Category: Pastors (page 3 of 8)

Blind Spots and the Crashes they Cause

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

My pickup was red and shiny and had tires with chrome rims that would blind you if the sun hit at just the right angle. Pam and her parent’s toy poodle were in the front seat and we were driving through our hometown on a warm sunny day. I had picked the slowest lane and after a quick glance in the side mirror, I switched to the other. That is when I heard the crash and felt the thud.

In my haste to save time, I had fallen victim to the blind spot, the part of the road that can only be seen if you turn and look for yourself instead of trusting an imperfect mirror. A car slammed into the driver’s side and spun us around in the middle of the busy street. No one was hurt, including the dog, but my pickup had a gash and my rear tire was toast.

Pickups and people are alike — both have blind spots that can cause wrecks and carnage. The reason they are called blind spots is because we are blind to them. If we knew our weaknesses, I am assuming we would work to fix them and not continue to hurt the people around us. The problem is we have imperfect mirrors. How do we get these honest and seeing eyes in order to avoid the inevitable crashes?

1. Ask God

I promise he wants to show us if we will simply ask and listen. We do this well when we are young pastors and leaders because we are well aware, in most cases, that we need to learn and grow. The problem is for those of us who are more experienced. We are the ones who get asked to mentor leaders and teach others from our vast vault of experience. We stop growing along the away because we stop asking God to show us our blind spots. We become experts and stop being students.

2. Ask others

When was the last time you asked those you influence if your leadership was frustrating them? This takes a great deal of security to admit that you may not be perfect and that you still want to grow. The first few times you ask this question, don’t expect an honest answer. But, over time, they will begin to trust your motives and give you the input that may salvage your influence with them. Sparks will fly, tension will fill the room, but all of us will become sharper. The irony is, the sharper our swords become, the less dangerous we are to the people around us.

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William Wallace and My Book about Women

I have agreed to write an e-book about the role of women in church and the inspiration came from an unlikely source. I was watching Braveheart, the movie inspired by the life of Scottish warrior William Wallace, and a particular scene helped clarify a big idea about this very important topic.

There is a scene in the movie that happens right after the first battle between William Wallace’s ragtag army of farmers and the powerful English brigades. Somehow, the Scottish miscreants win the battle despite being outnumbered. Right after the battle, the Scottish nobles knight William Wallace in a ceremony at a nearby castle.

When Wallace stands to his feet, immediately an argument breaks out among the land owning nobles about which family has a rightful claim to the Scottish throne. One family believes they should be in charge and another says their heir deserves to be king. Wallace listens for a moment, but then walks out of the room disgusted.

When the nobles realize Wallace is leaving, they ask why. His reply is brilliant. He tells them he is going to fight the English and they can stay and argue about who is in charge. This seems to be what is happening in our local churches. We are mired in arguments about who should be leading while the more important fight is being ignored.

Believe me, I know there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue regarding leadership in the home and church. I have strong beliefs and I am sure you do, too. However, are we arguing about roles while ignoring some bigger issues? I think we are and I plan to tackle some of this in my upcoming e-book.

This book will not settle all our arguments, but I do hope it empowers women to grow and flourish in the calling that God has for them. It is my hope that the book will begin discussions about topics that are being ignored such as:

1. A woman’s role in preaching, teaching and leadership, both in their homes and in their local congregations.

2. Can a strong wife flourish in public under the mature leadership of a private and passive husband?

3. What were the radical ways that Jesus brought dignity and respect to women?

4. How can we encourage women to be feminine leaders in a masculine world?

What are some topics about women in the home and church that you think would be helpful to debate and discuss in a civil way? Now is the time to ask, because I start writing soon. Thanks for your voice in this conversation.

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The Thinking Church

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Philippians 4:8-9

What are you thinking about right now? Are you considering any new ideas or imagining new possibilities or realities? Have our churches become so populated by homogenous believers that there is no room for any competing philosophies?

Certainly, our local congregations must hold tightly to the foundations of our faith and not be drawn away by every new and fancy fad. Truly, we must teach the absolutes of Scripture without compromise, but I wonder if we have stopped thinking and growing along the way.

Recently, our team read a book together called Beauty Will Save the World, written by Pastor Brian Zahnd, which led to some great debate. It angered a few, challenged most of us, but made all of us think about some long held beliefs. At the end of the journey, many of us did not change our minds, but at least it caused us to stop and rethink why we believed what we believed.

Are you willing to listen to people outside your primary stream? I am not asking you to change your mind, but I am challenging you to at least listen. The older we get, we must be more intentional to continue our curious pursuit of learning. We must resist dogmatic beliefs that are based on assumptions rather than empirical evidence.

A thinking believer, rooted in the ancient truths of our faith, but infatuated with growing, resisting the stagnation of tired traditions, is a powerful force. God gave us both hearts and brains. We should nurture, cultivate and care for both.

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What Every Church Planter Needs?

A group of us had some great conversations at our New Life Leader’s Conference last week about planting healthy, life giving local churches. New Life has planted three successful churches in the last four years and we talked at the conference about the reasons each of them is thriving.

1. There was a prayerful evaluation of the lead pastor

One of the reasons many church plants fail is because the wrong person is leading the effort. For our three plants, each of the leaders submitted to an evaluation from our local elders and a stringent evaluation from the ARC Churches a great organization that you can send your potential church pioneers to for evaluation.

2. There were resources to send with them

Church planting is certainly not a business enterprise, but a church plant can fail for the same reason a new business can fail – no money or resources. Our local church set aside a portion of our mission’s budget so that we could send money with the church planting team. It certainly was not all they would need, but it was enough to get them started for a few months in a new city.

3. A local congregation sent them

It is so important for a church planting team to have an extended family. We believe that when a key leader on our team is sent to plant another church, we should celebrate like at a wedding. So many times, a church does not allow talented leaders to leave and it feels like a divorce. These leaders start leading their church like abandoned orphans instead of sent sons. I talk about the strengths and pitfalls of both scenarios in my new book, Sons and Daughters.

4. There were systems and plans to help them launch

We believe in leaning into the wisdom of those who have gone before us. There is not a need, in most cases, to reinvent the wheel with systems and procedures for things like guest follow-up, children’s ministry in a mobile location, sound equipment that can stand the riggers of set up and tear down every week and building a dream team of volunteers. Again, the ARC Churches is a great place to learn many of these things.

5. There is coaching and support going forward

All of the above can be in place and the church plant still fail. We must be willing to come alongside our leaders in those first few months, but also in the years that follow. All of us need mentors, overseers and coaches. Most importantly, we need friends who love us and will take our call when we feel discouraged and alone.

Church planting is a spiritual battle that only can prevail if there is abundant prayer surrounding a faithful leader who will teach the Scriptures and build authentic community. It is not easy and it costs more than any of us think, but our nation and world needs new churches to bring light into the dark corners of our culture. May we be ready to help them do just that.

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Sons and Daughters – Hype vs. The Holy Spirit

My new book is called Sons and Daughters and it releases everywhere October 9th. Here is an excerpt from chapter 29

 

A COUPLE OF years ago, I began to “follow” on Twitter a dozen or so high-profile pastors whose ministries I deeply respect. Every few days, I’d receive their 140-character updates and initially would be excited to read what they wrote. Until I actually read what they wrote.

 

Several months into this receive-and-read trend, my enthusiasm nearly fizzled to nil. Almost every update from almost every pastor I was following was filled to overflowing with hype. In anticipation of that Sunday’s worship service, they would tout the “Super Bowl of all Sundays,” “the mega-monster of all sermons,” “a weekend that promised to be off the chain” (according to Urban Dictionary: “a great deal of fun”). “I can’t think of another time I have been more excited about preaching a message,” one pastor wrote. “Miss Sunday’s service at your own peril!!!”

 

Sadly, the exclamation-point-laden hype wasn’t coming from just one person; it was flowing freely from many mouths, while simultaneously deflating my heart. Because what happens when the service isn’t mega-monster?

 

How can it be, week after week?

 

 

I enjoy reading about church history, and if I were to peg the central characteristics of church gatherings in the first century, it would be non-hyped, non-frantic, unrushed. Worship was their lifestyle, not an overly promoted activity occurring one hour, one morning a week. Things were simple. Prayers were meaningful. People were fully dependent on the Spirit of God.

 

It’s the polar opposite of how we operate today, in our infamously glitz-and-gratification culture. We favor microwaves over Crock Pots and sex-appeal over substance. We like it fast and easy and now…and preferably at little cost to us. As it relates to the church-going experience, we rush in on a Sunday morning—fifteen minutes late at best—we scurry to find a seat, get antsy after sixty minutes, and rush right back into our day. We sing songs with lines like “wait upon the Lord” and bob our heads in apparent agreement, even as we silently wonder how much longer the song-set will last.

 

We’re moving far too fast to hear it, of course, but still God whispers, “Be still.”

 

Relax.

Linger.

Drop the hype, please.

Let me show up and do my work.

 

It would be easy to blame church congregations for the madness that has consumed our gatherings these days, except that from what I see from their pastors, we’re conditioning them to behave this way. We hype and promote and position and tweet and inadvertently create pews full of consumers instead of devoted worshipers of God. I once heard it said that leaders who don’t teach their congregations to worship must entertain them week in and week out. So true. We hype-ers are setting up our people to expect an experience, instead of teaching them to encounter their Lord.

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How Many Weekends Should a Pastor Preach?

How many times do you expect your pastor to speak on the weekends at your church? I am assuming your pastor gets to take some time off for vacation and rest, but is he supposed to be in the pulpit each of the other Sundays?

When I became the pastor here at New Life, I asked my mentors, who were also pastors of churches, what was a reasonable expectation, considering all of the other resposibilities that go with the vocation and calling of pastor. I also asked my elders to weigh in. We all decided that I should teach at least 36-38 Sundays. For the past five years, I have done just that.

Typically, I am here at my church for long stretches in Janauary and February, during the Easter season, in September and October and always at Christmas. Those are priority times for the lead pastor, in my opinion. If I am invited to speak at other places, I schedule those trips away from the busy seasons so I can focus my attention at home.

I try to take time off during the summer months and during holidays like Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. These are times I give my staff the pulpit. They are all great communicators and the church needs to hear their voices. I also try to schedule our Overseers to speak at least once a year so our church can hear from the men who give us counsel.

So far, this has been a healthy rhythm for me and for New Life. I have space once a month to read, study and decompress from the weekly schedule of sermon prep. It also gives me space to focus during the week on being a pastor to the people in our congregation and allows more time at work for key meetings. It makes the Sundays I am here much better and it keeps me far from the cliff of burnout.

What do you expect from your pastor? Are our expectations and demands actually harming the pastors we love so much? Will you come to church if “someone else” is preaching? Let the conversation begin.

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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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Conflict Resolution 101

 

An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel. – Proverbs 18:19

Some of the best work our enemy does is an inside job. Christians tend to rally around one another when there is an outside attack or threat, but it seems we do not fare so well when the battle is amongst us. Where two or more people are gathered, trying to live life together, there is bound to be tension, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, poor communication, and what we call in the South, fussing.

But we can do better. We must do better. Here are some practical reminders to begin the journey of healing broken relationships and restoring the unity that is so critical for all of us.

1. Emails are the worst.

Please do not pound out a lengthy email and fire away at your assumed adversary. 80% of communication is non-verbal and your emotions and intent cannot be determined by reading words on a screen. What you meant and what is read are usually two different things. Trust me on this.

2. Talk when you are rested

Make sure you are not tired when you confront someone. For those of you with small children, this may mean about you have about a 30-second window for dialogue each day. Seriously, though, a good nights sleep always changes your perspective for the better and allows for those frothy emotions to simmer and settle a bit.

3. Leave room for enlightenment

I know this is a long shot, but could there be a slim chance you are the one who is wrong? I know you won’t believe me, but there was this one time, I was wrong and did not know it. Okay, actually, it is pretty common for me and probably for you, too. We can learn from every disagreement and sometimes, being “right” is not as important as we think. Relationships are hard to get and easy to lose.

4. Pray for God’s eyes

If we cannot see or imagine anything of worth in the other person, we are not seeing them as God does. Most of the time, people are hurtful and angry at us because of a wound that happened in their lives long before we met them. Give them grace and space. God is at work in them whether we can see it or not.

5. Ignoring it will not help

Half the world’s population are introverts and usually get stomach pains when reading these kind of blogs. Conflict is something they tend to avoid like left over sushi in the fridge. But, the Scriptures are clear, we must go to our brother if we know there is something wrong in the relationship. Avoid passive aggressive behaviors like blog posts, facebook rants and phone calls to your “prayer” partner. Follow the above steps and then initiate a meeting. The meeting should be face to face if possible, but a phone call to someone a distance away is also good. Use Skype or facetime so you can see each other.

Unity is a powerful force. With it, we can do most anything. Without it, we are defeated. Relationships are worth the struggle. In fact, most sincere, long time friendships were forged after two mature people decided to talk to one another instead of hide from one another.

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Great Guests with Good Manners

From time to time, I get the honor of speaking at other churches and frequently I have guest speakers at New Life. Over the years, I have seen a few guests with some terrible manners while most, thankfully, had great habits. These are my six rules for being a great guest with good manners.

1. Finish on time.

This is a big one, especially for those of us who have multiple services in a day. Ask the pastor when he wants the microphone back and make sure he gets it earlier than requested. It is good manners.

2. Dress for the culture

I always ask how the pastor dresses at his church and try to dress similarly. As long as it’s not an 8-button suit with a mustard colored shirt and purple tie, I can normally blend in pretty well.

3. Don’t purposely create any messes

It is certainly ok to bring strong and challenging messages as the guest speaker, but I will be gone on Monday and they have to live there and return all the emails and phone calls. I call them the “blow in, blow up and blow out” guest speakers. I am there to add to what God is doing, so I usually don’t tackle topics that are best taught by the pastor who lives among them.

4. Let others sell your stuff

Trust me, there is nothing more nauseating than someone pitching their stuff when they should be teaching the Scriptures. I actually had a guest once who demanded that he pitch his book because he said he sold more that way. He has never been invited back, which brings me to number five …

5. Don’t make any demands

Go to be a blessing and love and shepherd them the way their pastors do each week.  Where I stay, the amount of the honorarium or what brand of bottled water I prefer is inconsequential when compared to the people hearing the message. I do not have guests who make ridiculous demands. Period.

6. Learn from their team

One of the joys of getting to visit other churches is the inside access you get to their staff and volunteers. Ask them questions, spend some time and learn from them. In fact, most of my good ideas have been stolen over lunch after speaking somewhere. I feel better now that I have confessed.

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Patient with People

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

At a recent lunch, a man was trying to convince me he was called to be a pastor. I asked him if he enjoyed helping people and he told me he did as they long as they were willing to work at the problem. I told him he was probably called to be a counselor and not a pastor. I explained to him that pastors are called to walk with people whether they are on board with the process or not.

This past weekend we celebrated the resurrection and I was reminded once again that Jesus did not die on the cross because we were finally ready for him to help us. In fact, Jesus came looking for us long before we even knew we needed redemption. Jesus was working in us and around us, with great patience, even when we were less than cooperative.

The passage from Ephesians that I quoted above mentions humility, gentleness and patience, but the word that is most troublesome is the word “bearing”, which means to “endure through suffering.”  Sometimes the people we are called to love and pastor are not ready to make right choices, or to meet with us for counsel. They may not even care about the consequences of their choices. Are we then supposed to move on to the next person and discard the one who is not ready for our help?

A counselor might have every right to make that call, but a pastor cannnot. We must love them, while not enabling them. We must pray for their eyes to be opened, and stand alongside them. We should certainly not allow them to abuse us or others, but waiting and praying for God’s work to be completed in their lives is a chore and a privilege that comes with the calling of pastor.

But, for how long?

As long as it takes. Patience is simply hopeful waiting and there is no expiration date for hope. Our church is full of people who were called out of the darkness into the light. That is my story and I suspect it is your story. Somewhere in that journey, we can all point to people who did not give up on us and we are certainly thankful for Jesus who patiently pursued us.

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