Archive | February, 2014

What 40 Year Old me would Say to 25 Year Old Me

24 Feb

 

I was 25 when I became a senior pastor. That was 15 years ago. Honestly, I’m a little down about this whole age thing. I’m looking back a little. Time has gone by so quickly. I have been reminiscing about life in the ministry. In looking back I have come to the conclusion that it would have been great if there were a mentor in my life to prepare me for ministry. The reality is, at that point, I was so hard headed I probably would not have listened to anyone. I was pretty independent. The only person I would have listened to was me. I wish 40 year old me had been around when I was 25. I would have listened to him. That brings me to this blog post. What would 40 year old me have said to 25 year old me?

1. You’re an idiot. I don’t think I would take that well if it came from anyone but me. After all, if anyone knows if I am an idiot or not, it’s me. As a young man I thought that I knew so much about ministry. I was wrong. I knew very little. Don’t misunderstand me, I was informed. I had a solid theological base. I was well read in the area of church growth and church health. I had attended conferences gleaning insights from powerful Christian leaders. But I was in no way prepared for the pastorate. I figured if we needed finances I would preach on giving. If we needed salvations I would preach on soul winning. Once I preached, I assumed everyone would jump on board and revival would break out. I was wrong. It took me a while to discover that I knew very little about ministry.

2. Mushrooms are cute, but you can’t hang a tire swing on one. It is easy to go to a church and start new ministries but bail when the hot sun comes out. We can decorate the landscape with our cute little ideas every two or three years. But our cute little ideas are like mushrooms. Go back to that church a year later and you can’t even tell we were there. Longevity is important. If we are going to make a difference in the life of a church we had better be in it for the long haul. Patience is necessary if we want to see a church grow for the glory of God. There is a great danger in using churches to build a resume. I think the greatest danger is to our family. Our family can become spiritually frustrated moving from place to place. We certainly aren’t helping churches when we move about too quickly. Oak trees take a long time to grow. They suffer through every season of the year many times over. Finally they become stable. When an oak tree grows it’s there for generations to enjoy.

3. People over 50 have cried a lot more than you. A 25 year old often lacks empathy. We usually haven’t buried many people. Our children are not old enough to have rebelled yet. We haven’t sent sons and daughters overseas. Most of us have not been divorced. I don’t mean to fault the younger person. It’s simply how things are. That’s a good thing. Ministry is about serving people for the glory of God. People are how they are, for the most part, because of life experiences. Serving people in the position of pastor means that you are there to walk with them through dark times. When we cry with a person we anchor a spot in their life. They remember when we mourn with them. Be careful about rushing through the heartache at church. Make the most of it. Never make light of it. The tears of your congregation are more important than you can imagine.

4. Bi-vocational is not a four letter word. It seems everyone wants to be in “full time” ministry. I have experienced the pastorate from the bi-vocational perspective. Never allow anyone to make you feel like you are a “sub pastor” because you work two jobs. The greatest freedom and joy I have experienced in ministry was when I was bi-vocational. If you do it right, you gain a respect from your congregation and a perspective of how difficult balancing church and work can be.  

There is a danger of becoming trapped in a particular area or church because of finances. For the young pastor, life happens fast. Rather than being led by the Spirit we can be loaded down with our new obligations.  A full time pastorate guarantees a pay check. But depending on a church, as many do, for housing, health care and income can lead to being trapped at that location. There may be a temptation to stay even when God says go. If at all possible, make sure that the church is not your only source of income. There is nothing wrong with taking a position as an associate pastor or the pastor of a smaller church.

5. Preach to people not at people. Preach the word. Do it verse by verse. But preach to people. This is another thing that can be difficult when you are young. Experiencing life through the cross makes us better preachers. For example, I’m convinced that as we get older we have more of a desire to preach on heaven. Honestly, how many young guys do we hear waxing eloquent on the celestial city? The Bible is written to people and it’s meant to be preached that way. Look at your people when you preach. I know everyone says look over their heads so you don’t get nervous. Don’t listen to that advice. Look at them when you preach. Don’t try to impress them with your passion or intellect. Take Christ from the pages of Scripture and march Him right into their lives. Identify with their weaknesses. Challenge their level of devotion. Don’t give them a speech. You’re not a speaker. They sell those at Wal-mart™. You are a preacher. People know the difference when they hear it. Sermons are not a work of art, they are a work of the heart. When you connect with people through the Word of God you will begin to see a difference in the lives of people.

6. The first to ask you over may be the first to escort you out. As young pastors we often see people in two ways: those who are for us and those who are against us. We would also like to identify those two groups as quickly as possible. When someone asks us to come to their home we assume they are for us. That excites us. Sadly, those who seemed to be our biggest fans sometimes switch teams. We feel hurt and betrayed. I have discovered that the people in church I have been closest with are often very quiet. I have a theory about this. I believe that wise people wait and watch. They are not too eager in drawing conclusions about people.  We can learn a lot from them. God hasn’t called you to a church to make friends. That happens, obviously. He calls you to a church to make disciples. Making disciples of Christ should be your goal as a pastor. Don’t be too eager to develop close friendships in the church. Those friendships will come. And they may be with the people you least expect.

7. Thank people. I still have to remind my kids to say “Thank-You”. Young people often have a problem with that. We have been catered to for so long I guess we just take it for granted. Know this, if you succeed as a pastor it will be because God has put some amazing people in your life. God uses His people. He has used His people to put a bag of groceries on my table, literally. He has used His people to put gas in my tank. He has used His people so I would have enough money to take my family on vacation. In the pastorate you will see God use His people, especially when you are young in the ministry. Don’t take that for granted. Thank the people that God puts in your life. Write a note, make a phone call, stop by their home, but please say Thank-You. As pastors we are often guilty of complaining about the immature and carnal in church. Let’s not let that be what people remember about us. Our testimony should be one of thankfulness.

There’s so much more I could say to 25 year old me. But I know I couldn’t handle much more than this at one time. So I’ll stop for now. These are simply a few things I needed to hear 15 years ago. I hope they help.

When Calvin Met Amy

10 Feb

On a cool morning at a well-known coffee shop, Valentine’s Day was about to get interesting. Two very different people would meet. Their chance encounter would open up doors that neither of them thought they would ever enter. Things changed, when Calvin met Amy.

 

“Excuse me sir. You’re really holding up the line, could you hurry up and order please? These folks really need some caffeine,” said the petite young lady as she patiently waited behind an indecisive young man.

 

“I’m sorry. I never know what to get. This happens every time. I always feel weird when I have to make a choice, especially in front of other people,” he replied sheepishly.

In an instant the young lady suggested, “I’ll tell you what, go find a seat; I’ll order you something & bring it to you.”

With a look of puzzlement he replied “ You’d do that for me? Thanks a lot. Here’s a ten, bring me back the change please”.

“Don’t worry about it, it’s on me,” the young lady said with a grin on her face.

“Great, I’ll be sitting right over there… in the reserved section” said the young man anxiously.

The young lady received her order and proceeded to deliver the hot gift to her new friend. After a moment of awkwardness he managed to ask her if she would like to join him in enjoying a warm drink. After a moment of hesitation she agreed to share a bit of her morning with him.

“I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that your name is Grace, am I right?” he asked.

“No, my name is Amy. What ‘s yours?“ she replied.

He said “My name is Calvin. It’s good to meet you Amy. And by the way, this Skinny Latte is not something I would have chosen for myself, but I have to admit, it’s not too bad.”

After some small talk about the weather and the crowd at the mall it was clear that there was some chemistry between the two. They thought it odd the way they had met. Calvin had a meeting that had been previously arranged with some coworkers, but it seemed the coworkers were not going to show up. Amy, who had never visited that particular coffee shop just decided on a whim to stop in for a latte.  The fact that it was Valentine ’s Day added a little romance to the situation as well.

Valentine’s Day is actually what changed the conversation. Amy mentioned something about Saint Valentine and before he knew it Calvin responded with “You know he was a heretic, don’t you?” There had been no mention of religion yet so Calvin felt a little embarrassed. He hoped he hadn’t ruined anything. Sensing his embarrassment Amy replied with “I saw something on TMZ about that.” The two shared a laugh.

Religion was very important to Calvin, however. Wanting to know more about Amy he asked her if she was a Christian. She let him know that she was indeed a believer in Christ. As the two discussed their relationship with Christ they soon discovered something about them that was different. Calvin was a Calvinist and Amy, well, she was not a Calvinist. Aware of the stereo types and a little uncertain about what this meant for their chance encounter, the two delved deeper into conversation.

Calvin decided to display his knowledge of Amy’s theology. With all the tenderness of a butcher he explained to her what she believed. “The center of your religion is man. You don’t understand how sinful we really are. At the end of the day you get the credit for your salvation That doesn’t sound like grace to me. It sounds like works.” At that point he began to quote chapter and verse to prove his point. He waxed eloquent for a couple of minutes.  

Amy was somewhat afraid and upset over what she discovered about Calvin. So she decided that she would share with him what she knew about Calvinists and allow him to respond. So with all the courage she could muster up in rapid fire she blurted out

“I know that you all are trying to take over the Southern Baptist Convention.”

“I know that you don’t believe in witnessing.”

“I know that you don’t believe God loves everybody.”

“I know that you think we all are robots.”

“I know that you pretend to understand what John Piper is talking about.”

As she tried to catch her breath Calvin stopped her. “Whoa, slow down. Wow. I have to stop you. I think you may be a little confused”. Calvin felt his heart break as he saw tears well up in Amy’s eyes. And he couldn’t help but recognize that she seemed to be even prettier than before. He felt awful because it was obvious he had hurt her. Things had been going so well. He wasn’t sure where they were headed next. The two composed themselves.

As they sat in silence, a middle aged woman took the table next to them. It was clear that she was tired. Her makeup was faded, her hands a little shaky. Calvin glanced over at her and greeted her politely. “Happy Valentine’s Day” he said. She smiled and said “Happy Valentines to you too!” Amy resisted the great urge to interrupt their conversation with “You know, he was a heretic.”

“You two look like a fine couple”, the woman said looking at Amy. Not knowing how to respond Amy asked her “So, do you have big plans today?” Amy was not prepared for where that question would lead. The woman, whose name they discovered was Eunice did not have big plans. She would go home and get some sleep so she would be prepared for her midnight shift once again. It was an odd thing that happened in that coffee shop. The woman opened up to Calvin and Amy as if she had known them for years. Her husband had died a relatively young man. She would never remarry. The kids were scattered about, they visited occasionally. It was clear to both Calvin and Amy that God had opened a door in that coffee shop.

After some time Calvin asked Eunice about her relationship with Christ. She made it clear that she didn’t have one. Amy, graciously spoke to her about sin and its consequences. She spoke of God’s redeeming love revealed at the cross. She spoke of the hope that the resurrection brings. She told Eunice that forgiveness could be found by the grace of God through faith in the finished work of Christ. With a soberness that could be felt Eunice looked at Calvin and asked “Do you really think God loves me?” With certainty he said “I know He does.”

The conversation had attracted the attention of some folks at another table. They watched as Calvin, Amy and Eunice joined tables and hands for a time of quiet prayer. As the prayer ended the three stood and embraced for a moment. Providentially the three exclaimed “Praise the Lord!” in unison. Calvin took Amy by the hand. And a voice shouted from a nearby table “I’ll have what they’re having!”