Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lifelong unlearning

I have posted several times about the value of being a lifelong learner, but in a book I'm currently reading the author mentioned that "lifelong learning actually means lifelong unlearning."  He's right!  Quite often, in order to learn something one must first unlearn something.  I remember reading several years ago a quote by a Fortune 500 CEO who said that he had learned much in his 30 years of managerial experience, most of which was no longer true.  He had been successful because of his willingness to set aside old truths as they were replaced with new ones.  We in the ministry must be willing to do likewise.

Earlier this week a pastor friend and I were talking about a particular issue and found that each of us had changed our beliefs about this issue.  At one time we each believed one way, and as we continued to study the issue and discovered new information we found out we had been wrong.  As we talked we further discovered that the change was not easy for either of us, but facts and truth are stubborn things, and once new facts and truths are discovered one must either accept them or deny them.  I understand the Flat Earth Society had approximately 3,000 members in the 1990s so I guess it is possible to deny facts, but why would anyone want to?

Many church leaders continue to operate in the church as if it was still 1950 believing if they remain faithful and work hard that things will turn around and they will once again become the robust church they were back then.  That is Flat Earth Society thinking.  We are in the 21st century.  Our world is much different that 1950.  People's needs are different; their way of thinking about religion and faith are different, the family structure is different; people are facing new challenges.  The Good News of the gospel has not changed, but the way it is presented to people must change or the church of today will not impact this generation God has given us.

I hear a lot of small church pastors and lay leaders complain that nobody comes to the revivals any more.  Maybe it's because the day of revival meetings have passed.  Maybe it's because families have so many different directions to go each evening that trying to attend a revival service just isn't very high on their list of priorities.  Am I saying that's a good thing?  No, but it's the reality.  Maybe, instead of complaining that no one comes to the revival meetings, we should not schedule one and do something different.  I hear the same complaints about the lack of people attending Sunday school, and yet those who complain typically are doing the same thing today they did in Sunday school they did 30 years ago.  Maybe we need to restructure our Sunday school or offer something entirely different to promote biblical understanding and discipleship.  A common complaint today is that people don't attend association meetings like they used to (in 1950?).  Maybe that's a sign that it's time to stop having those meetings.  Maybe people are trying to say that those meetings don't have the importance they once had.

As I work with pastor search committees I often hear them say they would like a younger pastor with some new ideas.  Two things I want to say about that.  One, most of the committees that say that don't mean it because if the pastor came with a new idea they would reject it.  Two, it's not always the young pastors who have the new ideas about doing church.  I've seen a lot of 30 and 40 year old pastors who have some really old ideas of how a church should minister.  I've also seen some older pastors who have a much better understanding of ministry in the 21st century than their younger counterparts.  I'm now 63 years old, and I can tell you if I returned to pastoral ministry I would not function as I did for the 20 years I pastored.  In the past 11 years as a judicatory minister I've learned some things about ministry I didn't know back then.  To learn those things I've had to unlearn a lot of things I had been taught and some things I just assumed about ministry.

Unlearning isn't easy, but it's necessary if you want to remain useful to the Kingdom of God.  It's hard to give up some cherished truths you've clung to for years (decades).  It helps to remember those truths were once new truths that replaced some cherished truths our ancestors believed about ministry years earlier, and one day, as new discoveries are made and things continue to change in our world, these new truths will also be replaced.  That is why each of us must be committed to a lifetime of unlearning and learning.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy as we have dealt with the passing of my step-mother and some other family challenges.  I just have not had time to blog.  However, I did find an article today of an interview with Eugene Peterson that I thought was really good that I wanted to share with my readers.  Everything he says about pastoring in this interview really fits in well with what most bivocational ministers do in their ministries.  I thought you would find this interview encouraging and helpful.  You can read it at

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Don't be the church

I had a call yesterday from a bivocational pastor who seems near burnout. He wanted a coach but wasn't ready to commit to a coaching relationship yet.  The church is struggling a little financially due to the current economic situation, and he expects a salary cut by the end of the year.  He only works part time.  His family is already struggling financially, and a salary cut at the church will only make things worse.  When I asked how many people normally attended services he responded about 50 people attend on Sunday morning.  I then asked why he could not work a full-time job with a church that size.  He felt that he would not be able to be able to respond as pastor quickly enough in times of emergencies if he had a full-time job.  It was then I told him it sounded like he had become the church.

I was in his shoes about my fifth year in my pastorate.  I was physically and mentally exhausted and about ready to give up.  At a judictory meeting I spoke with one of our leaders about my situation.  He explained that my problem was that I had become the church.  I was the person doing everything that was getting done in the church.  He told me that not only was I damaging myself in the process I was preventing the congregation from learning how to be the church.  Everything he said was right on target, and the longer I remain in ministry the more bivocational ministers I see making the same mistake that I and yesterday's caller has made.

According to Ephesians 4 our role as ministers is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry; it is not to do all the work of ministry.  Yes, there are tasks that are primarily the responsibility of the pastor, but there are many other things that many of us do that rightly should be done by others.  By the way, this is not only a problem for bivocational ministers.  I recently had lunch with a fully-funded pastor who is also trying to do much more than he should, and he has nearly burned himself out in the process.

We need to be training the people sitting in the pews how to identify and use the gifts God has given them.  If we do not we are cheating them out of the opportunity to be used in signficant ministries that God has called them to do, and we are shortchanging the church by not making those ministries available to others.  People need to understand that discipleship is more than attending a Sunday school class and memorizing some Bible stories and principles.  Discipleship is about putting into practice those things we have learned.

If you are scurrying around like a rat in a maze, exhausted, frustrated, unable to spend quality time with your family and your own self-care, you are probably doing way more than God ever called you to do.  You need to slow down, begin to train your lay people to do ministry, and take a healthier approach to the calling God has placed on your life.  Don't be the church.  The Kingdom needs all your people to be the church.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Renewing our minds

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting a small town congregation for worship.  The pastor was preaching on the need to renew our minds.  Although I had heard numerous sermons on that topic I left there thinking this one was probably the best I've ever heard on the subject.  We spent much of our time in Philippians 4:8 for the message as he reminded the congregation of the types of things we should focus our thinking on if we want to renew our minds.  He also reminded us that it isn't easy because we are constantly bombarded with the other kinds of things that do not lead to renewed minds.

How many of the television programs you watch are uplifting and positive?  What about the movies you see?  The music you listen to?  Do you find that most news programs encourage you and focus on things that are lovely and of good report?  Do you find images on the Internet that burn themselves into your mind?  Did those images appear while you were looking for something else, or did you go looking for them?  What about your friends and people with whom you spend much of your time?  Are they encouragers, positive people with positive attitudes that uplift you just by being around them, or are they mostly negative people who spend much of their time complaining about all the negative things in life?

We cannot ignore that there are negative things in this world in which we live.  We shouldn't stick a finger in our ears and sing "La, la, la, la, la, la" real loud so we don't have to hear about the negatives and don't have to do anything about them.  We are called to minister in this world in which we live with all the negative and bad things that exist.  The challenge is to not allow these things to control what we dwell on.  Our focus is to be on the person of Jesus Christ and His call on our lives and on our churches.  We have to choose every day whether we will focus on the negatives that exist all around us or upon Christ and the good things He is doing through us to make a difference in this messed up world in which we live.  That choice will impact our attitudes and how we go about our days.

One other thing...we also can't focus on the negative things that goes on within our churches.  Virtually every week church leaders are confronted by the complainers, the controllers, the perpetual victims, the whiners, and the spiritually immature who have been languishing around the church for decades.  These people are real joy suckers.  Don't let them.  Minister to them the best you can but maintain your focus on Christ and His call on your life.  I've read where the typical pastor will leave a church because of seven people.  That's what happens when we focus too much of our attention on the joy suckers and fail to remember the many others whose lives have been impacted by our ministry.

Why not make Philippians 4:8 your verse for this week?  Write it down on a card and carry it in your pocket.  Every time you find yourself focusing on the negative things that are going on around you, pull out that card and read it.  Intentionally force yourself to begin to dwell on the positive and allow those thoughts to help renew your mind as you go about the day.  It might make a big difference.