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.
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.
Teamwork makes the dream work. This is a phrase that is passed around in many circles and I have heard it used to bring light to dark situations. It is an interesting concept. The idea of becoming partners with a group for the common purpose of meeting measurable goals is something that is appealing to most. I have always valued being a part of something bigger than myself and joining with others to collectively pursue a mission. I know that I do not have all of the answers, nor do I think that my way is the best way.
I have had the opportunity, in my experience as a pastor, to talk with many pastors and church leaders from around the world. Many have shared my theological tradition and many have not. One conversation I have engaged in during my ministry with these leaders relates to the topic of Christian denominations. When speaking about this subject, it is quickly apparent that a large number of people are against the idea. The nondenominational movement is something that has gained great steam in the last several years. Church goers cite many reasons for leaving denominations and pursuing a worship community unaffiliated with a larger movement.
Personally, I am thankful that people have chosen a church to attend, so the point of this blog is not to downplay the value of the nondenominational church, because these churches are still a part of the global body of Christ and do great good. I am simply writing this to explain my view as to why I have chosen a larger movement to align myself with.
In my recent past, I have volunteered with a missions organization that has no main parent church affiliation. This ministry has established schools, orphanages, churches, food pantries and pastoral training centers around the world. They have an incredible network of churches that have bought into the vision of the organization and support it with volunteer help and financial support. People are being introduced to Jesus in large numbers because of these partnerships. They have seen success in their work because they have churches that share the passion that they display. This network functions as a denomination in their web of partnerships.
When I think about this nonaffiliated entity, my mind wanders to those who are against denominational entities. Why is this?
I get it. Sometimes it can be frustrating when the general leadership of a certain denomination sends down a decree (for lack of a better term) that sometimes doesn’t fit into the cultural context of a local community. Perhaps, even, a person may discover theological differences that don’t line up with their system of beliefs. But, in my conversations with leaders that have left denominations to pursue independence, the desire to be autonomous was the overriding factor in their decision making process.
A Christian denomination is simply a missional organization with affiliated churches. These churches share a theological identity that is not mandated, but that is shared due to common purpose and passion. In the same way, we see a fast growing movement of nonaffiliated churches that long to be connected in partnership with a missional entity. As a pastor, there is something initially attractive about being disconnected from “outside” accountability. The fact is, this mentality can’t be sustained for very long, because eventually the craving for extended community is realized.
I am a part of something larger and I have learned that I do not have all of the answers. I need my brothers and sisters who are partnering with me to help convey the message that God has given all of us. No individual congregation can do everything they are called to do in complete isolation. This is why I have chosen the path I am on. The sometimes frustrating and flawed movement that I have joined.
Love you all.
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.
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.
Today I skipped church. There..I said it. The deepest and darkest sin of my soul has been released! Okay, this action was not one, I know, that pointed me straight to Hell, but it is something I would like to publicly reflect on.
Every Sunday morning, my alarm wakes me up at 6:15am. I am usually groggy. I have eye crust, and my head feels like it weighs 500 lbs. All I want to do is sleep for a little while longer. I actually do get to sleep a while longer because my wife is normally the first to arise and start her routine. I tell myself the only reason I indulge in an extra 45 minutes of sleep is to ensure the water heater has time to replenish the supply after my wife finishes getting ready.
I pastor a church that some would call “mobile”. We meet in a school and must set up and tear down every week. My volunteers are committed and we can all sympathize with one another when our hair is not perfect and we are on our third gallon of [insert name of caffeinated beverage]. We make it work and God is glorified as we pray for His spirit to move in every service, and impact those that come.
Today was a unique experience for my wife and I. This weekend we took a short trip to celebrate our anniversary, and we decided to sleep in until we were tired of sleeping. There were no children to wake us up. There were no alarms to cut off the flow. Just us, and the pillow, and unadulterated, beautiful sleep. It felt good. It was comfortable. My pillow somehow stayed cold, and I didn’t even question the physics behind it.
The rest of the day we ate lunch, visited a museum, and drove home to restart our normal family routines. As I was eating dinner tonight, I thought about today and how it made me feel. I had a great time, and I know how vital it is to take some time away every once in a while, but I could tell that something was lacking in my heart. I realized this “lacking feeling” was largely due to the fact that church was not part of the equation. From an occupational perspective, I was okay with the fact that I would not have any leadership responsibilites today. From a soul enriching perspective, however, I felt dry, disconnected, empty, and spiritually drained. I still love Jesus, but I could tell there was something missing. There were actually a few things missing. Fellowship. Community worship. Service. Any one of these things are holy in themselves, but alone they are deficient.
As a pastor, I have to admit that I get discouraged when it seems like people could care less about the importance of community worship. Why? Well, probably, because as a pastor I have given my life to a concept that many look at as a hobby. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not one to say that if you are not under a steeple every living chance you get then you are destined for eternal damnation, but I do think that we take this amazing opportunity for granted. I long for the day in which we can collectively push back the spontaneous “Sunday flu” and praise together in preparation for Heaven. It is important.
The Christian community, as a whole (including me) wants the church to be there when we need it, but rarely think about being there for the church. This breaks my heart when I think about how I have contributed to this mentality. How have I? Well, there have been times when I have tried to make the activity of the church as entertaining as possible to attract more people. That’s not a terrible thing to do, but my motives were placed in quantity instead of impact. What I have realized is I yearn to convey my love for God’s word and the people He created.
We were made to worship. Not in isolation but in praise with one another. Every, single, hypocritical one of us. I know, I know…you may be a person who doesn’t like “institutional religion” and you have your own way of worshipping. That’s awesome, but just make sure there is a community aspect to it. And, if there is a community aspect to it, make sure you organize yourselves in a way that most efficiently conveys the mission of what God has called you to accomplish. Wait…that sounds like the Church. Forgive me.
Heaven is going to be a place of service, fellowship, and praise for the rest of eternity. We must get used to it or we will seek other things to fill the void. Also, we don’t want to be caught off guard when we are playing our harp on cloud 9 and a fellow believer joins in with us.
I am so ready to get back to church this Sunday. I hate this feeling. Worship should happen every day, though. Thank God for daily renewal.
I 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.