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.

 

 

The NOW generation.

13482899_10153766493678763_1255173324188864355_oLast week Vicki and I had the opportunity to help lead a group of students, from Watermark, to the Ignite Camp. The theme of the camp was “Legacy.” The week was fun, deeply meaningful and full of “God moments.” The students were responsive to God, encouraging to one another, and were a riot to be with.

I really enjoyed directly investing in students again. I was a youth pastor for nine years before starting Watermark and taking on a new role. I always enjoyed being with students and seeing them embrace their faith and one another.

Spending a week with the students reminded me of some foundational beliefs I have about young people:

  • I believe that young people are the church of today and not tomorrow.  They aren’t “junior members” of the Body of Jesus waiting for their turn to contribute in the future. They are essential participants in the faith family right now. I used to say it this way: “the NEXT generation is the NOW generation.”

 

  • I believe that we need young people to fully participate in the faith family.  I value middle and high school ministry that builds a community of students pursuing Jesus.  However, I also believe that students are needed alongside the rest of the faith family for the church to become all that God desires it to be. Early in the life of Watermark we shared this belief in the form of a vision statement. It read, “students are the catalyst of the movement and examples to all the believers.”

 

  • I believe that students have real faith. I have seen incredible maturity in the faith of students. Young people aren’t waiting to one day have a real faith. This past week at camp I heard students share what they sensed God saying to them and how they believed they should respond. I heard students share their burden and concern for family and friends. I watched as students worshipped God with abandon. I admired the students honesty. I listened as students mourned the sin in their lives and reached out for the transforming grace and forgiveness of God.

So I dream of the day in which young people, in our faith family, are fully participating and engaged. This requires a change in thinking for all ages as we recognize the importance of every member of the Body of Jesus. I am excited about some next steps we are seeking to take as a faith family to see this increasingly become a reality.

I’ll wrap up with this passage in 1 Timothy 4:12. It is a letter from Paul, to his spiritual son, Timothy. I’m not sure how old Timothy was, but apparently his youth was a barrier for him or others he sought to lead. I think it is a good passage for our young people.

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

What would it look like it we fully embraced these beliefs about young people?  What would the impact be?

7 Letters Resources

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I have thoroughly enjoyed studying and teaching through the seven letters to the churches in Revelation found in Revelation 2-3. What makes the teaching even more meaningful is that I was blessed to learn about each city/church this Summer by traveling to each place in Asia (western Turkey). The trip was outstanding, the teaching was challenging, and I was able to go on this trip with my father.

Below are some of the resources I have used for this series (besides the Bible):

1) Traveling to Turkey on a Biblical Study Tour with Brad Gray. This trip was a spiritual, intellectual, and physical experience. I highly recommend going on a trip with Brad. It is worth the investment. I hope to take a group of Watermarkers to Turkey or Israel someday for a trip like this!  Here is Brad’s info and trips.

2) Guidebooks: A couple good guidebooks help you walk through the site, learn more of the background, and present some interesting information. I’ve used “A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey” by Fant and Reddish. I also utilized “Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor” by Mark Wilson.

3) Commentaries: I used a number of commentaries, but I enjoyed “Revelation” by Ben Witherington III and “Revelation” by Mark Wilson the most.

4) Book: “The Seven Cities of the Apocalypse” by Roland Worth is an outstanding book that puts together a wide variety of resources to explore each church community being addressed in the letters. This book is out of print and pricey, but I used one from a library. Yeah for libraries!

5) Websites: Ray Vanderlaan has good stuff on Israel and Turkey on his site: “Follow the Rabbi”.  I like to explore sites through pictures at “Bible places”. Another site/publication I enjoy is Biblical Archaeology Society.  Mark Wilson has a website with some information at “Seven Churches Network.”

All of these resources were very helpful, but the most impacting was the trip to study the letters in the places they were written to. The trip pulled together the passion, the pictures, and the information into a transforming experience. The best part of the trip and the study was that I experienced God, His love, and His mission.

I am thankful to my church family for giving me the gift of time to travel this Summer to experience God and His story in this way. I am grateful to the group that I traveled with, for the impact on my life. I am also thankful for my father who traveled with me, and helped make the trip possible. Finally, I am blessed to have a wife and family that encouraged me to go and experience this (even though I was gone a couple weeks).

You can watch the “Seven Letters” teaching here (with follow up questions for small groups).