Thursday, May 18, 2017

It's time to learn to work together

Is anyone else getting as sick and tired of the petty partisan fighting that has existed since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States? There was a time when elections were held, a winner was declared, and our elected representatives returned to conducting the business of the United States. No longer. What we have in Washington DC today are a bunch of sore losers, masters of innuendo and spin, and individuals who could care less about making America a better place to live. Their focus and priorities lie in their base and in the lobbyists who line their pockets with enough money to continue to be reelected. Since the election some have focused on nothing else but finding a way to try to impeach the president.

Many Republicans do not come across any better. Because Donald Trump doesn't toe the party line he has made more than a few enemies on that side of the aisle as well. People who would have supported almost anyone representing their party have been among the first to criticize, question, and accuse.

Reading the headlines and listening to the newscasts one would think Trump is the first president to have a few rough days at the start of his presidency. According to some "reporters" Trump's presidency is already a failure. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely. You try to govern the most powerful nation in the world and see how well you do during your first 100 days. Is he perfect? Not by a long shot. I doubt he would have been elected if the Democrats had ran anyone the American people found even slightly trustworthy. But, he did win, and it's now time for those who have been elected to be leaders in our government to begin acting like responsible adults and actually lead.

Unfortunately, it's not difficult to make comparisons to the way many churches operate. Pastors are not perfect people either, and we make our share of mistakes. We say things we should not have said, we fail to make wise decisions sometimes, and occasionally even the best of us will not follow though on something we promised we would do. Sometimes our sermons are boring, sometimes they are too long, and occasionally they are too short (although you are unlikely to get many complaints about the latter).

Sometimes we get sideways with the leaders in our churches. They may not like our recommendations, our theology, our leadership style, or the way we comb our hair. It doesn't matter what their complaint is, they just don't like us. As a result, many pastors find some of the leaders in the church will refuse to work with them and often will work against them. Gossip, innuendo and outright lies happen in churches, too. Rather than acting like adults and working together in those areas in which we can agree, we sometimes find church "leaders" acting like spoiled kids and working only for their own best interests.By the way, the same can be said for presidents and pastors.

President Trump would probably be smart to stop tweeting so much and keeping quiet. I would tell some pastors the same thing. True leaders do not feel they have to respond to every critic. There is a time to respond to unfair criticism, and a time to ignore it. It's too easy to go on social media and give your critics even more to criticize. Pastors and presidents would be wise to find areas of agreement with their critics and try to work in those areas.

This nation has a lot of work to do to make life better for everyone. Our churches have a lot of work to do to take the Kingdom of God to everyone. It's past time our leaders in government and in the church begin to act like adults and work together to accomplish worthy goals.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Financial Peace University

I am excited that the church where I am serving as Transitional Pastor will soon offer Financial Peace University (FPU). FPU was developed by Dave Ramsey as a way to teach personal finance from a biblical perspective. This program has been taught in tens of thousands of churches since its inception resulting in thousands of families getting control of their finances for the first time in their lives.

Since arriving at the church last summer I've occasionally mentioned that I would like someone to coordinate this class. Recently, one individual came to me saying she was willing to do so. We are currently accepting registrations and hoping for at least 10 families in our first class.

One reason often given for the poor giving in many churches is that the people are overwhelmed with personal debt. I've been there myself, and it can make it hard to give to the church as one would like. Proverbs 22:7 is certainly true when it says that "the borrower is slave to the lender." FPU teaches a method for getting out of debt and staying out of debt. There is great freedom when one has no debt.

Not only is FPU a way to teach the people in our church about personal finance, it is a way to reach out to the community. We saw how the recession of 2008 destroyed many people financially. Many lost their homes, their cars, their retirements, and their careers. Many have still not recovered and continue to struggle financially. FPU seems to me to be a great way to reach out to those in the community who might have little interest in God but great interest in learning how to better control their finances. As they see how the Bible speaks to their financial questions, they may become open to what it says about other matters including their need for God.

Over the past few years I've followed the principles Ramsey teaches in my own personal finance. It's made a huge difference, and I can only wish I had learned them much earlier in my life. I don't claim that I do everything exactly like he teaches, but I certainly try to do so most of the time.

If you live in the Madison, Indiana area and would like to attend this nine-week program, contact me. If you live elsewhere you will find an FPU class near you. You can go to Ramsey's website to find the closest class to where you live.

I am not being paid anything for promoting FPU. I just think it is a positive way to teach our church members about personal finance and a way to reach out to the non-churched in our communities to help them see how relevant the Bible really is to their daily lives.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A vision that goes beyond the four walls of your church

Several individuals from the church where I currently serve as Transitional Pastor returned last week from a church that we help support in El Salvador. They had gone down to be with that church as it celebrated its 25th anniversary. Yesterday morning one of the people who went reported some of their experiences in both of our worship services. It was an amazing report of what God is doing through that church.

In addition to supporting the church, we also help support the education of some of the members. While our team was there last week some of the graduates told of the difference their education was making in their lives. One had recently completed his engineering degree, another had graduated from law school, and I believe a third was now a doctor. I believe there are others our church is supporting who are either in school or have graduated. The individual who gave his report to our church said no one from our church who went had a dry eye as these young people shared how much the support from our church meant to them.

This church I'm serving supports a number of special interest missionaries around the world in addition to this church in El Salvador. Many of these missionaries are related to our denomination, but a number of them are independent missionaries who have some connection to the congregation. Plus, this church sends a large sum of money each year to our denomination's overall missionary effort.

As I listened to the report given about the church in El Salvador I could not help but think of the world-wide impact our church is having for the Kingdom of God. We are a church with an average attendance of around 200 people in a county with a population of around 32,000 people. Yet, through our support of mission work world-wide we are impacting the lives of countless tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people for Jesus Christ.

So many churches have no vision for ministry that goes beyond the four walls of their building. Virtually their entire budget is directed at activities and needs of their own church with little to nothing given to ministry outside the church. Most of these churches will claim their giving is poor and they do not have the funds to give to mission work or even to ministries within their community. Money is not the problem. A lack of vision is the problem.

Two things are at work when a church suffers from poor giving. It either has no vision for ministry or the church needs teaching in biblical stewardship. If a church is only going to use its offerings to meet its expenses, that is all that will come in. But, if a church has a vision for ministry that goes beyond its four walls, it will see its giving increase IF the people have been trained to tithe and be responsible stewards.

As an Area Minister I had many pastors serving in financially-strapped congregations tell me they were not allowed to speak about money from the pulpit. I always told them they were in a church that most needed to hear about stewardship, but few of them were brave enough to go against the mandate they had been given. As a result, the church continued to struggle financially which continued to result in little to no ministry being done outside the church walls.

I can't take credit for anything the church I'm currently serving is doing with its support of mission work. They were doing this long before I arrived, and I pray they will continue to maintain their vision for doing ministry around the world through their support of various missionaries. I have always said that God will honor a church that honors missions, and this church is a great example of that. I pray your church is as well.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When you're only against something

The fitness center where I work out has eight televisions lined up in front of the treadmills. You can plug ear phones into any of them if you want to listen, but I take an I-Pod to catch up on listening to my podcasts. However, I do occasionally look to see what's on each of the stations they have playing. Yesterday morning the entire hour I was at the fitness center CNN ran nothing but stories that focused on what they perceived to be the negatives of the Trump administration.

There were other news stations besides CNN on the TVs, and they ran various stories during my exercise routine, but CNN was only focused on trying to discredit the President and his administration. It's very difficult for me to imagine those responsible for selecting what news to report can find nothing worth reporting except their issues with President Trump. I do not normally watch CNN, and I understand that puts me in the majority of viewers. If this hour is any indication of their journalism it's not hard to understand why their ratings are low.

This post is not really about CNN and its issues with the President, but it is a good illustration of what happens when you become solely focused on what you are against that you forget what your real purpose should be. Unfortunately, many churches and pastors fall into that trap as well. We get focused on some behavior and we become better known for what we are against than what we are for.

For instance, many churches get caught up railing against the "sin of the month." These churches jump from one sin to another based on what the culture is doing at that particular time. I'm not saying we should not preach against sin and even name the sins, but if that is our only focus we are doing our congregations a disservice. Our primary focus should be on Jesus Christ and His grace. If we can introduce people to Christ, He can work to clean up the sins in their lives. I certainly don't mind challenging people about the wrong choices they are making in their lives, but I also do not intend to beat them up over those choices. Instead, I want to help them connect to the One Who can offer them forgiveness and help them make better life choices. If you want to drive people away from the church, spend all your time telling them what you are against. If you want to attract people to the church, tell them about the hope they can find in Jesus Christ.

Frankly, I did not always feel this way. I went through a period several years ago where my sermons had become quite harsh. I was beating up my people on Sunday. One day I was reviewing the past few sermons I had preached and became overwhelmed with conviction. That was not what God had called me to do. My job was to preach Christ. The next Sunday I confessed to our congregation what I had done and asked for their forgiveness. As always, they were very gracious, and I made sure that from then on my sermons offered the hope found in Jesus Christ and not the condemnation that would come from the Pharisees.

Change is another thing in a church that some people will always oppose. It doesn't really matter what the change is, some people will be against it simply because it's new and seems threatening. Again, these churches can develop a reputation for being against change which can scare away potential new members and pastors.

If there are people in your church who are always opposed to anything new, and never in favor of any change, you have to find a way to deal with them. You either have to try to get them on your side and include them in the initial discussions of any proposed change, or you have to find a way to work around them. Neither option is likely to be easy, but you cannot allow people who are only known for what they are against to set your agenda.

President Trump is far from a perfect individual, and he and his administration have made some mistakes. But, everything they've done hasn't been wrong, and for supposed news organizations to focus only on the mistakes isn't journalism.

We in church leadership are also not perfect, and there will be times when we are wrong. But, we're not always wrong, and people who only focus on our mistakes are not interested in seeing the church move forward. Don't be a church that is known only for what you are against. Such churches will never have a positive impact on people's lives.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Is your ministry an idol?

One of the books I'm currently reading is Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck. In a section that discusses why many pastors do not develop leaders within their churches one of the reasons the authors give is that ministry has become an idol to many pastors.

As they note, it is easy to become addicted to the approval and applause that often comes to those in ministry. What pastor doesn't enjoy being complemented and praised when he or she serves people well? We all want to be appreciated for a job well done. The problem comes when we pursue that appreciation and it becomes more important to us than even our relationship with God. The authors caution, "If we only rejoice in God because of what He is doing through us and not because of what He has already done for us, we cherish our ministry more than Him."

They remind us of the time the disciples returned from ministry filled with joy because even the demons had submitted to them. Jesus responded, "Don't rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." If we do not love God more than our ministries, those ministries have become idols in our lives.

The book lists five questions to ask to help ministers determine if their ministry has become an idol. They are good questions we should probably ask ourselves regularly.

  1. How much of my contentment is connected to the tide of my ministry influence?
  2. Do my prayers reflect that I am more thankful for the salvation He has provided for me or for the ministry He has given me?
  3. If I had to choose, which would I prefer: a closer walk with Jesus or a more "effective ministry?"
  4. If my ministry were suddenly taken from me, would I still rejoice that my sins are forgiven?
  5. Do I seek God only for His blessing and direction or do I also seek God simply for Him?
These could be painful questions to honestly answer for some of us, but it's important to answer them honestly. Nothing, not even our ministries, should come between us and God. We must always remember that what we are is more important than what we do. What we are is forever; what we do is only temporary.

I strongly encourage you to get and read this book. I'm only 50 pages into it, and it has already blessed me more than anything else I've read this year.