The disciples had a simple question for Jesus before He ascended to Heaven. Why didn’t Jesus answer it?
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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.
Just accept it now. On all of your checks, occupational paperwork, and other important documentation, you are going to write 2015 for approximately 4 weeks. If you are lucky, you will cease this trend before February, but let’s just all agree that there is grace for those who do this. Don’t worry. You will learn to correct this mistake.
You will also go to the gym religiously until February 19th and then life will make it harder to commit. Okay, so I may not be giving humanity enough credit, but whatever our fate may be in 2016, it is vital to look back on the previous year to reflect on the lessons that we learned. For me, there could be a hundred pages filled with nuggets of wisdom I have gained. Today, I want to talk about just 7 of them.
These are 7 Lessons I learned in 2015:
I don’t have to understand God’s plan
This lesson is a hard one for many believers to accept. We often think that, in order for God’s plan to be holy, beneficial, and redemptive then it has to pass through our mental and emotional filter. The fact is God has an amazing and powerful plan for each one of us, and the more we fight Him on this, the less joy we get out of the process. We must learn to trust even when it doesn’t make sense.
God is not my helper
When I see the bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot”, I have want to ask why. The reason for this popular cliché is probably because humanity has a tendency to want to be in control. Scripture tells us that God does not belong in the passenger’s seat, or even in the driver’s seat (sorry Carrie Underwood), but He is the road, the signs, the car, the engine and the fuel. My prayer life has changed from, “God, please help” to, “Lord, please guide”. I have learned that God desires for me to be ready for His will not impose mine upon Him.
People don’t want to just hear about Jesus…
I could be the best preacher in the country, but if my spiritual walk does not match the words that are coming out of my mouth then I am a fraud. People don’t want to just hear about Jesus; they want to see Him in action. This is not only in my life that is lived outside of the church doors, but also in the life I live in private.
I can’t do life on my own
When we feel hurt, afraid, or disappointed it is easy to tell ourselves the lie that we can do better on our own. We think the remedy for alleviating all hurt is isolation. When this line of thinking is embraced, we see things like addiction, self abuse, and depression talk full hold. God made us for His glory, but His glory can be seen in the context of community and pouring into the lives of others…or allowing others to pour into us.
Often we are the only obstacle in our spiritual growth
I can’t tell you how many people I have ministered to that had no desire to grow, but only the desire to be served. This may seem harsh but there has to come a point where we start to own our mistakes, faults, and the scars of our past and seek to overcome the hurdles. Sure, there is grace and mercy available for all, and there are none that lack a certain level of brokenness, but we can’t stay there. As a Christ-following community we must understand what it means to love, and serve, but to also allow people to be stretched in their faith. Pain can be our biggest catalyst for growth. In my experience, I have realized that sometimes I don’t allow myself to grow, because what I am doing is still Godly, and it is also comfortable. I stand in my own way.
Prayer works even when it doesn’t work
I am fortunate enough to have been born into a legacy of believers that has seen the power of prayer. This doesn’t mean, however, that I do not become discouraged when God does not answer when I expect Him to. What if God plans to answer our prayer, but it is not imperative that we have a hand in it? Think about Moses. Moses’ prayer was that his people would be set free, and given their own homeland just as God promised. The Lord honored this prayer in His timing, and the people inherited a land that was fertile, rich, and accommodating. Moses, though, did not get to experience it. It may be hard to hear, and maybe you will see the answer, but God’s plans are bigger than your wants, fears, and even dreams. It could also be that God is waiting for you to let go of the outcome. Keep praying, but surrender to whatever the answer may be. Don’t let your feelings dictate your prayers.
My contentment is my responsibility
I cannot rely on other people, situations, or outcomes to control my level of contentment. This posture is one that stems from a decision in my own heart and mind. As Christians, this lesson can be a tempting one to disregard. Sometimes, when something looks discouraging, we tend to equate that with “God’s leading” and thus avoid any more hurt. In all actuality, He could have a completely different purpose for allowing you to go through it. Personal growth, of course is the goal when faced with difficulty, but perhaps the goal is also the growth of someone else.
Trust God’s agenda.
As you anticipate what 2016 will bring, look for lessons you can reflect on. Don’t just survive.
Love you all
Each week men and women all over the world give their time, talents, and treasures to the work of God’s kingdom. They sweat, bleed, cry, and give all so that God’s mission is fulfilled on the earth. “On earth, as it is in Heaven…” would be a more exact representation of the mission’s call. We, who have committed ourselves to this commission, often face significant road blocks, and conflict regularly arises. We tell ourself two lies, depending on the situation…either God wants us to bust down proverbial doors that are locked shut, or He wants us to walk away from opportunities that seem insurmountable. We try our best to follow God’s will, but sometimes the tempation of our own comfort steers us in a different direction. Whatever the case may be, if we were honest with ourselves, those of us involved in church leadership can admit that often unhealthy trends emerge from our efforts. Currently, there are many unhealthy trends that I have observed, but let’s just talk about a few of them today.
I think there are 6 Unhealthy Trends in Church Leadership that must be discussed.
1. Inconsistent Priorities
As pastors and church leaders, we have to be in the habit of constantly evaluating our priorities. Do we really want God’s will to be done, or are we more interested in what is marketable? Sometimes these things go hand in hand, but sometimes they don’t. If we say we are about God’s business then we have to be willing to take the risks that prove God is in control. We all want to see God’s glory powerfully invade our churches, but how many are willing to make decisions that would require Him to create possibility out of the impossible? Seeking God’s priorities will get us farther than we could ever imagine. Sometimes the actions taken with be frightening, but if God is in control then we will see blessing.
2. Addiction to More
In today’s Christian culture, what happens when our churches grow in number? Well, we build bigger buildings of course! This is because the unhealthy addiction to more equates to that of human or financial hoarding. We want bigger so we can have more, so we can influence the masses, and persuade even more people, so we can continue to get bigger. The cycle seems pointless overall. Sure, we justify it by saying we are trying to convey the life-giving message to more people, or that God is simply blessing because of the right leadership, but we have to ask ourselves the hard questions. Questions like…If God called us to do something bold like plant a new church, or restart a dying one would we be open to that idea? Do we care more about what our work looks like than what God can do through us? I am not against bigger churches…but let’s not default to a mentality that God is not calling us to.
3. Competitive Mentalities
Sometimes it is hard to lead a church as a spirit driven leader instead of a team coach, or CEO. Sure there are coaching and business aspects to this vocation, but if God were the center of our ministry then we would realize that our mission includes helping the worship community across town as a brother or sister would look after their sibling. Even though I love my church, I don’t profess to have the secret that gets people to Heaven any faster than the megachurch down the road. We will be more effective united as opposed to seeking to be offended when another church is being blessed. Rejoice with our brothers and sisters…They are God’s children too. You will have to stand before God one day and account for why you didn’t…if that is the case. Give your all to bless other churches. You will see the increase.
4. Destructive Arrogance
No pastor, leader, or person sitting in the pew is above one another. There are some that have studied scripture more and understand the languages it was originally written in, but we have to eradicate arrogance if we are going to grow. Even though I came from a Christian home, my sin is the exact same as yours…my past was riddled with instances in which I decided to seek my own path and do things my own way. This is all sin is…so the next time we are tempted, as church leaders, to be arrogant remember that it is destructive. People need grace, and guidance…not a know-it-all who thinks of themself as higher than another.
5. Constant Worry
God’s got this under control. You don’t have to be in constant worry over whether or not this is true. As a pastor, it is easy to worry (to the point of paranoia) about things like finances, church attendance, efffectiveness, or if so-in-so is mad about if the piano was moved 2 feet to the left. We worry about our building. We worry about the future. We worry about whether or not people want to stay at our church. We worry about other churches taking our people (side note: they are God’s people not ours…). The concerns are endless. Meanwhile, people, outside of our walls are dying and we have a chance to provide them with an antidote. They don’t care about any of that…they just want the hurt to go away. Take that worrying energy and convert it into serving energy.
6. Aversion to Learning
I once asked an older pastor if he was going to a certain seminar. He looked at me and said, “probably not…I have been in ministry a long time, and they probably can’t teach me anything I don’t already know.” WHAAAAATTTTT???!!!!!?? Pastors and other church leaders should have a hunger to learn more not an aversion to growth. We owe it to God to have the desire to grow in Him. Don’t miss the opportunities that present themselves.
When we embrace unhealthy trends in our leadership we are defying the mission of Christ himself. I pray that we are no longer held hostage by our own limitations but embrace the fact that God can do all. Allow Him to lead you today.
First, I want to say thank you to everyone who regularly reads this blog. The last few days have been so encouraging as thousands of people have viewed my blog and became followers.
Starting this evening, I am starting a new series of posts that will be updated every Monday. These will be called “Monday Musings”. The purpose of these posts will be to reflect on my sermon/ scripture from that previous Sunday. My hope is, even if you were not sitting in my congregation that Sunday, the reflection will still be beneficial for you.
Get ready! The next evolution of this blog is coming. I am so excited!
“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.