Friday, November 17, 2017

Exciting journeys begin by saying yes to God

Two years ago I retired as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. The Region held a retirement party for me which showed up yesterday on Facebook as a memory from the past. Looking at that picture brought back a lot of memories.

In 1981 I responded to God's call on my life by accepting the pastorate of Hebron Baptist Church, a small, rural church near my hometown of Madison, IN. As I've shared many times I went there with no experience and no education beyond high school. I only knew God had called me to the ministry, and this church needed a pastor. I continued working at Cummins Engine Co. and served the church as a bivocational pastor.

For 20 years I served that church before being called to serve as a Resource Minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. I went from having one church of about 50 people to serving around 80 churches in my Area. I continued in that ministry for 14 years before retiring.

During that 34 years my life experienced many interesting and rewarding transitions. I furthered my education by earning the bachelor's, master's, and Doctor of Ministry degrees. I published eight books focusing on bivocational and small church ministry. As a result of those books I've been invited to lead conferences and seminars for numerous denominations across the US and Canada. I've had the opportunity to work with many wonderful ministry leaders in our Region and across our denomination as well as others serving in other denominations.

Of course, for a minister retirement is merely a word that has little meaning in real life. For the past year I've been privileged to serve Madison FBC as their Transitional Pastor. It has been a joy to return to pastoral ministry, working with a great congregation and a very capable staff whom I've come to appreciate very much. I pray for the church's Pastor Search Team every day, but until God leads them to their next pastor I am enjoying working with this church during this transitional time.

No one knows growing up what life will look like for them. As a child growing up on dairy farms I never dreamed I would have the opportunities I've had. My life has been a journey that I could never have dreamed possible, and it all began by saying yes to God when called to that small, rural church.

I pray the same can be said about you. God has a plan for each of us, but that plan can only come to pass if we are willing to say yes to Him. Saying yes to God will lead you down paths you could not have imagined on your own. It will give you opportunities you never dreamed possible. At times it will seem frightening, and you'll not be sure where some of these opportunities will take you. Just're always safe in God's arms. The safest place anyone can be is in the middle of God's will for his or her life.

Has God been calling you to something that has caused you to be hesitant? If you'll say yes to that call you will find yourself on a journey that will be more rewarding than you can imagine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How will you grow in 2018?

We've all heard the warning: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Unfortunately, many of us still refuse to create plans to accomplish things that will impact our lives the most. For instance, few people create a plan that will help them grow personally or spiritually. We seem to think that personal and spiritual growth happens automatically. It doesn't.

In yesterday's post I mentioned the impact that Zig Ziglar had on my life. One of the things he did was to encourage me to set personal growth goals and then work on those goals throughout the year. I found that when I did that I became much more focused on how I spent my time and the activities I said yes to. I tracked my time every day to make sure I had spent some time that day working on my goals. Doing this enabled me to write books, develop seminars, and do many things I probably would not have accomplished if I had just drifted along hoping to accomplish something along the way.

A person committed to personal growth begins by identifying the areas in which he or she wants to grow. A Facebook friend asked the other day if a 60 year old man should be thinking about going back to school. I replied that I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree at 62 so if he felt this was something he wanted to do he should go for it.

Financially, I doubt I will get back the money I spent in earning that degree, but I didn't do it for the money. I did it to grow personally. BTW - I don't consider that I spent money. I invested money. I invested in myself. Another recession can come and take your retirement money away, but when you invest in yourself it's going to be there regardless of what the economy does.

Spiritual growth is just like personal growth. Only you can decide how much you want to grow spiritually, and only you can decide the best the way to accomplish that. You may want to map out a personal reading and study plan for the new year. You may want to check out upcoming conferences in your area and make plans to attend. You may want to be a part of some short term mission trips.

It doesn't really matter what you do. What's important is that you do something, and that you do it now. Today is not too early to begin planning for your personal and spiritual growth. Today is not too early to begin identifying the means by which that growth will occur.

If you fail to intentionally plan to grow chances are you won't. When the end of 2018 rolls around you will be exactly like you are today except a year older. Don't be that person. Determine the areas in which you want to grow, identify the means by which that growth can occur, and take definite steps today to make that happen.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

zig ziglar

My daughter called yesterday saying she had gone online to buy something from Zig Ziglar's company when a screen popped up on her computer stating that it would have been Ziglar's 91st birthday, and to celebrate they had all his merchandise 50% off. She called knowing I am a big fan of Zig Ziglar.

Several years ago Ziglar was one of several motivational speakers touring the country and speaking at various cities. Nearly every year I would get tickets for myself and our daughter to attend. His presentation was usually the longest and the best of any of the speakers. I heard him so many times I knew most of his stories before he would tell them.

During that time I purchased a number of items including a three-volume cassette series on success and goal setting. For four years I purchased his planner and used it to not only track my goals but to track my time. I literally recorded everything I did during those four years in 15 minute segments in that planner. It changed my life, and I became much more focused and goal oriented. Don't tell me you don't have time to do the things you claim are most important until you have tracked how you actually spend your time. Chances are, you have plenty of time to do those things that are truly important.

Ziglar was not always the success he was when I first began to hear him speak. In fact, he was very honest about how many different endeavors he was involved in before finally realizing success in sales and motivational speaking. I'm sure much of his wisdom was gained during those difficult years.

What endeared me to him was the way he shared his presentations. He was full of energy as he told story after story to drive home his points. He could relate to anyone and seemed genuinely interested in everyone he met. I bought the higher priced tickets that offered a number of perks at these events which included having a pre-conference breakfast with Zig Ziglar. He would be standing at the door of the dining hall to shake hands with everyone who entered. He didn't have to do that, but he was determined to make everyone feel welcomed.

Another thing I appreciated was his faith in God. He was very open about his faith and how it impacted his life. One of his most powerful books was Confessions of a Grieving Christian in which he told how he dealt with the loss of his oldest daughter after a lengthy illness. Of course, he credited the Lord with his ability to get through that painful period.

Few people have impacted my life more than Zig Ziglar. His books are well worth reading, and I have recommended his goal setting program to hundreds of people.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tragedy in Texas

We were all shocked yesterday to hear of the shooting in a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that resulted in the deaths of over 20 people with that many more wounded. The shooter later died, apparently in a shoot-out with a neighbor of the church although that has not been confirmed as I write this post.

What would possess someone to enter a church and randomly shoot people, men, women, and children, as they gather to worship? As yet, officials have not given a motive for the shooting, so I will not speculate here. Whatever the reason, it certainly does not justify this cowardly act.

Responses across the country have been varied. Some in the entertainment industry, well-known for its moral superiority to the rest of us, immediately blamed Republicans, called for more gun controls, and ridiculed faith and prayer. The vast majority of people, including many others in the entertainment business, called for prayers for the church and community.

No doubt, as the shock of this wears off, there will be more demands for gun control. As violence increases across the nation such calls are to be expected even though such restrictions would not reduce the violence. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and injured over 600 more using fertilizer. Jim Jones killed 909 people with Kool-Aid mixed with cyanide. Hopefully, we haven't forgotten that on 9/11 nearly 3,000 people were killed when aircraft were flown into buildings in the United States. Furthermore, millions of Americans own guns that have never been used to harm another human being. Those who argue that tighter restrictions on guns will reduce violence are simply presenting a red herring to avoid the real issue here.

It's not a gun issue; it's a heart issue. As a nation we have strayed far from God and the way He teaches us to live. Since we as a nation have determined that it is not politically correct to promote a Christian worldview we have to look for other means to control people's behavior. Today, it's restricting access to guns; tomorrow it will be controlling something else. No restrictions, no laws, will prevent someone determined to harm other human beings from carrying out their desires.

Until our vertical relationship with God is right our horizontal relationships with one another will never be right. As long as we continue to hate one another, carry bitterness towards others, envy one another, or feel superior to others we will see continued violence. As a nation, we need God.

Will such a spiritual awakening occur? I don't know. For now, we need to be prayerful. We certainly need to pray for our brothers and sisters impacted by this latest tragedy. We need to pray for one another, and we need to pray that America will see its need for God once again. I still believe in 2 Chronicles 7: 14, and it is that belief that gives me hope for our nation.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sermon planning for 2018

Every year about this time I post an article about the importance of using the fall to think about your sermons for the upcoming year. Well, it's fall, and it's time to start that planning.

Some pastors are able to plan their entire preaching schedule for a year. I was not that good. I tried to plan at least three months worth, and I could often get six months of planning done before the new year started.

I always began by taking a yellow legal pad and writing down the dates for each Sunday in the left hand column. (Yes, you can use your computer. I'm old, and I like paper!) To the left of that I would write out if that Sunday had a special emphasis such as Mother's Day or the first Sunday of Advent. If you have to preach both on Sunday morning and Sunday night you will find that a legal pad will give you enough lines for one quarter of sermons. If you only preach on Sunday morning, just skip a line between each date.

The next thing I would do is pray about what I wanted to accomplish. Your church's vision should inform much of what you are wanting to do. I would then begin to think about themes. Soon these would lead to sermon titles with a text. That's what I would write down. The special emphasis Sundays would have their own special theme. (It really wasn't too hard to know what my topic would be on the Sunday before Thanksgiving!)

One thing I often did was plan a series of sermons on the family between Mother's Day and Father's Day. That was often one of the most popular sermon series I did each year.

The Sunday after Father's Day I would often begin a lengthy sermon series through a book of the Bible or a major portion of Scripture such as the Sermon on the Mount. This series would normally run through the entire summer and sometimes into the fall. This helped make sure I wasn't avoiding difficult passages, and it deepened our congregation's understanding about what the Bible teaches.

There are several advantages to planning your sermons months in advance.

  • It allows you more time to actually prepare your messages. Too often, pastors who go Sunday-to-Sunday in their sermon preparation actually spend more time trying to decide what to preach than they spend in the preparation.
  • It enables your worship planners to know in advance what your messages will be so they will be better able to plan the music and other elements of worship to coordinate with the message. This provides a better flow to your worship service.
  • It lets you have a good overview of your sermons. One year as I was looking back at my messages for that year I realized that I had become rather negative in my preaching. God convicted me of that in such a way I apologized to the congregation the following Sunday and made a shift in my sermons.
  • It makes sure you will have the necessary resources to prepare your sermons. For example, one year I decided to preach through the book of Romans for my summer series. At that time I did not have a lot of commentaries and other sermon helps on Romans. I made sure that problem was corrected before it was time to begin preparing those messages. 
  • It helps ensure you are not just preaching on your current interests. Right now, I am very interested in reading on apologetics. I have shared some of my learning with my current congregation, but it would be unfair to do that every Sunday. By planning my preaching I am more likely to offer them more balanced messages that includes more than just apologetics.
  • It also gives the speaker an opportunity to keep the church's vision before them. We are told that a congregation needs to be reminded at least once a month of its vision for ministry. Planning your messages in advance can help make that happen.
It does take time to plan a preaching scheduled, but after doing this for years I can tell you that the time you spend on the front end will be made up on the back end. It's a great feeling to sit down on Monday and know what your sermon text and theme is for the next week. You can go straight to preparing your message and not spend days trying to decide what to preach. Try it. Just plan one quarter and see how that goes.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vacation and thoughts about a pastor's library

For the past couple of weeks I've been on vacation in Panama City Beach. I left there yesterday morning after sitting out on the beach and pool side the day before only to be greeted by a house registering 60 degrees on the thermostat. Although I was tired from the long drive, I was about ready to turn around and go back!

It was a great time away. We spent our vacation with our daughter and her family. I think the recent hurricanes down there had lowered the water temperature more than normal for this time of the year, but we still got to spend time in both the ocean and the pool and got plenty of nice Florida sun shine. I also enjoyed a nice round of golf and a couple of rounds of putt-putt with the grand kids.

We've been going there for vacation for several years and have several restaurants we enjoy. This year we did something a little different: we tried some new restaurants. Some had been around for a while, but we had just never gone to them while others had opened since we were there last year. I love fresh seafood and was not disappointed!

Surprisingly enough, I even had time to read. I took two books with me, and bought several more down there. I finished reading A New Kind of Apologist by Sean McDowell and read Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. Some of the Goodwill stores down there always have a great selection of books and I bought several. The two I bought and read while there were The Time Keeper by Mitch Albon and The Radical Leap by Steve Farber. I really enjoyed all four books.

Books I bought there that have been added to my to-read list include Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson and Fresh Air by Jack Levison.

I know I've mentioned this before, but my experience in the Goodwill stores made me want to remind you of something important. Many of you who read this blog are bivocational pastors or pastors of smaller churches who do not have a lot of money for your library. Each of these books cost me between 2.99 and 3.99. New books are expensive, but you don't have to spend a lot of money to build up a good pastoral library. For less than 20.00 I added six quality books to my library. BTW - These books list new for $115.90. They have no marks in them and each are in nearly new condition.

Your local library probably has an annual book sale. Flea markets and auctions are great places to find books. If you live near a seminary there may be a used bookstore nearby where students sell their text books when they finish a class. I bought a number of books in such a bookstore.

If you are in pastoral ministry or any leadership role in a church you need a good library, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune to own one. Oh, and don't forget to enjoy a vacation or two every year!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

When the church becomes a battlefield

Serving as a judicatory leader for 14 years allowed me to see things in churches that should never happen. In yesterday's post I referred to bullies in the pulpit who use their position as pastor to browbeat their congregations into doing whatever they want. These people are especially skilled at using Scripture to prove their point or to challenge anyone who dares stand against them. They misuse their calling, if they ever were called to the ministry, to promote their own agendas, not God's.

These individuals are skilled at dividing church members until it becomes "us" versus "them." Of course, the pastor's group is convinced they are right, and those who refuse to go along with them are wrong. Worse than that, they also are led to believe that the ones who oppose what the pastor is doing is defying God. "Touch not God's anointed" is a common rallying cry even when "God's anointed" is leading the church down a path of destruction. I've seen once strong, healthy churches decline to a pathetic shadow of what they once were, and I'm sure Satan is standing in the shadows gleefully laughing at what he was able to accomplish.

I've also seen church members who once worshiped together and enjoyed spending time with one another suddenly turn against each another. Just recently I heard of some comments one member of a church made to another that were shameful and degrading. These individuals had worshiped together for many years, but this unwarranted attack has led to a serious breakdown in their relationship. To make this even worse, the one who made the attack is oblivious to what he did. He has so little self-awareness that he does not understand the pain he has caused the one he attacked.

While coaching a small church pastor a few years ago I asked her what would she like to do in ministry more than anything else. She responded that she would like to begin a ministry to people who have been hurt by the church. I laughed and responded that if she found a way to do that her church would not remain small for very long!

In every community there are many, many people who have been wounded by churches they used to attend. In some cases, they were able to move on to other churches, but far too often the wounds are too deep, and they simply walk away from the church forever.

Scripture is very clear that shepherds are to love, care for and feed the sheep, not beat them into submission. We are to teach the truth in love, not use the Scriptures as a club to force compliance. The Bible is very clear that those of us who serve as leaders in the church will answer to God for how we served those entrusted to us by God. Some pastors will have much to answer for.

We also note that Jesus prayed for unity among His people, and Scripture gives numerous warnings to those who create disunity and disharmony among the people of God. The church is never to be a battleground. Our battle should be against the forces of darkness, not against one another. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Neither can it be an effective witness for God.

If your church is becoming a battleground, please call in support to help it address the conflicts. If you are part of a denomination, they will have people who can help you deal with conflict. If your church is independent you can call in consultants to address the issues. Whatever you do, don't let it continue thinking that maybe it will get better. It won't, and your church's ability to do ministry may well be affected for decades.