Archive | February, 2013

Something Pastor’s Need to Remember

28 Feb

I was sitting in my office. Easter was approaching. I like my office. I like to be alone. I don’t like people to come to my office. It’s mine. But there was a rap at the door. It opened. It was a little guy that had recently started attending church with his mom. His dad wasn’t in the picture. The kid was cute and had made an impression me and many others in the church. He was young. I’m guessing 7 or 8.

We talked for a minute. That’s all he wanted. He liked to ask questions. He started to leave. He actually had almost closed the door already. Then he cracked it back open and stuck his head in. Evidently someone told him about Good Friday. He knew that was the day we remember that Jesus died on the cross. This had created a dilemma for him. He looked at me quizzically and asked  “Why do they call it Good Friday if Jesus suffered and died on that day?” I explained to Him that it was good for us because our sin debt was paid, but not such a good day for Jesus. He was impressed with the answer. I could tell he got it. He looked at me and very seriously said “You sure know a lot. I guess that’s why they call you the passenger”.

It was all I could do not to laugh. I know he meant to say “pastor” but I didn’t think it was worth correcting at the time. After he left I thought about what he said. And I thought “Lord that is what I am. I’m just the passenger.” You know, I don’t want to drive. When I do I blow a gasket, rear end somebody, run out of gas, get in the ditch, etc. I am a horrible driver of my own life.

I think as pastors, or leaders of any kind, it would help us to see ourselves as the passenger. My granny used to have a license plate on her car that said “God is my Co-Pilot”. That really isn’t good Theology. I want the Lord to be my Pilot. I want Him to guide my steps.He doesn’t need any advice or any help from me. There’s an old song that says ‘Wherever He leads I’ll go”. One of the stanzas says “He drew me closer to His side, I sought His will to know, And in that will I now abide, Wherever He leads I’ll go.” That’s where I want to be.

Pastor, you are a passenger. Enjoy the ride. Lead your church from the passengers seat. Let Christ guide your life and your church. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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Stretch Yourself & Your Congregation

21 Feb

This is the second post on “Don’t Wait for your church to Grow Up…”

 

Tip # 2 Stretch Yourself & Your Congregation

I remember my first VBS. I was an adult. In fact, I was a pastor. Not growing up in church has its “perks” I guess. I had no idea how VBS worked. I just knew the point was supposed to be to reach kids for Jesus. That sounded pretty easy. Also, I had some ladies in my church that were well acquainted with VBS. We put a crew of folks together, set a date and started planning. Now our church was small. I’m talking 35 people on a Sunday morning small. We had probably less than 5 kids coming to church. In a planning meeting our ladies began discussing how many kids we should prepare for. They decided we should plan for 35 or 40 kids. I was a little surprised. I proceeded to tell them that we should plan on having about 100 kids. I was planning on hitting the neighborhoods and rounding them up! Now these ladies knew a lot more about VBS than I did. And they proceeded to let me know that 35 or 40 was a good number to plan for. So the meeting ended with a goal of 35-40 kids.

We didn’t have a very big building. We had a small sanctuary, three Sunday School rooms, an office and two bathrooms. That’s it. Small. But our folks decorated it up and put together lessons to teach the kids. I hit the streets. I knocked on doors. The Lord did something pretty amazing. He sent kids. In fact we had over 80 kids the first night. Can I be honest? We had too many kids. And everyone blamed me. People were mad….at me. And they told me. We didn’t have enough literature, snacks, crafts, or room. I came very close to being fired, I believe.

After our nerves and tempers cooled off we had a mini meeting. There were good things going on. This was the most people we had had at the church. It was the biggest thing we had ever done. People came to church that had never been. So after discussion we decided that we would continue on with VBS that week. It was a tough week. After that we affectionately called the week of VBS “Purgatory” in our church. But it was a great week. Everyone adapted. The crowd grew. The kids had a great time. People professed Christ as Savior and we made relationships with folks in our community.

Every year after that our church decided to make VBS a big thing. We decided to try and reach unchurched kids, not entertain our own kids. We entered into a building project adding more room. Our VBS continued to grow each year. In fact our small church led the entire Association in VBS in consecutive years following our pilot year. We were having more children come to VBS than churches four times our size. Last year one of the fathers of some of our VBS kids was ordained. His children and wife started attending. The wife professed Christ and we began praying for her husband. He gave his life to Christ and is now ordained and ministering in the name of Christ.

We were a small church. But we started a big ministry. Being the pastor of a small church can be frustrating at times. We have to battle against the tendency of dreaming small. God doesn’t need lots of people to do big things. As a pastor you have to convince your people of this. That may mean at times you have to stretch them. Take them places they are a little afraid of going. Now, be wise. Don’t get yourself fired! But if you don’t attempt great things for God you will soon grow weary. As a leader God wants to use you to challenge His people. They need to see Jericho taken and Goliath fall. And you need to see that too. You need to know God is using you. Being the leader of a small church doesn’t mean you have to have small faith. It doesn’t even mean you are limited. Stretch yourself. Stretch your congregation. You’ll stay longer and ministry will be a lot more fun.

“ Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21

Don’t Wait on Your Church to Grow Up Before You Attempt Great Things

19 Feb

I have to admit I was a little shocked when I joined a church. I did not grow up in church. In fact, I knew nothing about church until I was in my 20’s. I stepped into a little country church on January 14, 1996. It was a Sunday evening service. I went with my grandmother. I heard the gospel. I didn’t understand anything about the service. Certainly not the invitation. But I understood one thing. I needed forgiveness of my sin. So I went home to my single wide trailer. I went into my bedroom, laid face down on my bed and gave my life to Jesus. I knew the Lord had done a work in my life. I went back to the church and followed up with baptism and church membership. Nice pastor. Nice people at the church. But to say the least, I was a little shocked at the lack of passion. I was ready to win the world to Jesus. No one else was.

After getting a BA in Theology I took my first job as a pastor. Very quickly I realized that most churches were not that excited about Jesus. I just figured I would preach, folks would get motivated and missions would happen. I was wrong. It took a while for me to realize it, but the truth is that most people, even the ones in our churches, aren’t excited about doing the work of the ministry. I started meeting with other pastors. I realized that their churches were pretty much the same. But I also noticed that some of the pastors seemed to be taking on the characteristics of the churches they were serving. They didn’t want to talk about strategy or overcoming problems in the church. They had settled down into mediocrity. And they accepted that. Not that they were ok with it. But it seemed to me that they accepted it.

Now I don’t mean to cast stones. After a few years in the ministry I started doing the same thing. I could feel it in me. The pressures of being a pastor mount. The disappointments of ministry made me a little less bold. I began to make excuses for why I was not being used by God. I saw that in my life and I hated it. I heard myself and I didn’t like what I heard. I still find myself in those places. Satan will always be there to whisper discouragement. The question is “Will we accept it?” I don’t ever want to settle down into mediocrity.

The fact is many pastors are continually thinking “What do I want to be when my church grows up?” In other words, they figure God will use them when the people get mature. Well, if we are waiting on that we could be waiting for a while. I have made it my personal responsibility to get outside the walls of my church. As a pastor I have determined that I will be in my community reaching people for Christ. In other words, I am going to do what I feel God has called every Christian to do. I want to be a model member for my church. Let me ask you a question pastor:

 What if everyone in the church was as involved in reaching your community as you are?

Would that be good or bad? I think that one of the leading reasons that pastors become depressed is they feel God is not using them. They are in a church that isn’t passionate about Jesus. They try to motivate. They try new programs. Eventually they give up. They either just accept that they are going to pastor a dry church or find another place to serve. But too often if they change churches the process just repeats itself. Pastor you need to know God is using you. That will keep you passionate about your calling. The next several blogs will give you some tips on how to keep the fire burning. Let’s get to the first one.

 

Tip # 1

Don’t allow a small town to keep you from doing big things. In one of my pastorates I served in an extremely small town. Less than 1,000 people. I think I knocked on about every door in town. I began growing cold. I was frustrated. After conviction set in I decided I needed to repent and do something mission minded. I started going around to the community giving out food. I went to homes. While visiting at one home I met a lady that was loading her trunk with luggage. I told her who I was offered her some food and she gladly took it.

She was traveling in and out loading the trunk. I felt the Lord wanted me to share the gospel with her. Finally she stopped long enough for me to do that. The Holy Spirit was evident. She began to fall under conviction of her sin. She began to speak with me very openly at that point. She was a prostitute. She was on her way to the airport. A meeting with a particular man in another state had been set up for her. She had to catch a flight in a matter of hours.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I don’t know everything that I said. I know I spoke of God’s great love for her. I told her how God is not pleased with her lifestyle. I told her how terrible of a person this man is that he would do this to her. I said lots of things. But mainly I spoke of Christ and the cross. Then an amazing thing happened. She said “You’re right!” She started unpacking her car I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy! I talked with her for a long time. She didn’t commit herself to Christ at that point but I knew God was working.

I began to visit with her (never alone!!!!) on a regular basis. She had kept the gospel tract I gave her. She clung to it almost in an unhealthy way. That was our first point of contact. She didn’t immediately begin coming to church. But something happened one Sunday I will never forget. I was in the pulpit and the doors to the sanctuary opened. She walked in. She was late. She was alone. But she came anyway. She had on a raggedy dress. It was probably something she picked up at a clothing ministry. But she looked beautiful to me!! I was so proud to see her at church! She eventually settled in at another church in the community. But when she would see me in the community and speak she would always be so kind and grateful.

I have since left that community. But not long ago I had to go back and perform a funeral. She was there. I had no idea I would see her. We spoke. She wanted my address. I got a letter from her after I returned home. It’s hard to read without crying. She basically tells me that she praises the Lord that I came and saw her that day. She tells me she is saved, in church and doing what she can to serve the Lord. She isn’t smoking crack anymore. She isn’t a prostitute anymore. In fact she said she’s thinking of writing a book about what God has done in her life. And she wants me to do her funeral. Wow.

That’s a big city story. That was a small town. I stayed in that little community for over ten years. If I accomplished nothing for the Lord except that, I’m thankful. There were days I felt discouraged. Days I wanted to give up. But when that happened I decided that I needed to be the type of member I preach about. I need to be in my community making a difference.

We shouldn’t sit around waiting for our church to grow up before we attempt great things for God. And we certainly shouldn’t use the excuse of being in a small town or small church. There are no big and little souls. There are simply souls. No matter where you are there are souls. Reach them. Get outside of the box. Be a member of your church. Get into your community. Meet people. Love people. It will keep the fire burning inside of you. It will model mission minded Christianity to your people. It will make a difference in the lives of others.

A Valentine idea for you guys. An open letter to your wife

12 Feb

This was part of my gift last year to my wife on Valentine’s day. I’m posting it to celebrate my wife but also to give some of you guys an idea about an out of the box idea for Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. Many women will be at their jobs and a large bouquet of flowers will be delivered to them. Perhaps it will be accompanied by a stuffed animal and some candy. Everyone in the office will make a fuss over those women. My wife doesn’t work in an office. She is a stay at home mom and she is working hard on a college degree online. She doesn’t like flowers and she’s not big on large boxes of chocolate. So this is my delivery to her. I want everyone to know that she means the world to me. This is an open letter to my bride for Valentine’s Day.

In July of 1998 I met a young woman that would change my life forever.Describing her in words is unnecessary, because she is most beautiful through my eyes. Certainly there are those that see and recognize her for who she is. She is radiant, intelligent, passionate and kind. She is a mother to her children and a wife to her husband. But I see her as so much more. It is as if the Lord has given me a special grace to behold her in a way in which no other person can.

I find myself drawn to her in an unexplainable way. My marriage to her is not something I simply endure. I enjoy her. She brings joy to my soul. She inspires me. She challenges me. Presently we have been married for over 13 years. During these years, at times we have had to be apart. Sometimes for days, and once for ten days. But there has hardly been a moment that she has not been the subject of my thoughts. I would have to say that throughout the last 13 years my thoughts have been saturated with Jesus and my wife. I know that we often say we are “attracted to someone”. But it is more than that with her. There is something about her that draws me. I certainly do not think it is anything she does intentionally. I am simply taken aback, intrigued by her as a person. I am drawn to her as a collector of fine art might be drawn to a masterpiece hanging on the wall of a museum. Can you see the collector as he draws near to the work of art? He is all alone as he looks intently at the work. He inspects it. He is mesmerized by it. Others walk by, recognize the beauty and move on. But something about the work keeps this man’s attention, his affections even. He ignores the rest of the museum and spends his day beholding the beauty of this particular piece. It is clear that others recognize the beauty of my sweet wife. But they do not recognize it as I do. There is no other piece of God’s handiwork that can bring me the pleasure that she does. I have stood before her for over 13 years gazing at her beauty. I find I have not even begun to see all the beauty that lies within her. I am certain that a lifetime will not be long enough.    

I hesitate to simply say “I love my wife.” That phrase has become so cliché. I certainly do love her. But I don’t think that phrase fully expresses what I think of her. I long for her. She amazes me. I find delight in her. She is my beloved and my friend. I am perplexed when I try and understand how her small hands can have such a grasp on my heart. I can only explain the love I have for her by the grace of God. The Lord has enabled me to love her in a very unique way. I must also add that her love toward me is an extremely humbling reality. To love her is a privilege, but to be loved by her is an even greater privilege

Valentine Thoughts on the Unappreciated Pastor’s Wife

11 Feb

I have an amazing wife. She is committed to Christ. She loves the lost. She is beautiful.  When we met, I was a youth minister. I was also an idiot. It is only by God’s grace that such a mature woman would want to be my wife. When we started our journey in ministry many years ago, we had no idea what was in store for us.  Our first church was a nightmare. After a very short time and a very long deacons meeting I lay on our couch in tears. I had to resign. It wasn’t an easy decision. We had a four month old baby. But my wife supported me. We lived out of a Honda Civic after that. We crashed at my mom’s for a short time.  I preached here and there and we stayed in motels off and on.

I deeply considered getting out of the ministry. I would just get a job and raise a family. You know, teach Sunday School, help out with the church, be a deac…no,no. But I didn’t give up. And one of the main reasons I did not quit is my wife. The Lord would give her the words I needed at just the right time. She would always tell me “You ARE my favorite preacher, you know.”  She still tells me that. I guess that’s one of the best compliments a preacher can get from his wife. I am pretty sure that a lot of guys feel the same way about their wives that I do. I am convinced that my wife is a part of God’s grace to me. She keeps me going. She believes in me. She trusts me like no other. Valentine’s Day is around the corner guys. Let’s show them some appreciation. Here are some things about The Unappreciated Pastor’s Wife.

She is a great mom. She is serious about school work. I’m the dumb one. She has the brains. Our kids have never made anything less than an “A” on their report cards. I could never do what she does with those kids and their school work. She practices piano with my daughter. She pushes her, but not too much. She cheers at my son’s ball games. He had to have a talk with her this year. She was talking to the refs a little too loudly.  She prays with our kids every day. She is “Super Mom”. She is a taxi service. She is a doctor. She is a counselor. She is a great mom.

She left a lot to be my wife. She put her education on hold. She moved away from her family. (Say what you want about in-laws but it stinks to not have a baby sitter.) She knows that at any moment the church could have a business meeting and I could be looking for a job. But she has accepted that burden. We don’t own a house. She knows that there is no way we will be “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” She left a lot to be my wife.

She smiles even when she doesn’t want to. She knows more about people in the church than she wants to know. She gets her share of emails, criticisms, “advice”. She is privy to some of the unnecessary battles I have to face. She is aware that there are people that would love to see her husband gone. But she smiles. Not a fake smile. But a “This isn’t about you” smile. She understands that ministry is tough and that some of the meanest people you will ever meet, you meet at church. So, she smiles even when she doesn’t want to.

She loves ME. As I was typing this my office door opened. It was my wife. Sometimes she knocks, sometimes she doesn’t. She was standing there eating a piece of pita bread. She sat on my couch and just looked at me. A lot of people sit on that couch. They sit there to complain to me, give me advice, tell me their problems, etc. But she sits there because she just wants to talk to me. We live right beside the church. Sometimes she just walks over. She misses me. She wants to see me. She loves me. That’s her motive. As a pastor I’m in demand. I see a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. But she wants to see me simply because she loves me.

She lets me lead her. A little reluctantly, but she does. There are so many people that try to take her time away. They want her to be involved in civic clubs, meetings, various church functions, etc. But she has learned to be pretty stubborn in this. As we spoke a moment ago about some folks who were pushing her to be involved in a particular area she responded “I do what you and the Lord tell me to do.” I just laughed. I know what she meant. She knew that if I felt she was going a little overboard I would let her know. And she would take my advice. She is not a pushover by any means. But she does look to me for guidance. She lets me lead her.

She listens to my sermons. She really does. She sits up front. She even takes notes. She knows a lot about the Bible. I’m humbled that she listens to me so intently. In fact, she kind of gets upset when I’m not preaching. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. She complains if I’m out of the pulpit. She will usually volunteer for nursery or children’s church! After all, I am her favorite preacher! I’m not naïve enough to think that she really thinks I’m a good preacher. But she encourages me. She sets an example for the church to listen intently to the Word of God. I appreciate that about her. I couldn’t imagine being married to a preacher. It takes serious grace to endure a lifetime of the same preacher.

If you are a preacher you should be thankful for your wife. She has a tough job. I think it must be tougher than the job of the preacher. Appreciate your wife. Love her passionately. She endures a lot. I know that I would not be half the man I am without my wife. I’d be willing to bet you wouldn’t either.

SIgns You May Not Last Long

6 Feb

The average tenure of a pastor isn’t anything to brag about. It’s a little scary, actually. So I have put together some warning signs that you may want to watch for. If any of these are true of you, don’t throw your boxes away just yet. You may need them again real soon..

1. They give you the keys to the buildings…and the lawnmower. I’ve mowed a lot of grass for the church. Nothing wrong with that. But if a church expects the pastor to do such jobs it could make for a tough ride.

2. You find out the new & exciting church the previous pastor was “called to” is the one you just left. Everything looks good when your present circumstances are horrible. Trials have a way of blurring our vision. My advice is, if possible, never make a major decision in the midst of a trial. And in most instances it is a MUST to speak with the previous pastor about the church.

3. The pianist has a spittoon. This can’t be a good sign. I didn’t make this one up either. It is a reality. Leadership must understand they will have to make adjustments to keep from casting stumbling blocks before others. If they are not willing to do this, it will be tough to lead.

4. There are two deacons meetings each month. You are invited to one. There is no place in ministry for a dictatorship. But the pastor must be involved in the leadership of the church. Regularly scheduled meetings of the leadership that do not include the pastor are a sign of a spiritually sick church.

5. You recognize all of your deacons have the same last name. Never a good idea. Especially in a smaller church. Allegiance is too often with family rather than with Scripture.

6. The church has had five pastors in seven years, but the same worship leader for ten. Watch out for staff that seem to always go unscathed while other staff are given the boot. Not the case always, but sometimes they are the source of the problem.

7. You look out the window & the deacons are marching around the pastorium carrying shofars. I envy churches that are elder led. But the fact is in my denomination most are deacon led. If the deacons are against you, it’s tough.

8. Your leadership meetings always end with “Let’s ask the deacons first.” If approval for everything is contingent upon the deacons you could be in trouble. If you have good and godly deacons that may not be the case. But too often deacons are where they are because they are “good” and not necessarily “godly”.

9. You get a list of “expectations” and preaching isn’t one of them. Churches normally come up with their own expectations for a pastor. And sadly, those expectations often do not originate with the Word of God. As a pastor you will recognize that your most important job is preaching/teaching the Word. If the church does not see that, it  could cause serious tension.

Remember “It’s better to want what you don’t have than have what you don’t want!” Don’t be so quick to go to a new church. Check it out first. Take your time. Ask tough questions. You will never experience the fruitfulness that longevity brings bouncing from church to church.

A poem for my wife on her birthday!

5 Feb

 

If I could have but one earthly treasure

To hold for all of time

If I could choose just one possession

That would be forever mine

A possession I would have to embrace

And watch over day by day

And keep my eyes upon it

Even in the darkest days

I would only need a moment

For I know my heart’s desire

For my choice would have to be

One for which I would never tire

And that one thing that would please me

That would be fresh every day

Is my precious wife

For now and always.