trained them this way. We do this because we are afraid that God will not come through and draw people to Himself. We are also a little afraid to step outside of our beautiful walls to meet people where they are at. People are dying just beyond our reach while we are bickering about the color of the new carpet.

2. People think the church is all about money– Sometimes…the Church talks a lot about money. This subject is something that MUST be talked about by pastors. The problem is, we are training our congregation in a terrible way. We  convey that it is only important to talk about money when we really, really, really need it….OR…when the children’s department wants a new swingset…OR…(fill in the blank). Then, people start to sense that the church leadership is terribly afraid that they will run out of money to pay the bills, and money towards things like church planting, outreach, and that which can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit is abandoned. Pastors…listen up for a minute. How are we supposed to ask our people to give sacrificially, when the Church is not extravagantly generous? Christians…now you listen up. Giving shows us that God can supply, and it gives us freedom. Just give. I don’t need a good argument for this…God wants you to, and wants to show you what He can do through this discipline. Do it.

3. Churches have abandoned simplicity– In our attempt to become bigger, better, and more attractive the Church has lost so much. When I started the process of planting a new church several years ago there was one question that other pastors would ask me. The prevalent question was, “what will set your church apart from others and make it unique.” Every time this was asked I had the same response, “I hope nothing.” Crazy, huh? Aren’t churches supposed to be competitive and offer something different, unique, and fantastic? Nope. The way I read scripture, we are supposed to lift up the name of Christ, and serve our communities with no guarantee of anyone coming to our worship services. Outreach is not a marketing scheme (a bait and switch tactic if you will) but a truly authentic way to connect with God through obedience. God will bring people to us, and of course marketing is not evil, but we are not trying to “attract” people with elaborateness or complexity. The time period in which we meet for worship is a celebration and a way to connect. I think we fall away from the simplicity of the message because we are scared that no one will listen unless the message is really sexy.

4. Churches have abandoned the analogy of war– Sometimes we forget that the Christian life is less about avoiding Hell and more about attacking it. Attacking it with passion and intensity. We see this principle explained so many times in the Bible, but we ignore it because it makes us uncomfortable. Death, bloodshed, and a spiritual conflict are the point…Jesus didn’t save us by befriending everyone and networking to the best of His ability. He died. Brutally, I might add. Now, don’t get me wrong. We cannot neglect the more seemingly tame side of the Christian life…the one that desires that all life would be preserved and that good morality would flourish. I just hear so much preaching that centers around warm fuzzies and everyone getting along instead of pointing out the true battle before us.

Like mentioned in the first section of this post, the Church is the bride of Christ, and the last thing we need to do is whip it senselessly with knowledge of its flaws. I just think that we could be more…we could do more. We have a vital message to convey and I just don’t want anything to cloud it up. The world needs us to stay faithful.

Stay hungry. Stay faithful. Stay His.

-Landon DeCrastos

Here I am (Monday Musings)

monday

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

Isaiah 6:1-8 brings up questions that are hard to avoid. First, what about this vision created a desire in Isaiah’s heart to serve God no matter what the circumstance? Next, what kind of resources was God going to supply Isaiah to accomplish this task?

Isaiah was commissioned to go to the people of Israel and preach a message of coming destruction and the hope and deliverance found through repentance. In a time when idolatry was rampant, and people began to forget about God’s faithfulness, this people group became content with the way things were. A captivity defined by self reliance and purposeless living.

Isaiah had a close relationship with God, and heard from Him regularly. He was not perfect, but God set him aside for a special purpose…to lead the children of God back to Him.

This passage shows us that God gave Isaiah the awesome opportunity to pull back the spiritual curtain and get a glimpse of the business of Heaven. Part of the business of Heaven is what happened to Isaiah…he was forgiven and purified of sin. His repentence and recognition of his depravity led to n authentic transformation. This transformation changed him so drastically that his passion for God to transformed others naturally followed.

What did God give Isaiah to accomplish this task? He gave His servant direct access to Him at all times. God gave Him a dynamic relationship that fanned the flame of love and compassion for his people. We have this same resource available to us.

If you have been changed by God, what does that transformation mean for you? Is it simply a ticket into an elite group of believers? Or, is it the fuel and animates the engine of service. We will please God if our Christian living is resourced by our relationship with the Creator. Do you have the courage to be open to God’s leading no matter the possible outcome?

Keep loving. Keep living. Keep growing.

-Landon DeCrastos

What Does God Think?

What does God think when He looks down?

When He observes our cities; when He sees our towns?

Does He see the sick, the dying, the weak?

Does the outlook, to Him, look fairly bleak?

Does He see the children; who struggle for food?

Does He hear the the parent whose actions are crude?

Could it be that what He sees

Is the exact opposite of what we percieve

While we spend so much time in fear

He displays His power when He is near

Could it be that this is all explained

By human sin and resulting pain?

This is easy enough to say

But, why does it have to be this way?

The good news is easily defined

as the majesty that flows from God’s mind

Christ’s saving grace and death on the cross

can redeem a man’s soul; can save the lost.

What if…and this is not a stretch…

souls are what Jesus came to fetch

The answer is God’s presence;  that will make us free

If we trust in His son and fall on our knees.

So, what does God think when He looks from above?

He probably thinks of what else He can do to show His love

-Landon DeCrastos

Avoiding Alligators

balanceYou played the game too when you were a kid. It was a terrifying game with fatal consequences. If you lost focus even for a split second then you were doomed. It is hard to imagine that we played games with such a high risk factor.

The game is simply explained. Walk and maintain your balance on a narrow beam, or appropriately placed landscaping without falling to your doom into the (gulp) alligators below. Some kids replace alligators with lava for increased difficulty.

In all honesty we adults know that the consequences were mere figments of our imagination. We certainly acted as if they were real….doing everything possible to not fall. It definitely required focus.

There are things we encounter daily that are distractions to us. Even the word “distraction” doesn’t really do them justice. These are things that, if we were to lose focus, we could fall. The long term consequences could be a negatively redirected life.

When we think about our faith life it is obvious that we cannot afford to lose focus. Our desire to know God more, and serve those around us is vital. The fact is, though, there are sometimes when we try to show off, get distracted or give up altogether. Many times we even discount the reality of our faith. This makes us fall. The good news (aptly named) is that grace puts us back on track. God’s grace gives us chances that we don’t deserve using resources we have no business taping into. For some reason, that still can’t be explain, He desires for us to access this gift.

Today, don’t lose heart….lean on grace and regain focus.

-Landon DeCrastos

Assembly Lines

lineHenry Ford was a genius in his time. He had the ability to maximize efficiency through the use of the assembly line in the production of consumer vehicles. He was able to employ a lot of people and the number of cars that came out of the factory was staggering…unheard of in that day.

His idea was simple. If each person was trained to do one thing that contributed to the whole, then each person could perfect their seemingly mundane skill. If you would have been an autoworker in the early 1900’s you may have had times in which your skill would have seemed meaningless to you. Perhaps you would only install headlights or tighten a bolt, but if you were sick one day, the work would not get done, and production would slow down. Each worker was extremely valuable.

So, let’s say that a particular factory produced 100,000 cars in a year. This would have been impressive in the early days, but what if none of these cars had actually left the factory? The skills of the workers would have been wasted, and the workspace would have been cluttered. The company would need to build bigger warehouses to store all of the cars being produced and eventually the corporation would dissolve due to the fact that the product never left the building.

My point? The Church must do more than just sit in the pews and soak up information. God has given every believer special abilities and the mere act of worship is meant to not only praise God but to infuse passion for His work into His creation.

Religious assemblies should translate into efficient assembly lines.

Get out of the factory and bring the gospel to the world.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Truth About My Church (and others)

churchCurrently, the church I pastor is seeing more and more new people each week in our worship service. On a personal note, I have been incredibly encouraged concerning the growth I am seeing and the excitement on a weekly basis. Some people have approached me after a short time of attending and have sought to become more involved in the church. This is also great!

As I have reflected on this in the last few days, I have felt the need to tell people what they should expect when joining my church. The following are the 7 things that you should expect when taking the step to become a leader or generally involved in this worship community….these things are universal and can be applied to any other church.

1. Someone will eventually hurt your feelings….Someone is going to say something to you, or step on your toes, or even blurt something out randomly that will offend you.

2. You will encounter hypocrites. Churches are full of them and many are leaving the church for this reason…..grocery stores, civic groups, concerts, political groups, bus stops, restaurants, parking lots, hospitals, call centers, parties, and family reunions are also full of hypocrites….good luck avoiding those too.

3. Someone in my church will annoy you. Fact: everyone has an annoying side.

4. My message will not make sense to you on occasion. That’s okay…perhaps God will use it in your life later.

5. The music may not connect with you this Sunday. That’s okay….perhaps God will use it in your life later.

6. There will be discouraging times in our church. You can bet on this…..we are a church full of people with problems and regular discouragements. It just makes sense that a group of people would reflect this….

7.  Church will be boring at times. ….umm……..I got nothing. Sorry.

Overall, the church is not only a family but it is a redemptive and purpose-oriented community. Due to the fact that it is filled with people, not everything is going to be perfect. When we are interacting with people with wounds, hang ups, and brokenness we have to understand that grace is not just something for people on the outside but we are the prototype before distribution.

Redemptive communities require imperfection to participate.

-Landon DeCrastos

Pastor as Spiritual Dictator

tank“Pastor, I just got off the phone with Jim and he said that he wasn’t going to come to church on Sunday because he is going to a party on Saturday night. You need to preach about commitment and the importance of church.” As a pastor, this is actually a conversation I have had…well some small details were changed to protect the innocent, and to keep the guilty from getting mad.

This short conversation brings up a great set of questions. Should the pastor choose sermon topics based on what he/ she finds irritating? Admittedly, it does irritate pastors when the subject they give their lives for is given a very low priority to other people. This is true in all other “industries” as well though. I may not be a fan of animals, but there are people in this world who dedicate their lives to fighting animal cruelty and pet adoption. Also, should pastors be the spiritual police of their congregations?

Many people have the view that pastors preach based on the counseling sessions or conflicts they have had with members earlier that week…or it could be a passive-aggressive way of calling someone out on their behavior (that’s what blogs are for). The art of proclamation of the gospel is far too valuable for actions such as this.

Pastors do not (should not) use the pulpit as a time of corporate police action or venting about irritation. A pastor should not be looked at as the “King/ Queen of the church” and preaching, their decrees. Pastors, who are called by God to proclaim the Gospel, are to teach Christ crucified, and every known variation of that subject and its implications. The pastor can never run out of material with this as their guide.

Now, pastors are called to address cultural issues and lead people in the direction of abundant life…but we are not the gatekeepers of salvation.

Far too many pastors are looked at as spiritual dictators. We live for Christ…because He died for us. We don’t toe the line so that we stay in the pastor’s good graces.

-Landon DeCrastos