Month: July 2012

The Night I Attended Church Again

Most pastors I know do not attend church. I just started back, myself. We are almost always in church on the weekends but we are there primarily to minister to others, which leaves little room for receiving ministry ourselves. Thus, it’s possible for a pastor to be caught up in perpetual church activities and still be spiritually dry or even burned out.

Last night, I attended church. I went to our Sunday night prayer meeting with my two kids and sat on the back row. Yes, I was that person. I never went on the stage, did not ask the pastor who was leading any questions and even took notes from his message. It was great to attend church again.

I had plenty of good excuses not to go. I had preached twice that morning, prayed for people before and after both gatherings, and greeted new guests for almost an hour after the last service. I was tired and the Olympics were on TV. No one would have been upset if I had stayed home. I am grateful I did not.

All of us need the fellowship of believers, even pastors. Especially pastors. When was the last time you attended church? If it has been awhile, let me invite you to come back, to sit, and to receive, like everyone else.

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The Birth of a Sermon

Sundays come around with an alarming regularity. That is the truth. For most pastors, the most discouraging day of the week is Monday when they realize they must craft another sermon for the following weekend. Thankfully, for me, I have discovered a rhythm of study and preparation that takes a lot of the weight off me.

My study week begins on Monday when I read through the text for the following Sunday. My goal on Monday is to read the text as if it were my first time. I hope to read and hear these sacred and ancient stories with new eyes and hears and not with the senses of someone who already knows the details and ending of every story. I believe the Scriptures are continuously articulate and all of us can hear and understand if we are listening.

Tuesday morning, I meet with a small study team that helps me explore the differing theological viewpoints of the text. We challenge each other and talk about different commentaries written by scholars like NT Wright, John Stott, William Willimon, Lloyd Ogilvie, among others. This meeting launches me into my morning of study and prayer that wraps up around noon.

After more study and prayer on Wednesday, I try to have a rough outline ready for a late morning meeting with a sermon prep team that is made up of a diverse group including men, women, young and experienced. At the beginning of the meeting, we pray and then I try to give the big ideas of the message in 5-10 minutes. After I finish, there are three rules:

1. They can give me any feedback they want. I would rather hear that the sermon is off base on Wednesday than on Sunday afternoon.

2. I do not have to take any of their advice. I would, of course, be foolish not to listen and consider all of it, though.

3. If I do take their input, they get no public credit from the stage on Sunday. I tell them their reward will be in heaven.

A meeting like this requires that pastors get over a great deal of insecurities and really allow for honest conversations that will only help us communicate to a multi-generational audience more clearly.

Thursday mornings are set aside for more study and prayer, with the goal of having a mostly finished outline by noon that I can submit to our team. I love that I still have two days for the message to simmer like a good stew. Hopefully, when Sunday arrives, the message is a good meal.

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What I Learned from a Fire

The most destructive fire in the history of Colorado is still burning as I write this post. Thankfully, our valiant fire fighters have most of it contained and many homes that were once threatened with devastation are now safe.

Last week, I watched in awe as gale force winds drove the flames over a ridge, through a canyon and into several neighborhoods across the freeway from our church. Lives were lost, over 350 homes were consumed, and people’s live were spun into chaos. As we scrambled as a church to meet the needs in our city, I learned some important truths.

1. People had already made up their minds to serve

Before I made any appeals, the church community in our city had already mobilized on numerous fronts. People immediately opened their homes to evacuees, taking the pressure off the local shelters. Food banks recieved record donations, animals were transferred to safer pastures, and the fire fighters were inundated with supplies to make their monumental task more bearable. People were not waiting around for me, they were already in action as soon as the needs were known.

2. The big church can be a big family

One of the first things we did as a church staff was to contact people and families in the affected areas. To our surprise, almost all of them had found homes with family or friends, many of them New Lifers taking in other New Lifers. The big church had become a big, welcoming family. Later in the week, we received tractor-trailer loads of food and much needed supplies from Thomas Road Baptist Church and Gleaning for the World. They sent it to us because that is what church families do for one another.

3. Joy can come out of the ashes

This past Sunday, a CNN reporter asked me before the morning services what I expected the mood to be in the New Life gatherings that day. I told them there would many people mourning the loss of their homes and there would be widespread concern for the fire fighters safety. But, I told the reporter there would also be a lot of joy as we worshipped together. I was right. There were those mourning and all of us were concerned, but there was joy amidst it all because we have overcome so much in the past and we were convinced of God’s faithfulness in the days ahead. Joy can come from ashes, and it did.

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