If I were to be completely honest with you, I would say that this blog post is one of the hardest I have felt led to write. The reason is not because the topic is a difficult one to articulate or the fact that it is a particularly controversial stance on a “hot button” issue, but because of my heart attitude behind it.
As I get closer to Jesus, I have learned that God honors thoughtful response over angry outbursts. He values the offering of hope over a self-righteous decree of condemnation from my own personal soapbox. So, I want to write today out of love, grace, mercy, but firm resolve and I pray that God will be in my words. I want to talk about the concept of racism.
I sat in a big leather chair in front of a woman who had cried so much that I was afraid she would become dehydrated. He husband had cheated on her. The adultery was getting to be too common in their marriage, and after multiple transgressions, he once again told her it “would never happen again”. This woman was broken, angry, and had practically given up on long term joy in her life. My heart filled with my own brand of anger when she told me the lies that were told and the sins that were committed. The man that she was married to made her feel inferior. He made her believe things about herself that were not true. He made her think this was all her fault. On top of this, over the period of several years, he had made sure that she was removed from opportunities, relationships, more education and much of the outside world as a method of domination and control. She prayed that God would help her and He did. She divorced him and years later, she married the man of her dreams. She also forgave her ex-husband.
The problem is, I really want to hate this man. The carnal part of my human existence wants to show him how wrong he is, and make him pay. I know, however, that a life lived controlled by God’s spirit compels us to seek a much higher level of conduct.
You see, if Christ lives in a person, has complete control, and has forgiven them…it is really hard to go on living with hatred towards another human being. That doesn’t mean that the temptation is not there, but there is a power that is greater in you than that which is in the world.
Racism, at its core, is a systematic desire for a group or groups to express their perceived superiority over others. Often times they will single out a particular community, and do what they can to separate them from society, tell them lies, and openly display their hate for them. In essence, there is not much difference between an adulterer and a racist individual. With that being said, there is a part of me that wants to treat someone who is racist with the same contempt as I would the adulterer. I can’t though. I can’t because I have no idea what type of lies that person has been told throughout their life, and I have to believe in my heart that they are eligible for restoration and love as much as I am. If Jesus cannot heal them, then His death on the cross was a waste of time. Sin is sin.
This doesn’t make the whole issue any less frustrating though. I have heard people who wear gold crosses around their necks say the most awful things about people of different races. This is confusing for many reasons.
So, here is my overall thought. There is no such thing as a Christian racist. I say this, because I have heard people getting upset at the Church for racist acts they have seen in media outlets. And, there have been people who have displayed racism in their lives who claim to be believers. Let me make this very clear. Not disagreeing with the Bible, going to church on occasion, and being raised in a semi-religious home does not make someone a Christian. Nor does giving oneself the label of “good”. A Christian is someone who desires to be like Christ, associates themselves with His crucifixion and resurrection, allows God to transform them, allows the Holy Spirit to guide them, and who has accepted the forgiveness that Jesus offers; all while bearing the fruit of the Kingdom. So, there is no such thing as a “Christian racist”. It cannot exist. Christianity and racism are like oil and water. Sure, there are people who have accepted Christ and who have had to repent of old habits that have arisen temporarily, but that leads to deep grieving and change.
Jesus led by example, and when He wanted to emphasize a virtue, He displayed the virtue through His action. Look at the story of the Woman at the Well in John chapter 4. There were two main issues being addressed when we look deep into this story. The first issue was the sin (and thus the cure) in the life of the woman (who happened to be a Samaritan). Water was just the illustration. Jesus offered her a way out of her constant searching for love, fulfillment, and forgiveness. Jesus took care of all of that, and offered her abundance. The second issue pertained to race. This woman was astonished that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan, not to mention offering her something to drink. This was unheard of, because of the deep racial divide. In other areas of scripture, the implication is that even the disciples accepted this divide as common. Jesus shatters this mentality, loved this woman, and contradicted the culture.
Hope exists, because there is a God who fashioned all of us from the same dust. This same God declared that we were made in His image. This is a foundational belief in the Judeo-Christian world view. Hope comes from the fact that God forgives and transforms human hearts. He forgives.
The old me wants to hate people that are full of racism and hatred. I have realized that this type of hate is the same brand of hate as those wielded by racist individuals; only in different packaging.
So, a Christian, if guided by the Holy Spirit would spend more time serving, loving, giving, feeding, clothing, proclaiming truth, and praying than complaining and allowing anger to fester and grow. In fact, Jesus did his ministry in the shadow of pagan statues, unholy temples, and hateful hearts. His mind and heart were focused on the people, and He knew the only true kingdom was not this way.
The heart of the Christian is occupied and Jesus does not need a roommate. Hate does not fit.
As followers of Jesus we are called to speak out against hatred of every kind. We are also called to serve those who are not following God.
I end all my blogs the same way…but today I mean it more deeply than I have in the past. With a broken heart yearning for reconciliation, I say it once again…
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.
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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.
The book of Joshua records an incredible story about God’s people during a time in which the odds were against them. Joshua, who took over for Moses to bring people into the Promised Land, led the Hebrews to Jericho; a massively fortified city that was nearly indestructible. With a very low population of nervous people who believed God could do anything, they were able to make the walls of Jericho fall. Somehow, they won the battle. This didn’t happen because of their might, but because of God’s provision and protection.
In the book of Judges we find one of God’s anointed Judges, Gideon, who many would say lacked confidence and charisma, but still believed God was supremely powerful. God tells Gideon that the vast Midianite army will fall to a militia that Gideon is going to lead. Many scholars say that there were over 100,000 soldiers on the Midianite’s side, and through a series of events, God tells Gideon to send most of his troops home. He sends so many home, in fact, that Gideon is left with 300 people. This is certainly not enough to get the job done.
Fast forward: Gideon’s band of 300 easily destroys their foe.
In the book of Luke, Jesus sends out 72 of His followers to different towns for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. This relatively small group of people expend their energy and resources to make sure the good news of Jesus is spread throughout the land. These followers come back testifying of great victories and entire households being converted to faith in God. Once again, a miracle happens through faith and obedience.
In all of these cases, we see that a relatively small group of people were able to exercise their faith in God and He blessed them with disproportional abundance and victory.
There is an interesting trend that has arisen in Christian culture. Larger churches are attracting people by the hundreds and sometimes even thousands. These megachurches, in many cases, have filled a need for a community who has seen dwindling church participation over the years, and the greatest contribution they have given, in my opinion, is the participation in areas of ministry from people that were once estranged from the church.
Big churches are exciting. Many have great music, excellent preachers, and elaborate programs that keep people busy around the clock. There always seems to be something going on and people get energized when a new initiative or series is introduced.
In this context, it is easy to forget the vital importance of the small church.
The healthy small church provides a needed service to the community that larger churches cannot easily fill. In a lot of instances, Christians will see exciting things happening in a large church and their attraction to the excitement becomes intoxicating.
It’s hard to not be drawn in when these churches create an assembly line of spiritual cheerleaders who market the church every chance they get by their actions, logo wear, insider language, and testimonies of God’s work through the ministry. Big churches are great for the most part, but sometimes people do not see how the smaller church can possibly fit in the local community like a piece of the puzzle.
The healthy small church does great when it comes to getting people involved in ministry, corporate accountability, developing deep life-long relationships, and creating an atmosphere of extended family.
The common misconception is that a small church is the size it is due to failed leadership, or some catastrophic event that split the membership. In some cases this can be true, but in most cases it is not. From my experience as a pastor of a smaller church, I have noticed that there are instances in which people are getting involved in leadership in areas where they would not be able to plug into in a larger setting.
Often, for instance, in music ministry, the larger church looks for those gifted on a professional level. A small church looks for those willing and with the talent and call to participate. A person of average leadership abilities can become a leader in a small church for the purpose of sharpening their skills and growing into their call.
There are unhealthy small churches just like there are unhealthy large ones. As implied, the inverse is also true. Healthy large congregations are ones that are not interested in simply getting bigger, but multiply with purpose through smaller works.
Congregations of all sizes are needed. If you are not a part of a church, consider trying out a small church with passion and a heart for Jesus. You may need what it has to offer. With that said, don’t just look at your “church search” with a consumer mentality of what it can offer you, but truly pray about how you can get plugged into the kingdom of God and use your gifts to serve the world.
Love you all.