Month: October 2011

Every Church Needs a Dad

This past weekend, Pastor Jimmy Evans from Trinity Fellowship Church in Amarillo, Tx., spoke at New Life while I was at his church speaking for him. Pastor Jimmy is more than a guest, he is an Overseer for our fellowship. Overseers are men who serve the church at the request of the elders and help us with wise counsel and guidance when needed, which in our case, is often.

Pastor Jimmy has been my friend for over 15 years and has taught me more about healthy church leadership than any other person. Pam and I were members of Trinity Fellowship in the 1990’s and it was Pastor Jimmy who helped restore our love for the local church. When he comes to New Life, it seems like dad has arrived for a visit to his grown son’s house.

Every church needs a dad like Pastor Jimmy and every pastor needs a friend they can call and ask “dad” questions. Most pastors have peers who come hang out or speak from time to time and some have younger men they are mentoring, but most leaders are void of the voice of a dad in their lives.

I suppose the church is a mere reflection of our culture, where dads are primarily distant, disconnected or nowhere to be found. The early Christ followers certainly realized the strength of the apostles and elders who led them and would have never considered a church to be healthy if spiritual dads were not around.

When dad is present in the family, sons tend to thrive in the safety of a relationship that is there to encourage and challenge them. Dads have the gift to remind us of our calling, our heritage and to confirm the potential we think see inside ourselves.

New Life is blessed to have Jimmy Evans, Tom Lane, Jack Hayford, Robert Morris and Larry Stockstill as Overseers. We are thankful they said yes to being dads for our church. We need their voices and their visits more than ever.

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Fake Trophies

My two kids have dozens of medals and trophies and they have never won a championship of any kind. They have played soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball and Taekwondo and have rarely ever played a game or competed in a match where the score was kept and a winner and a loser determined at the end.

By the time I was 13, I knew firsthand the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I remember missing a jump shot in a 1st grade basketball game that would have won my team the game. That moment of failure did not scar me, instead it made me shoot hundreds of jump shots on a basketball rim that was nailed to a pine tree in my back yard. I wanted to get better, so the next time I was in the position to win or lose, I would hit the shot.

I understand the dark underbelly of competition and the ugliness it can unleash in parents and coaches. But I am afraid we are raising a generation of kids who are convinced by enormous evidence that winning and losing doesn’t matter, when in fact, it does. I believe our kids have very little motivation to get better, to practice, to overcome because everyone gets the same trophy – a fake trophy.

Meanwhile, we are left scratching our heads when the 20-somethings are still living in our basements with no plan to ever leave or achieve. I believe one of the big reasons our young men drift aimlessly through a decade of apathy is because they have not learned how to compete, the value of being challenged, and the lessons learned only through abject failure. The worst thing we can do for our children is to always make life easy for them.

Between 1940 and 1970, we sent people to space, invented computers, created suburbia and revolutionized automobile technology. The people of this age were a generation that had survived a world war, been challenged in combat, and had grandparents that had survived the Great Depression. Competition was a celebrated part of the culture. Heroes were honored and grace was given to the defeated. Losers learned tough lessons and winners had to practice harder to stay on top. It was an age of hard work, innovation, and persistence in the face of great challenges.

We can still recapture some of these values and we can start by not handing out any more fake trophies. We cannot allow our kids to quit a sport, a subject, or even a relationship just because it is too hard and they may fail. A handful of trophies earned is much better than the many given for just showing up.

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NFL Coaches, Disrespect, and the Men of our Church

Two NFL coaches who could not amicably shake hands after a close game made headlines recently.  Jim Harbaugh is the coach of the San Francisco 49ers and Jim Schwartz is the coach of the Detroit Lions and their two teams played each other in a close game that finished in pretty dramatic fashion, ending the Lion’s perfect season. Harbaugh is seen on camera right after the game ended, shouting and jumping, celebrating a win for his team.

Moments later, the two head coaches met in the middle of the field to shake hands, but Harbaugh, caught up in the exuberant moment, shook Schwartz’s hand really hard and patted him on the back with the force of a mule kick. The Detroit coach took exception and the two got into a heated argument before being separated.

As I watched, I thought about Emerson Eggerich and his book, Love and Respect. I usually don’t think of marriage books during NFL games, but I was tired and had eaten a spicy chicken sandwich for lunch. In his book, my friend talks about the greatest need for men is respect and the greatest need for women is love. When Harbaugh broke post-game protocol with the rough handshake and shove, it was a sign of disrespect, whether that was his intention or not.

Disrespect is many times dangerous and often lethal. There are many men in prison today who committed awful crimes simply because someone did something that dishonored them or made them look bad in front of others. Disrespect is the gateway to some of the worst possible emotions locked up in a man.

I am writing this as a reminder to myself to make sure I honor and respect the men God has called me to pastor. What can I do to show more respect to our men and thereby earn the right to help shape them into better Christ followers?

1. Ask for their advice. Nothing shows more respect than asking someone for their opinion on important matters.

2. Listen to what they say. Asking for their advice is no good if we never actually use it. Men can smell patronization quicker than their own dirty socks.

3. Empower them to lead. Men want to know that pastors trust them with serious spiritual leadership and not just see them as a walking checkbook or potential volunteer.

4. Go to their world. Show up at their business to visit and talk as much as you want them to show up at the church buildings. Hang out and ask questions about what’s important to them.

5. Talk to them every Sunday and not just on Father’s Day. Use sermon language that is engaging to them and relevant to their world. Let them know you see them and believe in what God is doing in them.

Men are hungry for God and for the most part, want to grow as Christ followers. They just need a little honor to move them off the starting line. It’s not more complicated than that and I mean that with all due respect.

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Reflections from a weekend in the mountains

I spent this past weekend at a spectacular mountain retreat center near Winter Park, Colorado with over 200 men who help me lead and pastor our church. We ate together, prayed together, worshipped together and discussed several big ideas. Oh yeah, we also watched LSU beat Florida like a 2-year old at Wal-Mart. But, I digress.

Friday night was a detox night for all of us. We spent a couple of hours with just song and Spirit guiding us. It was really refreshing to unwind, completely untangled from any agenda, service plans, or time restraints.

Saturday morning, we unpacked a definition of pastor. We used Eugene Peterson’s beautiful explanation: “To pay attention and call attention to what God is doing in people and between people.” We talked about “paying attention” and being alert as leaders of our homes and leaders within the fellowship.

Saturday night, we explored the steps all of us take toward sonship with the Prodigal Son story from Luke 15 as our backdrop. My five steps to sonship are:

1. I had no idea.

2. God knows me.

3. I belong to Him.

4. I have nothing to prove.

5. I will treat others the way He treats me.

Sunday morning, was really special as we gathered around the sacraments of bread and juice and remembered that we are “more than just conquerors”. We are rulers and governors of the land that has been assigned to us.

I loved the time with old friends and enjoyed meeting some new ones. Good days are ahead for the people of New Life and I am thrilled to be a part.

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Random Monday Thoughts on Preaching Styles

Pastors tend to spend a lot of time obsessing about preaching and teaching, while the rest of society thinks about it, like never. But, it’s Monday and I spoke at New Life yesterday and still wonder if I’m any good, (this is the part that is supposed to motivate you to give me a lot of compliments), but Pam and the kids thought it was great and that’s most important.

Anyway, about a year ago, I underwent a philosophical shift in the way I preach each week. For years, I was a part of a world that primarily taught sermon series on various topics for 4-6 weeks, each series complete with a cool logo, title and sermon bumper (that is the trendy video that plays right before the pastor magically appears on stage).

Strengths of the sermon series approach to preaching:

1. You can tackle topics that are important to the congregation in a timely way. For example, if marriages seem to be struggling, you can talk about marriage, etc.

2. You can go deeper on topics that need extra time to teach, like eschatology (that’s a fancy preacher word that means the end times).

Weaknesses:

1. You can skip over the hard topics and just talk about the happy ones. In other words, we can talk about the blessings without talking about suffering or sacrifice.

2. You can drain the life out of your creative team trying to be better or more clever than the last series. Cool one word titles can slide down the cheese hill really quick. Our title for the teachings from Luke is … Luke.

My approach for the past year is to walk through books of the Bible story by story, capturing all the big ideas of the book. I have preached through Ephesians, 1 Peter, and for the past 30 weeks, through Luke. I plan to tackle Acts for the first part of 2012.

Strengths of the book approach:

1. You cannot skip over the hard topics. The past two weeks I have taught out of Luke 16, which focuses on two difficult topics for most pastors — hell and money.

2. Hermeneutics (another fancy word for studying the Bible) is embraced more completely.  Who wrote the passage? Who was he talking to? Why did he use specific language? What was going on in the culture at the time?

3. You have to teach on all the topics and ideas that Jesus and the apostle’s taught their churches and followers. It builds a more complete disciple in the long run (just my opinion, but it is my blog).

Weaknesses:

1. Missed opportunities to preach about topics that are trending socially. For example, on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, we were in Luke 14, which did not contain a ready made memorial message.

2. Missed opportunities to camp out for several weeks on topics that need deeper explanation.

For the record, I think both approaches have merit for the local church and it’s the job of the pastor to listen to what God is saying and obey. Don’t get stuck in a sermon rut. It is possible, and even probable, that some fresh new ideas may be exactly what all of us need.

Monday ramblings are now over. I need to sign off because Sundays come around with alarming regularity and I need to start fretting over the next sermon (leave nice comments below).

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