Month: August 2011

Bad Medicine

Being a pastor is a great privilege that carries with the calling a great responsibility to care for people, study the scriptures and to maintain a lifestyle of constant prayer. With these responsibilities come stress, misunderstandings, and the pressure to be a lot of things to a lot of people. When this stress reaches a tipping point, pastors, like everyone else want relief.

Obviously, our only source for lasting peace and sustained strength is God and He is more than enough for a pastor or anyone else. Unfortunately, the world offers cheap and easy escapes, including one that is not on most pastor’s radars. The first four on the list are most often noted as counterfeit ways to dodge the realities that weigh us down.

1. Illegal drugs or legal drugs used foolishly

2. Excessive alcohol

3. Food eaten just to comfort us and not to nourish.

4. Illicit sex

But, there is a fifth form of medication, one that most pastors are addicted to without even knowing. It’s the addiction of adoring crowds. Big crowds, little crowds, and medium size crowds all have the power to medicate our egos and sooth our hidden pain. Why do you think it is so hard many times for a pastor to transition the church to his successor? They certainly want the next guy to take the baton while the light is burning brightly, but they cannot seem to leave the stage and the crowds. They cannot imagine a life without a microphone and pulpit.

We are not performers on a stage hoping for good reviews and our identity is not derived from the laughs prompted by well-timed jokes.  We are pastors tasked with a sacred assignment and our identity is and always should be as servant Christ followers who are using the gifts God gave us. We are just a part of the body, not the focus of the body.

I love the people that sit in front of me each weekend. They are my family and my friends. I enjoy teaching them the scriptures and I love what happens when the teaching connects with their listening hearts and seeing eyes. The miracles, answered prayers, and changed lives more than trump the difficulties of the pastoral vocation.

The moment we stop seeing people’s faces and remembering their stories, we will only see a mass of people who exist for our soulish benefit. I love a good laugh, a touching story that brings us to tears and I am fine with the family applauding when the pastor needs honest applause. I just want to make sure my heart gets life, healing and strength from something more eternal. I want to take the right medicine before I stand before the crowd so I do not settle for something that will only make matters worse.

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Church Stories Volume 1 – The Church Split that Would Not Split

My pastor friend Greg Surratt from Seacoast Church in South Carolina recently told me a troubling but hilarious story about his grandfather who was the pastor of a small church in a farming community in rural Oklahoma many years ago. Apparently, half the church got upset with him and decided to split off from the church. The problem is, they did not leave the church.

That’s right, it was the church split that would not split. Instead of leaving and starting their own church down the street, they decided to stay after realizing they had helped pay for half the building, and neither side wanted to give the other “their investment.”  The church was built with the traditional center aisle and a set of pews on either side and every Sunday the group that was mad at the pastor would sit on one side and the group that liked him would sit on the other.

When it came time for sharing testimonies, each side would try to shout louder and tell better stories than the other. If one side spoke in tongues, the other side would try to speak better and longer. Neither side would leave the church for the sake of some peace and quiet. Finally, Greg’s grandfather left and let them have the building.

This is a true story and reminds me of Paul’s letter to a similarly immature church in Corinth.

“In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”
I Corinthians 11:18-19 NIV

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Two Rivers Rising

In my Sunday morning message this past weekend, I used the illustration of two rivers to describe my beliefs about the end times. One river is the natural world in which we live and the other river is the kingdom of God. Both rivers are approaching flood stage and they are side by side but flowing in opposite directions. Soon, it will be impossible to stand in both because the current in each river will be too strong.

Those that choose to stay in the world’s river will be swept away by worry and fear and will eventually need a rescue. Those of us longing for the coming kingdom will be swept away into a life of wonder and risk. I believe the world will become more and more broken while the church, the body of Christ, will rise up as a spotless bride, a witness to a world needing answers and truth.

During the Colorado summers, we get to enjoy world class rafting on the Arkansas River. At the height of the snow melt and subsequent runoff, the strongest rapids are stage 4 or 5, which are the fastest two categories. To survive, you need an experienced guide and even then it is always dangerous and sometimes fatal.

I see danger ahead in the world’s river. The global financial mess has no easy answers and I suspect there will be riots on the streets of most countries when entitlements can no longer be funded by bankrupt governments. Wars in the Middle East will not subside anytime soon and natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis will continue to wreck humanity.  All of this could cause us to tremble with fear, especially if you are in the wrong river, on the wrong boat, with the wrong guide.

But I am hopeful – hope filled today. The kingdom of God is breaking in all around us, if we could just look with spiritual eyes and listen carefully with spiritual ears. Notice how often in scripture, Jesus told his followers and the crowds that those with eyes to see would see and those with ears to hear would hear. The changing of the spiritual seasons should be as easy to spot as the changing of the natural seasons.

I want to lean in right now and listen. I want to focus my eyes on the things God is doing and not let my heart be troubled. I want both feet planted in the right river, in the right boat, headed in the right direction, with the Holy Spirit as my guide. This may be too mystical for some who are reading, but sometimes prophetic pictures a like a kaleidoscope, creating multiple colors and shapes that can be seen differently by each person.

The two rivers are rising, the kingdom of God is arriving and the church is becoming pure through testing and trials.  We are blessed to be here on earth in this season as a witness to it all. May we be constantly alert, ever courageous and always prayerful.

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The Sending Culture of a Healthy Church

I suspect most pastors would not want their kids to live in their house forever. At some point, the little munchkins need to move out of the basement and into a home or apartment of their own. So, if families are okay with sending their kids into the world to be productive adults, why are churches so reluctant to release their sons and daughters?

Every healthy church has a sending culture. In Acts 13, the leaders of the fellowship had been fasting and praying, when the Holy Spirit instructed them to send out Paul and Barnabas for a really important assignment. I imagine the leaders recognized these men were promising young leaders who could help them build a big church in Antioch if they would stay. But these leaders had something better in mind, something more eternal. I imagine Paul and Barnabas had already discussed their possible transition with the leaders and what we read in the scriptures was the beautiful result.

Leaders must allow their team to talk openly about transition, without the fear of being punished. We all say we are for the “kingdom” until one of our best leaders wants to leave for good reason, like a marriage. If the family is the mirror of the church, then we should celebrate when our sons and daughters are dutifully betrothed to another ministry assignment. Instead, most us treat Godly transitions like a divorce and make our teams feel shameful for even thinking of leaving.

The Antioch church was limited in their geographic knowledge, but they did rightfully discern that they were not the center of the spiritual universe. By releasing these two young men, millions heard the gospel, churches were planted, and the kingdom really did come to the earth. If they had refused to release them, I suspect most of us would have never heard of the church at Antioch.

I want the team I serve with to feel appreciated, protected and loved. I also want them to know that if God decides to use them in another city, church or country, I will stand alongside them like a dad. I will cry at the wedding, but I will also be glad they have moved out of my house and will soon be starting a family of their own. I can either be a grandfather or a divorce attorney – its my choice.

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