Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Real men provide

By now you've probably heard of the billboard dispute in North Carolina. The billboard reads: Real men provide. Real women appreciate it. One woman who found the message offensive has announced a protest against what she believes to be the demeaning message behind the billboard statement.

After a while it just seems that people are determined to find something to protest. Night after night we watch people protesting something on television. Facebook is full of people angry about something and determined to let everyone know about it. We have become such a selfish, me-centered society that no one can say or do anything without people becoming offended.

I see many messages throughout the day that I find offensive or with which I disagree. So what? I don't go on social media proclaiming how offended I am, and I don't protest. As I recently posted in this space, it is perfectly OK to see something with which you disagree and go on with your life without responding. I don't believe the entire world needs my expert advice on everything that is happening.

Regarding the billboard message, I struggle to find how that can be offensive. I suppose it is in the mind and life experiences of the reader, but I found nothing offensive about it. In fact, I found it to be a very positive message.

Real men do provide for their families. How is that demeaning to single mothers as one protester put it? That doesn't say anything about women not contributing to the home nor does it degrade women at all. It simply states a fact that was accepted for thousands of years. Real men provide for their families.

To me this says that men do not impregnate a woman and then leave her to raise the child. As one writer put it, it takes a male to make a baby, but it takes a man to raise a child. It says that a real man doesn't abandon his wife and family and run off with another woman. It says that a real man works to provide for his family. Yes in today's society it often requires two incomes to make it, but he is contributing his share and not laying around the house playing video games while his wife works.

Real men provide security for their families. They are wise with finances and lifestyle choices. They invest wisely. They ensure their children receive a quality education to prepare them for their own futures. They lovingly discipline their children so they will grow up to be responsible adults with good moral and ethical values.

Real men provide their families with good communication. They listen to their wives and children and respect their opinions. They talk over both major and minor decisions that will impact the family. Real men don't go out and buy motorcycles and boats without seeking input from the rest of the family.

Real men provide love to each member of the family. They put the needs of the family above their own desires. They do not force others to earn their love, but they love unconditionally. Real men publicly praise their wives and children and supports them in the things they do.

Frankly, I do not know a woman who would not appreciate a man who provides such things.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Growing Young

This past week I attended a seminar on Growing Young led by Kara Powell, one of the authors of the book by the same name. The seminar was hosted by the Center for Congregations, an organization that is a real blessing to the churches here in Indiana.

I had actually purchased and read the book last fall but was quite excited to learn that Kara would be here to lead a day-long seminar on the material in the book. The book is the result of extensive research with over 250 congregations that are successfully reaching teens and young adults. In that research they identified six things that these churches are doing that allows them to effectively reach these young people.

My reason for reading this book and attending the seminar is probably the same as the other attendees. The vast majority of churches are not effectively reaching young people. At a recent Church Council meeting we heard about declining Sunday school attendance, especially in the children's and young adult classes. Teens and young adults ages 18-29 make up a small minority of our congregation. I wanted to know what churches that are reaching these young people are doing.

I did not want a three-step approach guaranteed to reach young people (OK, I would have taken that even though I know it's not going to be that simple.), and that's not what we were given. We were taught important ways our church's culture needs to be changed that will make it more appealing to young people.

One example of this was called unlocking keychain leadership. We all remember the first time we were given the keys to the family car. We felt empowered and trusted. We felt the responsibility that went along with that trust. The same is true when we give keys to the young people in the church. The authors write, "When we refer to keys, we mean the capabilities, power, and access of leaders that carry the potential to empower young people." They later write, "If you are willing to entrust your keys to young people, they will trust you with their hearts, their energy, their creativity, and even their friends."

When I first read this in the book I made a note in the margin. As a young man in my late 20s our family became very involved in a local church. The pastor asked me one day if I had ever felt called to become a minister. I admitted I had, and we talked about that. Sometime later he handed me the key to his study. He knew I enjoyed reading, and he wanted to make his library available to me. I was free to use it any time I wanted.

That key opened up a whole new world to me. There were shelves filled with theology books, books on ministry, commentaries, and more, and I had access to them. But that key meant more to me that just the accessibility of the books. It meant that I had a relationship with the pastor who entrusted me with a valuable possession, his library. As a young man, and a relatively new Christian, my pastor invested himself in me, and a couple of years later I accepted God's call on my life to become a minister.

Who are the young people in your church you can trust with leadership responsibilities? What keys can you turn over to them, and what is the likely impact of you doing that? Is that even possible in your church, or does the culture in your church need to change?

If you are interested in seeing your congregation reach more teens and young adults I would recommend you to read Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. If Kara Powell is in your area leading the seminar on this book I would highly recommend you attend it as well, and be sure to take others from the church with you. It will make interesting conversation on the way home!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Talking about differences

I was saddened today by the news that Alan Colmes has passed away. Colmes was the liberal half of Hannity and Colmes on Fox for a number of years before the channel gave Hannity the program by himself. Colmes remained a political commentator on Fox providing liberal insights on the news of the day.

Although I seldom agreed with most of Colmes' views, I deeply appreciated the way he conducted himself as he debated with the more conservative commentators at Fox. I seldom heard Colmes interrupt a speaker or try to shout over those with whom he disagreed. Frankly, I've stopped watching most of those who debate political and social issues on television because of the way they approach their debates. Most seem to think if they interrupt and talk louder it makes their points stronger. Colmes did not approach his discussions like that. He spoke in even tones, presented his views, explained why he believed as he did, and listened to opposing views. I admired him very much, and from the comments that have appeared today, so did many others.

Colmes provided the type of civil discussion that is often missing today. Many in our culture no longer know how to carry on civilized discussion. Rather than trying to explain their views many begin to personally attack those who disagree with them. We talk at one another rather than talking to one another. We gather in mobs and riot to get what we want instead of engaging in civilized discussion.

Unfortunately, the church is not immune to such activity. Church business meetings can become intense when opposing sides begin to engage in personal attacks rather than discussing the actual issues that have caused the division. Church members begin to form alliances in order to do battle with those with whom they disagree. Parking lot meetings become the order of the day, and gossip and dissension creates division within the body.

As the body of Christ, the church must set the example for civil discussion. Even when protests and civil disobedience is called for they should be done in a way that honors God. As I stated in a recent post, Rosa Parks protested by refusing to give up her seat on a bus; she did not set fire to the bus. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led numerous protests in an effort to get civil rights laws passed, but he insisted on peaceful protests. The ones he led only became violent when officials made them violent.

I did not know Alan Colmes personally, and any opinion I have of him comes only from watching him on TV, but I found him to be a gentleman who held to strong beliefs about politics and social issues. He defended his positions well and in a way that was decent and honorable. Even his critics have said today that he was a kind and caring man, a decent human being, who will be missed. May that be said of each of us when we pass.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Your church five years from now

This past Saturday I led the church in which I am serving as Transitional Pastor through an exercise to help discern God's vision for the church. This is an important step for any church to take when seeking new pastoral leadership, and it's one every church should do every 5-6 years anyway. Knowing God's vision for a church is key to that church enjoying maximum ministry effectiveness. Pursuing God's vision is always going to be more effective than merely drifting along hoping something good happens.

An important part of the process I use has each participant spend about 30 minutes answering a series of questions I give them. This is done three times during the course of the day. Sometimes they are given Scriptures to read and reflect on prior to answering the questions. After the 30 minutes they come back to their small groups and discuss among themselves what they have heard God say to them in the process. Then they report to the larger group.

It's always rewarding to me to hear them go around their tables talking about the future of their church. Every time I lead a church through this process I wonder how long it has been since they have had such discussions. I get excited as I listen to them talk about their dreams and hopes for their church over the next five years because this is not a conversation that happens to many churches.

As the day comes to a close we begin to talk about we have sensed God is leading the church to become and do in the next five years. Sometimes, that is very clear to the participants and a vision statement can be formed. Other times, it's still not clear, but the church now has something to work on. At the least, they have had important conversations that may not have occurred in the church in many years.

I'm glad to announce that in the recent event the participants were able to develop a vision statement. We actually went beyond our time limit as we worked on the wording, but no one seemed to care. It was exciting to watch as they continually sought out the best way to word their vision statement so it would be clear.

Now, when the pastor search team begins interviewing candidates they can be very clear to that individual what the church's vision is for future ministry. They can look for the person who will best be able to lead them in pursuit of that vision. That will be a big benefit to the church as it calls a new pastor.

Now we begin more work as church leadership begins to determine the best ways to achieve this vision. With a clear God-given vision we can now begin to do strategic planning to help us develop goals that will enable us to achieve that vision. This will help the church better focus its resources and efforts. If the church can maintain this focus I believe it has exciting days ahead of it.

Your church doesn't have to go through a formal visioning process although it would be a good thing if it did. Any church can gather to talk about what they would like to see be and do in the next five years. Who are the people your church is most likely to serve five years from now? What ministries would you like to see in your church five years from now? Who are the people groups your church might need to target? What has to change to allow these things to happen? Answering these questions, and more, would greatly benefit any church serious about its ministry and its impact on its community. How long has it been since your congregation has had this kind of conversation? Do you think it might be time?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mission support and denominational differences

I read an article last week stating that a large Southern Baptist church in Texas was putting their mission giving to the denomination in escrow while they discuss their concerns with the direction of the SBC. We are talking about $1 million so it is a substantial sum of money that is being at least temporarily withheld.

Although the article singled out some actions and public statements made by an official in the denomination, the pastor claimed that the congregation's concerns go beyond one person. You can read the article here if you are interested.

I am not Southern Baptist and do not plan to speak to any issues this church may have with their denomination. My concern here is the withholding of mission money for any reason. Over the past few years we've seen a number of churches withdraw from our denomination (American Baptist Churches, USA) and others significantly reduce their mission giving, or eliminate it completely, over concerns they had with decisions that were being made at the national level. Regardless of denomination, this is wrong.

This is the equivalent of church members withholding their tithes and offerings because they disagree with the pastor or a decision that has been made by the church. No pastor would want church members doing that so why would a pastor encourage the church to do that to their denomination? I have worked with two churches who had people stop giving to the church in an effort to force the pastor to resign. In both cases it worked. When I was called in afterwards to work with the churches I told both of them that such action is spiritually immature and unbiblical. I consider the withholding money designated for mission work to also be immature and unbiblical.

At a time when we need to be sharing the Gospel more than ever why hamper the work of missionaries and judicatories by withholding money because you disagree with something that was said or done? I don't see that the church has any disagreement with missionaries in the article, so why hinder their ministries by taking this action?

There are two possible actions that a church could take. One is to work to correct the problem. The other is to leave the denomination if the conflict is too great to resolve. Either of those would be far more biblical and ethical than withholding money because you disagree with an issue.

Again, I am not singling out this particular church or denomination. They are just the latest to make the news for this type of action. As a judicatory leader I saw this happen over and over again in the churches I served. Because of such action denominations and judicatories are facing serious financial shortfalls and cutbacks resulting in fewer staff and less resources to assist churches. Nobody wins in this scenario.

I can tell you that denominations are not perfect, and neither are their leaders. Denominations are no different than churches in that regard. Mistakes will be made. Honest people can also disagree on some issues. When they occur we need to extend grace while addressing our concerns. Unless our differences involve heretical teachings or actions mature Christians should be able to work together to further the Kingdom of God.

I would encourage every church, regardless of denomination, to pray long and hard before deciding to withhold its mission support. Too many innocent people who had nothing to do with the issues are hurt when churches take such action.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

God's vision, not ours

I have published a number of articles in this blog over the years about the importance of vision in a church. Working with numerous churches over the years I found that a very small percentage of them had any semblance of a vision, and those that did seldom referenced that vision in their planning or ministries. The majority of these churches flounder around week to week hoping something good will one day happen in their church and wonder why it seldom does.

Vision is essential to a church, but it's also essential that the vision is revisited occasionally. A church should look at its vision at least every 5-6 years to make sure it is still relevant to the ministry needs that exist within and around the church. Also, any time a church is going through a transition is an important time to revisit the vision. Certainly, when a church is seeking new pastoral leadership would qualify as a significant transition time.

This is where the church I'm currently serving is at. They called me to serve as their Transitional Pastor when their previous pastor resigned. One of the things I am doing is leading the church in vision discernment. As I explained to them, it is important to understand where God is leading a church before the church calls a new pastor.

Previously, we spent an evening determining the Core Values of the church and another evening identifying its Bedrock Beliefs. This coming Saturday we will spend the day in a vision discernment exercise. It will be an important day in the life of the congregation and we are praying for a good turnout of people to help in this process.

One of the challenges we will face is common to all churches doing vision discernment. It will be hard to make the distinction between what we are hearing God say and what our individual preferences might be. Most people entering into such a discernment process will bring their own thoughts of what a church should be and do to that process. It is easy to want to filter everything done during the exercise through those individual ideas. The challenge will be to be open to what God is saying regardless of how that might relate to our personal thoughts.

Vision discernment is messy. As Baptists we prefer to discuss things (endlessly at times) and take a vote. The majority rules. While this often works in most things, that is not discernment. Discernment is listening to the still, small voice of God to see how He would lead. The pastor's vision, the deacon's vision, the desires of the largest financial contributor are all irrelevant. What is God saying? Where is He wanting to lead this congregation? What is He wanting to do in and through this church? These are the critical questions that lead to discerning a vision from God, and that is the only thing that ultimately matters.

I'm looking forward to this Saturday because we have excellent people who attend this church who truly wants to follow God's leading for their ministry in the community. I think it will be an exciting day.

What is your church's vision? How long has it been since you revisited it? How does it impact the decisions that are made in your church? Is it God's vision for your church or is it something you copied from another church's web site or was given by a previous pastor? These are questions that any church that wants to enjoy God's blessings on its ministry needs to answer.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What is the most important thing a pastor can do for those he or she serves?

I written before about the impact Eugene Peterson's book, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, has had on my ministry. In the book he mentions that while pastors are judged by their people for the visible tasks of ministry, the most important tasks are those that are often not seen by others. These are what he calls the angles of ministry, and only when the angles are right can we do ministry with integrity. These angles are praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction.

Although this book has influenced me, like many pastors I sometimes get so busy with the visible tasks that I find it easy to neglect the angles, and God has to remind me again of what is most important. He did this recently when I was reading an article that asked "What is the most important thing a pastor can do for his or her congregation?" The answer was to pray for them.

I often find that when God speaks it's not long until I have the opportunity to respond. A few days after reading that question and answer an individual approached me at a store and shared a private prayer concern and asked me to pray for their family. That evening I began to pray about their situation, and as I prayed I began thinking about others in our church family that needed prayer. I began to pray for them as well, and then I thought of a recent tragedy in our community and began to pray for the family affected by it.

My primary spiritual gifts are preaching, teaching, and leadership. I am working in my natural giftedness when I'm involved in any of these tasks. You'll immediately notice that these are all ministry tasks that are done in public. The angles Peterson talks about do not come natural to me. In fact, at times I can become jealous when I read about some of the saints of old who spent hours each day in prayer or in the study of Scripture. But, just because these do not come natural to me does not mean that they are less important nor does it mean that I can ignore them. It does mean that I must discipline myself to ensure that I do pray for those I serve, that I do spend time in the Scriptures, and that I am involved in giving spiritual direction.

This also means the pastor must spend time with the people in order to know how to best pray for them. The pastor who never leaves the office can only pray in generalities, and that's not enough.

I love to talk to people about God, but I think Peterson would argue that it's more important to talk to God about the people. And, I think he's right.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Have you been called to the ministry?

While serving as a judicatory minister in our region for 14 years I saw it become increasingly more difficult to find pastors for our churches. Smaller churches often seek bivocational ministers to serve in their churches, and these tend to be found primarily near the location of the church. Few pastors are going to move from New Jersey to serve a small, bivocational church in Indiana. Our search for a pastor for these churches was usually limited to within about a 20 or so mile radius of the church. That really limits the number of potential candidates for these churches.

It wasn't much easier to find fully-funded pastors for our larger churches. A typical pastor search process for these churches often took 18 months or more. This was often frustrating to the church members who can't understand why it takes so long to find a pastor who then begins to put pressure on the search team, and this can result in calling someone the church really doesn't want.

This problem is not going to get better any time soon. We continue to have large numbers of pastors approaching retirement age. I recently read that around 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month for various reasons. Many denominations are pushing the planting of new churches, and this is often attractive to younger ministers who prefer doing that to dealing with the sacred traditions found in many existing churches. All of this means that we are going to see more churches fishing in a shrinking pastoral pool trying to find the right pastor for their church.

While this has long troubled me, one thing continues to encourage me. This has not caught God by surprise. I believe He is calling individuals to the ministry to meet the needs of both our existing churches and the new ones being planted. The problem is that some are not hearing that call. This is where we who now serve in ministry come in.

I cannot call anyone into the ministry. That is God's work. What I can do is to talk to persons I believe have ministry gifts and ask them if they have ever felt God might be calling them to use those gifts in a pastoral role. I'm in the ministry today because my pastor asked me that question back in the 1970s. That led to discussions between him and my wife and I which, two years later, led me to say yes to the call I had felt off and on for many years. Chances are, if you are serving in ministry today, it's because someone once challenged you to pray and consider that God might be calling you. We now have the obligation to do that for the next generation of ministers God is calling.

Growing up in Baptist churches I heard the same invitation every week at the end of the worship service. People were invited to come forward if they wanted to be saved, if they wanted to rededicate their lives to Christ, if they wanted to move their membership to this church, or if they felt the call to "full-time Christian service." I almost never hear the fourth one any more, and I wonder if that is one reason we are not seeing more people respond to God's call on their lives. Of course, today we need to add "bivocational ministry" to "full-time Christian service" because God is calling many specifically to serve Him in a bivocational role.

I want to encourage pastors reading this post to consider making that part of your invitation. In addition, we need to identify persons God might be calling to ministry and just ask if they have ever sensed such a call on their lives. As I said earlier, we cannot call someone into the ministry, but we can encourage people to pray about and consider such a call on their lives.

For those of you not currently in a ministry role, have you ever felt God might be calling you to serve Him in that capacity? If so, I encourage you to begin praying about that and talking to people who can give you Godly counsel. Feel free to contact me if you have questions. Our churches need individuals who have God's call on their lives to serve them in various ministerial roles. You might be one of those individuals.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Some fully-funded pastors should go bivocational

One of the bloggers I enjoy reading is Thom Rainer. He addresses so many topics of interest to church leaders, and his research and insights are always spot on. In a 2015 article he gave eight reasons why some full-time pastors and staff should go bivocational. You can read the entire article here. I will just list the reasons he gave and you can check out his article if you want more information.

  1. Opportunities to develop relationships with non-believers will be greater.
  2. Full-time pastors and staff often get missionally stale in their "holy huddles."
  3. Smaller churches are increasingly unable to afford full-time pastors or staff.
  4. The digital world is offering more opportunities for flexible secular jobs than ever.
  5. More churches are moving toward multiple teaching/preaching pastors.
  6. More churches would like to expand staff, but don't have the resources to do so.
  7. A bivocational pastor or church staff can have greater freedom than in a person in a full-time role.
  8. A bivocational pastor or staff person has transferable skills.
I would add one more reason to his list. When a pastor is bivocational it often frees up more money that can be spent on ministry. In many marginal fully-funded churches a very large percentage of the church's income is used to fund the pastor's salary and benefit package leaving little to be used for other purposes.

However, as you can see from the above list, finances are not the only reason a pastor should consider becoming bivocational. There are other good reasons why a pastor might want to become bivocational.

As I've often said in this blog, I believe we will see the numbers of bivocational ministers continue to increase in the coming years. They are going to be involved in pastoring churches, planting new churches, and working in staff positions in churches and para-church organizations. I would also not be surprised if we do not see more bivocational ministers involved in judicatory and denominational roles in the next few years. We're already seeing this beginning to occur, and I predict we'll see even more as denominations continue to struggle with their funding.

Anyone preparing to enter the ministry should carefully consider that at some point in his or her ministry bivocational ministry will be a real possibility. It might be wise to pursue education in another career field in addition to preparing for the ministry. Dual degrees are now being offered at some seminaries. Gaining experience in another career before entering the ministry might also be wise. I've had more than one fully-funded pastor tell me that he would need to become bivocational if he remained at his church, and he was scared because he didn't know what else he could do besides ministry.

I spent 20 years as a bivocational pastor. No one can tell me it is not doable or not rewarding ministry. It is very doable, and my time in that church was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I've ever done. The call to bivocational ministry is a special call from God upon a person's life, and He only calls those He knows can do the job. That's one reason bivocational ministers will always be my heroes!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Losing friends on social media

I just unfriended another individual on Facebook. Typically, there are only two reasons I do that. They either use vulgar language or have a number of friends who do, or they continually post political articles that go over the top. I don't need the vulgarity on my social media, and if people cannot communicate without being vulgar I really have no interest in talking with them. The political articles have just gotten out of hand since this election cycle. Most of them are inflammatory and add nothing to any worthwhile discussion. Others are articles from fake news sites that people want to promote. This last individual posted numerous such articles, and I just got tired of seeing them on my page.

I am an equal opportunity unfriender in that I've unfriended persons on both sides of the political spectrum. The election is over, and if all a person wants to do is whine and pout about it they don't need to post their articles on my FB page. I also have no use for persons who keep fanning the flames with fake news stories intended only to make people mad.

What makes this frustrating is that most of my social media friends are probably Christians. I say probably because I do not personally know all of them. I accepted them as a friend because they were friends of some of my friends who I trust or they are involved in ministry in some capacity.

Christians need to be especially wary of what they post on social media. We've all heard that we might be the only Gospel some people ever see, and what we post on social media is helping some people form opinions about God and Christianity that are not good. Even if someone posts articles that end up on your page that are filled with vulgarity, rude comments, and lies, that will reflect on you and ultimately on your faith. That may not be fair, but it is the reality in today's world.

It's fine to express your opinions. Otherwise, all we'll have on social media is pictures of cats. But express your opinion well, and remember that you don't have to respond to everything you disagree with on social media. Contrary to what some people believe, it is permissible on social media to read something with which you disagree and walk away without saying anything. Believe it or not, not everyone deserves your opinion.

Social media is a great communication tool and a good way to stay connected with people you may not often see. It can also be a positive tool for Christian outreach. But, social media can also create major problems if not used wisely. I hate losing friends, but if that is what I have to do to keep my social media positive and relevant then I will continue to weed out the negative people. So should you.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A theology for suffering

One argument atheists like to use when trying to prove that God does not exist is the problem of suffering. I admit it is a difficult argument to address because there is so much emotion associated with suffering. How does one explain an innocent child suffering and even dying from cancer? Turn on any newscast and you'll find story after story of innocent people suffering. It's easy to see such stories and wonder why God does allow such suffering to exist.

In the past few weeks I've been studying the issue of suffering as part of my preparing a four-week series of sermons on the topic that I will begin sharing in a few weeks at our church. One of the interesting comments I came across in my study was the statement that many Christians have never developed a theology for suffering. I must admit I had never thought of a theology for suffering before.

Suffering is not a subject that is addressed very often from the pulpit. I don't remember ever hearing any of my pastors preach on the topic. In my own preaching I've certainly referred to suffering in any number of sermons, but I've never preached a series on the subject before that would attempt to more deeply explore the problem of suffering in human life.

Maybe this failure to address suffering from the pulpit is one reason many Christians struggle so much when they experience suffering in their own lives. I've seen Christians struggle greatly with their faith when they go through deep suffering in their lives. I've seen some walk away from the faith due to intense periods of suffering in their lives or in the lives of their loved ones.

I've also seen Christians who have suffered greatly maintain a calm confidence in God. They didn't approach suffering from a fatalistic perspective; they just had confidence that God would bring them through their trials. Although the storms blew hard against them they were able to stand on a firm foundation and maintain their trust in God. These men and women had developed a theology of suffering long before the storm hit, and their faith could not be shattered.

Have you developed such a theology around suffering? If you are a pastor, are you preparing your people for the suffering that is common to all who live in this fallen world? I do hope you are not preaching some kind of a rose garden Christianity that is all butterflies and sunshine because if you are your people may not stand when suffering comes into their lives, and it will at some point.

I really pray this series of messages will help some of our folks who are going through dark times in their lives right now and will prepare all of us for difficult times when they do come. I also pray that it speaks to those who may not have invited Christ into their lives previously because they believe He failed them at some point in their lives.

The atheists do have a strong argument when they ask how an all-powerful, all-loving God can allow innocent people to suffer, but it's not a difficult argument to counter when you have a good theology around suffering. This is one sermon series I am looking forward to preaching!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Children in adult clothing

Ever since the election we have seen what amounts to nothing more than playground bullying, childish temper tantrums, and adults acting like spoiled brats. What the media refers to as protests are actually riots resulting in the destruction of government and private property and assaults on people wearing the wrong hats. Rosa Parks protested when she refused to give up her seat on the bus; she didn't set fire to the bus. There is a difference some people today do not seem to understand.

This immature behavior is not limited to rioters in the streets but is seen as well in the halls of Congress as people supposedly elected to represent their constituents and uphold the Constitution of the United States have unleashed some of the most childish rhetoric heard...well, since Congress was last in session.

When President Trump nominated Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court everyone knew there would be lawmakers falling over themselves to announce that he is out of the mainstream, a threat to the social order, and worse. However, when he was nominated to the Court of Appeals he was confirmed by a voice vote which only occurs when the individual is overwhelmingly supported by the majority of the Senate. I know some might argue that the Supreme Court is above the Court of Appeals, but if was that dangerous then it seems that would be the time to have stopped him for serving on that court.

Everyone knows that the reality is that some grandstanding congresspeople are putting on a political show because they are still in a snit that their candidate didn't win. Again, this is behavior more expected on a grade school playground than in the halls of Congress. It explains once again why Congress has one of the lowest approval ratings in its history.

Unfortunately, we see this same scenario played out in too many churches. Children in adult clothing who do not get their way decide to put up roadblocks to any change with which they do not agree. They threaten to leave or withhold their money, they pout, they tell everyone who will listen how mistreated they've been after they've done so much for the church, and they rally people to their side. Even if the church is able to move forward, it is often wounded so badly that it takes a long time to recover, if it ever does. Often, it just gives in to the bullies and prays that next time might be different. (It seldom is.)

I've written about church controllers (bullies) often enough in this blog so I won't go repeat myself here. However, I will say this to church controllers and to political leaders, regardless of political party, it is time to put the good of the whole ahead of your own personal agenda. It's time to act like responsible adults. This nation has serious challenges ahead, and we need more than self-absorbed adults in children's clothing to address them. Likewise, the church is facing difficult times and needs responsible Spirit-filled leaders to lead them. If you won't grow up, at least get out of the way so the adults can do the work you can't.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bedrock beliefs

Last night the church that I serve as Transitional Pastor spent time learning their Bedrock Beliefs. These are the beliefs that shape the culture of a church. Without these in place, your church would not be the same place. It was a valuable exercise that allowed for a lot of important conversations among the participants.

Two weeks earlier we did a similar exercise to understand the Core Values of the church. Like the bedrock beliefs, core values are essential to the culture of the church. Both are non-negotiable.

The reason for the two exercises is because in a couple of weeks we will spend a Saturday attempting to discern God's vision for the church. That vision must be congruent with both the core values and the bedrock beliefs or it cannot be a true God-given vision for the church.

Ten years ago the church had gone through a similar exercise, but vision needs to be re-examined every 5-6 years at least. Certainly, any time the church is seeking new pastoral leadership, as this church is, it needs to do vision discernment. As I have told countless churches, every pastor is not good at every thing. How can you know what you need in a pastor until you have a sense of where God is leading your church in the next few years?

This is one reason many pastors get into trouble in a new church. Too often, I've seen good pastors called to good churches who were a poor fit for what the church needed. It creates a lot of unnecessary pain for both parties, and can hinder the ministry of the pastor and the church for years to come. It's far better for the church to go through a vision discernment process before calling a pastor and then being very honest with their candidates what that process revealed.

In a few weeks the church will begin receiving information on potential candidates. By then we should have completed our process. This will provide much needed information to the search team as they begin their important work of identifying the top candidates and interviewing them.

How long has it been since your church went through a formal visioning process? Do you know where God is leading your church in the next few years? Knowing God's vision for your church is a key factor in effective ministry. It's far more effective than just trying new things hoping something will work.