More Pastor Thoughts

Here are some more random pastor thoughts that many of you will not be interested in. I’m doing this for my own mental health. Ha!  But, seriously it helps.

When I get together with other pastors and we compare notes on our church communities the issue of “regular” participation comes up. “Regular” participation (I can’t bring myself to say “attendance”) has shifted dramatically. It used to mean getting together weekly (at least) and now it seems to be closer to once/month. In fact I’ve heard that some folks consider our church their church home, but they may have gathered with us once in the last couple years. So we (the church family) are like their mechanic. You hope to never see your mechanic, but if something breaks down you want a trustworthy place to get some help (which is welcomed with loving open arms). There are a lot of reasons why “regular” participation has changed and I don’t want to get into a discussion on church gatherings and their importance, or lack thereof, in this little post.

But one thing is often on the lips of pastors when they talk about this issue of less church participation: sport leagues. This is a doozy. Oh boy! Pastors are concerned about the amount of time, energy, and money families are pouring into sports leagues (that often take them away from participating in the church family).

Times have changed and school teams just aren’t enough. Things have gotten more competitive and there are increased opportunities to play and improve in a sport. There is increased pressure to participate more and more in more competitive sport leagues. Sometimes a parent may feel like they aren’t a good parent if they don’t make sure their kid has all the best opportunities. I love to watch my kids play sports and I confess that I can find myself living through their experience. Every family is different and value different things.

Pastors talk to one another about this issue and our concerns, but not very often to the wider church. Why? Because people get mad. Perhaps it has become a full blown idol… a good thing that has become an ultimate thing. I’m afraid to even write about this stuff because I can feel the waves of anger.  Surfs Up!

Let’s set aside the whole “regular” church gathering part of this… The truth is, it is hard to be a parent and it is hard to know how to spend your most precious commodity: your time. My wife and I wrestle with this stuff too and we have to try to get perspective.  At the end of the day we want our kids to love Jesus, to live a life of love and integrity, and pursue what God has for them. If that involves sports, music, church activities, school clubs, or any other really good character shaping thing – great!  But, if  good things hinder the most important things (what are they for your family?), then we need to make adjustments.

Do you still like me?  I’m a people pleaser so I hope you do. If not, just imagine me saying, “just kidding” after all of this and consider it a joke. Or is it? Ha Ha

Last thing (if you are still reading this – congrats!!!):

When I get together with other pastors in our area, I am moved by the love that each person has for their faith family and wider community. I hear the prayer requests about marriages crumbling, people facing a health crisis, pain from loss, and a deep desire for the church community to know God and grow with Him. The pastors I hang around with are not primarily driven by attendance figures, but love, and seeking to follow God’s Spirit. I close with this thought because I fear that these little posts from my “pastor” perspective may seem like whining about getting people to get on board with the church. Yuck.

Perhaps we don’t say it clearly enough at times, but the Apostle Paul summarizes the motivation in Galatians 4:19: “Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.”

I want this for my family, my faith family, and my community. We may not get it right all the time, but we are trying to join God in pursuing this.

Real Pastor Thoughts

This post will be from my perspective as one local church pastor.I LOVE being a pastor and I LOVE my church family. I also LOVE the worldwide Christian Church. As a pastor, like any position, there are aspects that are exciting and others concerning. So, I thought I’d briefly spit out some very brief thoughts and perspectives regarding wider church culture (which includes me.)

Church people inviting church people to their church is not evangelism.

Evangelism is sharing the good news of Jesus with other people. Particularly people who have not yet embraced Jesus. I suspect that most followers of Jesus have a sense that they are supposed to be bringing the good news to others. But, for a number of reasons (fear, not knowing non-Christians, not knowing how, etc…), followers of Jesus often focus on inviting other church people to their church gathering.

I was sitting at a coffee shop and overheard two women talking to one another about church. They both were a part of different church communities and one of them was inviting the other to come and check out her church. She talked about the experience, the size, the preaching, and programs. The other woman said she’d go along to check it out. The conversation felt like a sales pitch to purchase a product. There is a lot more I could go into, but I’ll save that for another time.

This experience is driven by the next thing I’ll throw out there.

Churches are families, not shopping malls.

A church is God’s family pursuing God’s purposes together. The church is not a building, program, or a specific leader. The church is God’s people, the Body of Jesus, the community of faith.

However, from my perspective, the church is often viewed as a shopping mall. So, the church becomes a vendor of religious goods and services. So we “church shop.” We are disciples of consumerism and we look at most things with that lens and expectation. The woman I overheard talking to her friend was sharing the goods and services offered by her church. She was giving a commercial. (I’m sure it is a wonderful church, but this was the vibe I got.)

That made me think of a commercial I heard on a local Christian radio station. A church was inviting people to their church to hear the relevant biblical teaching, exciting music, and wonderful programs. I thought it was cool to try to connect with people by radio. But, then I considered the predominant audience… Christians. So essentially the message (most likely unintentional) was, “join us because our church is better than your church.”

I take the blame for my part in promoting this view of the church. Most pastors I talk to are driven crazy by the consumer mentality that is in wider church culture. Yet, often the pastors and leaders are the one who have increasingly treated people like consumers and less like a community. If we treat people like consumers they will act that way and will always pursue the next thing to consume. Don’t believe me?  Imagine taking away that favorite program or taking a two month break from having a worship band.  Yikes!  I’ve contributed to the consumer culture and so my frustration is with myself.

Which leads to the next thing…

We are all supposed to play.

One of the contributing factors of creating a consumer culture in the church is the view that key “gifted” leaders are the ones to do the ministry and everyone else depends on them and supports their efforts. Yet, Scripture makes it crystal clear that every follower of Jesus is gifted and summoned to ministry wherever they find themselves.

I confess that I hate this and also desire this. As a pastor, I like feeling valuable and needed. I’m insecure and like to be liked. So, my ego experiences a little bump when someone depends on me and needs me. I feel special. But, this dependency that makes me feel special also is a tremendous unattainable burden that isn’t God’s best.

As a pastor, I understand that one of my key responsibilities is to join God in helping awaken people to the ministry He has for them and to help equip and encourage them in the process. However, I fear that most people don’t think God’s work in the world is for someone like them to participate in. I take my part of the blame for sending those signals so that I can feel good about myself (but resent people for).

Which leads me to this final thought…

God is bigger than our failures, disappointments, and distractions.

I shared some things I have wrestled with and feel like I’ve messed up. I’ve mentioned things that have me concerned and frustrated. Yet, there is hope. Jesus is King and His rule and reign is breaking into every nook and cranny of this world. God takes our mess ups and poor motives and can shape them into something beautiful. It is easy to rip on the church and many people do it. However, I am a part of that Body called the Church. God’s will and plans shall be accomplished. Will I continue to try to grow and align myself to Him or will I settle into complacency, comfort, or cynicism? (I could add more “c’s” but I won’t.)

Take courage, God is bigger.

Let’s move forward together.

 

 

Revive Us

I need revival.

It can be easy to let my self-interest, my comfort, my petty concerns, my pride, and my mess distract me from intentionally and whole-heartedly joining God’s work in my life and through my life.  I desire to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph.5:18) instead of being filled with my worries and trivial pursuits. I need revival.

Years ago I came across this passage that is used a lot when talking about revival. It is an incredible invitation to renewed life with God.

2 Chronicles 7:14

“Then if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”

A few reflections and questions as I read through this verse:

  • MY people / MY name : Does renewed life begin when we first realize that our identity is found in God and not in ourselves or circumstances?  Do I fully embrace that my life is not merely my life, but God’s life?
  • Humble / Pray / Seek / Turn : Does renewed life begin when we recognize our own pride, self-dependency, and sin? Do I hate the sin and rebellion in my life or do I tolerate it? Do I take action and change my life’s direction or do I continue to go my own way? Do my humble confessions lead to changed living?
  • Hear / Forgive / Restore : God reveals His heart of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and restoration.  Am I amazed and changed by God’s grace, and love, or do I take it for-granted?  Have I experienced God’s renewed life personally?

I pray that I would experience revival and renewed life and that my community would experience this healing as well.

Reading this passage fills me with hope of renewed life and it inspires me to embrace God’s invitation to humbly pursue Him and His way. How about you?

Audio Devos – – More on the Way!

As a church family we have had times in which we’ve encouraged everyone to read a particular section of the Bible together. I think that a community engaging God’s Word together in sync can be a powerful experience.  However, I’ve had a number of people who have told me that they desire to engage the Bible, but they despise reading and struggle to stay focused and understand what is going on in the text.

These conversations led our teaching team to develop audio devotions. For the past couple years we have done audio devotionals through a book of the Bible.  In 2015 we walked with Jesus through the book of Luke in the New Testament. This is the story of Jesus and his life, death and resurrection.  In the first part of 2016, we walked with the Spirit through the book of Acts in the New Testament. This is the story of the first followers of Jesus (the church) as they were sent out into the world to share the good news of Jesus.  These audio devotions were well received and hundreds of people regularly listened and went through a book of the Bible together.

The basics of the audio devotional are: 

  • We break a book of the Bible into sections to read and reflect on each day.
  • We have a variety of Watermarkers who participate in putting together these audio devotionals.
  • Each devotional includes a reading of the section of Scripture that day, some comments to better understand what is going on, a personal reflection on the impact of the text, and a closing prayer. They are typically around 10 min (although I have been known to stretch it to 13 min…. sorry).
  • Monday-Friday we upload a new devotional for that day and it can be downloaded from a variety of sources.

The benefits of the audio devotional have been:

  • People, who are not big into reading, are learning the story of the Bible.
  • We are all on the same page about what we are reflecting on. There is a sense of unity.
  • Our church family’s vision and values can spring forth from different moments in the text.
  • It provides people an opportunity to grow in studying the text and teaching it.
  • The additional background helps people, new to the Bible, understand more of the text.

Anyways, I have really enjoyed helping put these audio devotions together. They have been incredibly impacting for me personally.  We’ve had a lot of people ask us to do more.  So, we decided to go through the book of Nehemiah with audio devotions this Summer.  We are calling it, “Building with God through Nehemiah.” We will start it Monday, July 4th.

BWGTN_podcastWhy Nehemiah?

  • We wanted to do an Old Testament book. We’ve done a lot of New Testament study lately and decided going through an Old Testament book would be beneficial.
  • Nehemiah is a book that covers helpful themes that apply to our faith family. It deals with change, courage, leadership, dealing with challenging people, and pursuing a mission. Our church family is in the process of preparing for launching a new site and this text will be helpful in this time of transition.
  • Nehemiah is a bit shorter and we can walk through it quickly for part of the Summer. We will skim through some long lists of names that are difficult to pronounce. 🙂

S0, I encourage you to subscribe to the audio devotional podcasts on our website or with your podcast application. Check these options out HERE.

Influence

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I’m working on the message for Sunday for our “influence” series. The series is about learning to lead/influence like Jesus. I was thoroughly burned out by leadership conferences, books, talks, and conversations in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. I appreciated the growth as a leader, but I am thankful that God led me to focus on becoming a better follower. I like how Paul, in the New Testament, sums up his leadership strategy: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1.  Christian leadership is following Jesus and learning to lead people to follow Jesus.  Any.ways, my hope is that our series will have this tone to it. You can check out one of the talks and see the rest of the series HERE.

As I think about those who have influenced me to follow Jesus and grow as a person, I am filled with gratitude.

What if each of us looked outward and considered how we might be able to encourage and invest in even one other person?