examine self

Do I Pass the Test?

This is an entry from a dear friend of mine, Pastor Dale Lewis of Calvary Chapel Bitterroot Valley in Montana. Dale’s a passionate “new covenant” guy. He and I share something special in common: we both love Ray Stedman’s commentary on 2 Corinthians, entitled “Authentic Christianity.”

I was impressed and challenged by this post when I first read it. The more I think about what he shares here, the more I believe it to be a prophetic word to today’s ministers. 


I’m finishing up 2nd Corinthians this weekend and came upon a verse that resonates in my heart as I look out upon the vista that is the Westernized Church.

Paul closes this letter to his critics by saying in 13:5 “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you are disqualified.

R. Kent Hughes makes this observation: “Today the warning stands over the church, and especially those who have transmitted the present cultural values into the church, so that church is little more than a Christianized version of modern culture. The warning stands where leadership is built on the cult of personality—where image is everything. The warning looms where worship is show time—where preaching is entertainment—where God’s Word is muzzled and the pulpit panders to itching ears. The warning echoes where we are the focus of worship—our feelings, our comfort, our health, our wealth—where super apostles are preferred over Paul.”

I find it easy to gaze out my Church window at those “other denominations” as I examine them putting them to the “test.” But Paul didn’t say “examine others,” he said “examine yourself”!

I’ve had the blessing of being saved in a Calvary Chapel 31 years ago, and also going to a Calvary Chapel school. I’ve had the incredible privilege of being a part of two wonderful fellowships. Clearly there needs to be no examination, no test given to my incredible history!

Why we have “balance,” we have authentic work, right doctrine. Our success is evident, as some among us are numerically the largest fellowships in the country, with some of the most popular speakers around.

Yet I cannot escape my own reflection as I look out my Church window at others. Paul’s words speak to my face in the glass, “Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” Would my examination reveal that “my church history” has replaced Jesus on the throne of my heart? Would I fail the test, as now I’m more excited about what I’m doing for God instead what He has done and continues to do for me? Where is my humility and brokenness? Where is my invisibility that He may be all that people look upon? Would I pass the test as Paul before me—who held onto a vision of paradise for 14 years, seeing and hearing things that he no doubt didn’t even know were a mystery.

Paul never published a book, or produced a video of that experience. Would I, like Paul, not mention the five things that Jesus said would authenticate apostolic ministry in Mark 16 even though they were clearly evident everywhere I went? Is what I would speak most about in my Christian experience be my biggest failure: the day when as a minister all I thought about: how gifted, educated, and special I am was flushed down the toilet—kicked to the curb in Damascus (2 Corinthians 12:30-33). Would I, like Paul, commit to prayer for blessings for those false teachers who prayed for my failure?

Looming in Paul’s closing words of 2nd Corinthians is the thrice repeated word “disqualified,” but with it is also the exhortation of becoming complete, mature, or perfect. He wrote those words of personal examination not for destruction but rather for edification. I believe it is high time that I stop looking out my window and start looking in my mirror!

Blessings!

Pastor Dale Lewis,

Calvary Chapel Bitterroot Valley, MT

world

Are we a “sender” or a “goer”? Or are we disobedient? Part 1

This past week has been incredibly busy and an incredible blessing.  My wife and I made a quick trip back to Phoenix so that I could co-officiate the wedding of a young refugee couple from the Chin ethnic group of Burma.  Then, the morning after our return to Southern California, I traveled about 4 hours south of the border with Ron Clipp from Shepherd’s Staff in order to visit and hopefully encourage a few missionaries that live and serve in that huge, developing nation, known as Mexico.

Because of the busy-ness of the week and thus the limited time I’ve had available to write, I need to be brief in this post.  What I will write about in this and my next few posts is the result of my time in Mexico spending just a few hours with these amazingly faithful servants who have stayed at their God-assigned posts through heart crushing personal trials and personal suffering and yet joyfully love, serve, and represent Jesus to those they live among.  Spending even a few moments with the one family who has lived there for 13 years and the other that has lived there for 26 years is a privilege that I don’t take for granted. 

During the 1 hour and 45 minute wait at the border to cross back over to San Diego, Ron and I talked about the giant, yet humble examples of faithfulness the people we visited are.  And I couldn’t help but ponder afresh what/who it is that motivates people like them to do what they do.  As I said, this will be the first of a few posts, and as I unpackage them, I do believe that some of what I write will be of use to those who pastor and lead churches. 

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Paul, the greatest non-divine theologian in the New Testament, was also its greatest missionary.   And if that truth is not a coincidence, than it shouldn’t be surprising to discover that throughout church history, many other great theologians and pastors with solid, thoroughly saturated, bible-based theology either went, wanted to go, or strongly encouraged their followers to take the gospel to all nations.

Why is this? 

To put it simply, if anyone is in an authentic relationship with the God of the bible, they are in a relationship with the missionary God.  The deeper our relationship with and understanding of Him, the greater our desire will be to “declare His glory among the nations” (Psalm 96:3), and to find our own, God-given role in accomplishing that purpose. 

I believe the following quote summarizes quite accurately the thrust of God’s word in regards to the individual believer and a local church:  “there are only 2 options:  you’re either a sender or a goer.  Anything else is disobedience.”

 

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Leadership by Dictat

Please allow me to introduce what I want to say about a certain leadership style by way of analogy.  I tell pre-marital couples, during the lesson on sexual intimacy, that basically anything goes in their sexual relationship except that which violates the other’s conscience or sense of propriety.  If he wants her to do something that she doesn’t want to do (or vice-versa), she will begin to avoid the marriage bed.  She will go to bed before him, after him, have a perpetual headache – or whatever.  She will avoid intimate moments because he is violating her sense of what is right and appropriate.  Because he insists on his way he damages and wounds the spirit of his wife and weakens the marriage bond.

Transfer this same mentality to leader who, by his actions, damages the sensibilities of his staff.  When this happens with regularity, the glue that holds an assistant pastor to the senior pastor is weakened.  Even as a husband should make decisions in light of his wife, a pastor should make decisions taking into consideration their impact upon those in ministry with him.  Will this decision affect their conscience or sense of ministry propriety?  I have heard so many stories of arbitrary pastoral leadership and I know that this is more than just an occasional gripe from a disaffected staff member.

As pastors, we so often shoot ourselves in the foot.

  • When loyalty is demanded and consideration is not given, a falling out is inevitable somewhere along the line.
  • When unquestioning obedience is expected and unprincipled leadership is offered, division is sure to come.
  • When those affected by the decisions of leadership cannot appeal to that leadership for clarity and understanding, a kingdom model of leadership is not being followed.  (This is what caused the Revolutionary War!)

This has really made me revisit my leadership style and how I think through the impact that my decisions and direction has on others.  It’s been a profitable meditation.  In James 3, the wisdom from above is easily entreated.  Have you ever known staff members/staff pastors who are afraid to question a decision the senior pastor has made?   The Jesus style of leadership is not time efficient.  But since much of the church operates according to the corporate model or the military model, pastoral leaders are often full bore ahead with the expectation that the staff will adoringly and obediently follow.  Sometimes, as leaders, we need to be forceful.  I don’t mind pushing someone, but I’m not into pulling them apart.

All too often Calvary Chapel pastors look at staff as functionaries and not as partners.  I want my staff and elders to have the sense that they are working with me and not for me.  I think I have largely achieved that without sacrificing any pastoral authority.  In fact, I believe this model enhances pastoral authority.  My staff and elders are following and walking with me at the same time.  For me, church leadership is like a marriage.  I am the head of my home – and my wife follows me and walks with me (and occasionally reins me in).

PS – I will be out of the office when this publishes and don’t know if Wi-Fi is available where I’ll be going.  I may not be able to interact with any comments that are made until I return.

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These Things Take Time…

Proverbs 24:30-32

30 “I went by the field of the lazy man, And by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding;

31  And there it was, all overgrown with thorns; Its surface was covered with nettles; Its stone wall was broken down.

32  When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction:”

 

It’s an interesting thing to consider…wise King Solomon receiving instruction at the unkept vineyard of the lazy man who is devoid of understanding. So often I think I pass by the unkept vineyards and nary offer a glance. Not so with Solomon. He is walking down the dusty road, gravel crackling under his sandals, and he has the wherewithal to stop at this field, this vineyard, and he considers it. He considered it for a good amount of time. He looked over it in it’s entirety, “And there it was, all overgrown with thorns”. Initial thoughts? “What a waste of a good vineyard. So much potential lost in the bountiful fruit that could be produced to provide for themselves, the employ of others, and a blessing and joy to the community. So sad.

He then looked beyond external glancing appearance and saw, “Its surface was covered with nettles”. Pain-causing, annoying, irritating things, nettles. What obviously began as fertile soil in which to grow grapes was now encumbered by nettles. Someone started off with a desire, a vision, and hard work to bring it all to pass…but now it is hard and unable to really receive anything of benefit to the vines, as the weeds will steal most of it. What vinedresser would even hazard walking these rows of vines, tending the precious fruit, when there are nettles overtaking the ground. How lonely this vineyard must be with none to lovingly tend it.

Then, almost as if a sudden, subtle shock, or a prick of the heart does he notice, “Its stone wall was broken down”. The sorrowful state of disrepair speaks of a callous indifference, a disregard of one’s rightful duty of caring for, and protecting this once precious vineyard. Time, neglect and other anxieties must have slowly crept in, unseeingly eroding the once solid boundary of this once prized and promising field. Winds, rains, predators, careless or curious passers-by…all taking their toll under the ever unwatchful eye of the one into whose responsibility and stewardship it was given.

May we all take the time to make the time to walk down the village road, intentionally observing our surroundings. And when we happen upon the unkept vineyard of the man devoid of understanding, may we pause a long while, for nothing is as worthwhile as receiving some sound instruction for our own lives and the lives entrusted into our care.

John the Baptist

Why Preach? (Part 1)

Recently I was speaking with a minister here in London who suggested that preaching is old-fashioned and doesn’t connect to the current generation. I will concede that preaching styles do change over generations as the same message is contextualized into our various contexts. The purpose of this post is to give a biblical defense of preaching. The Greek word for preaching (kerusso) means to proclaim or herald. The idea goes back to antiquity of a town crier who would shout out the relevant news to the townsfolk. The business of the herald was to communicate news. If the herald didn’t speak, the townsfolk didn’t know what was going on.

Scripture teaches us that the content of our preaching is the gospel (good news) delivered to us through Scripture. There are many voices claiming that since the culture in which we live is biblically illiterate, we should make the content of our messages something other than the word of God. And many in our culture consider preaching (the idea of proclaiming with authority) too strong, and we are admonished to tone down our message from delivering the message, to delivering our own personal interpretation of a message that may or may not hold any relevance for the hearer. However, God’s word in preaching can’t be excused. To preach without God’s word is to fill an empty void with more emptiness.

In part 1 of this 2-part post, I want to focus on the Purpose of Preaching and the Command to Preach.

1. Purpose of Preaching

In order to consider this, we must ask the question: what is the purpose of preaching? I would argue that preaching is ordained by God to extend the gospel to both believers and non-believers. This takes place by means of understanding being given, by the means of proclamation, through the power of God’s Spirit, leading to salvation for non-believers and sanctification for believers.

1.1. Giving Gospel Understanding

Scriptural record shows us that gospel understanding is given through preaching. If the Gospel is God’s good news, then the good news necessitates the preaching of God’s word for it to be revealed. At the birth of the church at Pentecost, Peter used Scripture in his message to explain what bystanders were seeing (Acts 2:16). This turns to the gospel being given and 3,000 people being converted (Acts 2:37-41). In the chapter immediately following this, Peter is again preaching, explaining to people the basis for a healing that’s taken place in their midst (Acts 3:12). As he is preaching he calls them to stop acting in ignorance (Acts 3:17), further signifying that understanding is being imparted through preaching. But this understanding isn’t in a general sense, but rather an understanding of God. Later Paul in Athens points out that the Athenians were worshiping God in ignorance and that it was time for them to know who God is (Acts 17:23-31). Paul underlines this great need in 1 Timothy 2:4,  when he says God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In fact, Paul stresses this purpose summing up the entirety of his three years of Ephesian ministry when he tells the elders that he declared the whole counsel of God to them (Acts 20:27), which was to their profit (Acts 20:20). Essentially preaching brings God’s plan to light. Paul speaking again to the Ephesian church (Ephesians 3:8-10) said that he preached to “bring to light… the plan of the mystery.”

1.1.1. Salvation

Understanding the gospel contained in Scripture enlightens the heart of the hearer. As mentioned already, when Peter preached at Pentecost, the understanding that 3,000 souls received caused them to trust in Christ. Paul writing to the Romans rhetorically asks how people will believe without hearing preaching (Romans 10:14-16). The word of God is something that is heard, and by responding to that word, we believe (Acts 4:4). Timothy was a partaker of this great salvation when the Scriptures were delivered to him (2 Timothy 3:15). We see in James 1:21-22, that preaching extends to the hearers the “word, which is able to save your souls.”

1.1.2. Sanctification

The gospel word preached is always relevant, for we need it not only for salvation, but the life-long process of sanctification. It is this word that profits the believer in making him both competent and equipped for Christian living (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Titus to teach the church about the doctrine of God so that the hearer’s sanctification will adorn the doctrine of God (Titus 2:1-10). In Thessalonica, the church was known for its life-change (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10), as a response to hearing the word of God preached (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

1.2. Bringing God’s Judgment

It is also worthy of note, that at times the purpose of preaching is actually a means whereby God brings judgment. The prophet Isaiah’s ministry was defined by this aspect of preaching where God says to him in Isaiah 6:10 that his preaching will, “Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Later, Jesus quotes this passage in Isaiah citing the reason he speaks in parables (Matthew 13:13-15). It isn’t for us to determine how God will use His preached Word, but to trust that God himself will determine its purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). Thus, we must be faithful to Scripture and seek to be clear in our communication, regardless as to whether people respond positively or not.

2. Command to Preach

Preaching the word is an imperative in Scripture (2 Timothy 4:1). If God’s word is not the substance of our preaching, then our preaching is in disobedience to this Scriptural imperative. Earlier in Paul’s letter to Timothy he commands his disciple to continue the pattern of raising up preachers when he says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “what you heard from me… entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This wasn’t simply a Pauline command as Jesus also made disciples intending them to preach as we see in Mark 3:14, “He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (italics mine). Preaching the word isn’t simply good practice, it’s good obedience.

In my next post we will look at Preaching under Fire, the fact that God’s Word has Power and Authority, and the Stewardship of Preaching.

Thoughts From The Road

My wife and I have been traveling for the last 24 hours and have finally arrived in Westport, Ireland. A friend of ours flew us out so that I could perform his wedding ceremony tomorrow afternoon. The time of non-connected reflection that the flight afforded me and the wonderful generosity of a friend has caused some thoughtful contemplation (as I’m a “contemplative pastor”). Two things are consuming my thoughts.

1. The importance of uninterrupted solitude
2. The difficulty — perhaps because of pride — of receiving gracious blessings/gifts.

Uninterrupted solitude is hard for us, in fact we’ve not made it very easy. Newsweek’s cover-story this week — “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?” — is worth the read. It highlights what is no longer just a trend, but a fully matured reality, that it is increasingly difficult for us to “unplug” and that our plugged-in existence is not necessarily healthy or helpful. I’ll be the first to admit (as I type this on my iPhone) that I have a hard time unplugging.

With all the discussion here over the last couple of weeks about the importance of planning and optimally using the 168 hours we have each week, I’m wondering how myself and many other Christians (especially pastors) might be well served by scheduling uninterrupted silence for the bulk of a 168 hour period. I wonder what “times of refreshing from the presence of The Lord” the church would receive from such a move. I think that one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy overseas trips, most specifically our short-term trips to Africa, is that I’m unable to be connected.

Pastors are notorious for being hesitant in receiving from others. Or at least many of the pastors that I know personally, myself included. We, by our nature and training are givers. Servant leadership is central to the stream of Christianity that I grew up in, and we exalt highly the principle revealed in Mark 10.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

But those are the words of Jesus. Last time I checked “Son of Man” was a messianic title. And giving ones life as a ransom for many was His task, which He finished. I don’t mean to say that we are not to be servants, Jesus clearly taught the importance of becoming and being servants of all. But over the last couple of years, and particularly through this trip, God has been challenging my thought process in this area.

Why is it that some of us don’t like to receive from others? At least for me, there are two key reasons. First, it’s humbling to receive superfluous blessings from someone. Second, I find that I feel guilty for accepting them, as if doing so is taking advantage of the giver. Yet I think that is important that while we are learning to be gracious givers/servants we learn to be a gracious recipients too.

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Doing The Next Thing

I was recently blessed with getting to spend some time with Pastor and Author Eugene Petersen. Like so many Evangelicals, I first heard of him when his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, came out. Every time I heard his name, he was being verbally crucified for his ‘liberal’ translation. So like many young Christians, I just avoided anything with his name on it. Not realizing that he has written some of the most compelling books on pastoral ministry in the history of Christianity. It was about four years ago that I decided that I was going to start reading his writings. I have never been let down by the depth, clarity and Christocentricity of what he writes. He is not teaching the technique of pastoring. Instead he is revealing the heart of a shepherd. And I, for one, have been greatly challenged by what he is led to pen.

So in the beginning of June, he came to our area for a Pastor’s Appreciation breakfast. I knew the person who was putting on the breakfast and he made sure I got some time with Eugene. We got to speak for awhile about a great many things. It was casual, fun, deep and at times, profound in simplicity.

I asked him about moving from education to the pastorate to the professorship to retirement, with the writing of The Message and other books threaded through it all. It was something that I had been pondering as I thought about all of the changes that have happened in my own personal ministry.

Dr. Peterson answered quite simply, “I simply did the next thing.” I must have looked a bit bewildered. So he followed up with, “I really was not trying to do something new. I just did what came next”. I think what I loved the most about his comments were the total lack of self focus in his thinking. He was not consciously making strategic decisions for expedient reasons. He was simply taking the next step in the process. In the weeks since I heard this, I have thought much about this conversation. I thought of Jesus saying, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I realized that Dr. Peterson was onto something that I still don’t understand. But I like it!

transfer growth

When Transfer Growth is Healthy

Sometimes we are overly-simplistic in our criticisms and cautions. That’s just part of being human. Still, accuracy and balance (if biblical and true) is something to pursue. And one area in which I think pastors particularly get a little overly-simplistic is that of transfer growth. Transfer growth occurs when someone who is already a follower of Jesus (or at least professes to be so) switches from attending one local church to another.

There is a status quo regarding transfer growth that is understandable, often legitimate, but sometimes overboard. It is frankly taboo to appear to be at peace with Christians coming to your church or church-plant from another local church. As such, pastors who don’t want to be filleted don’t talk openly about it, no matter what the reason someone may have transferred to their church may be. My belief is that, while much of the time (perhaps most) transfer growth is due to unhealthy thinking or behavior, sometime’s it is not. And what I hope to do is shed some light on reasons why sometimes transfer growth can even be a godly, wise, and needed reality.

Let me be clear upfront that I don’t think intentionally pillaging the members of a gospel-centered, God-ordained church is ok. The leaders of the church I serve have, and will continue to tell people at times that they need to return to the church they came from when they desire to come to our fellowship in an unhealthy way, with selfish and sinful motivations. But I’ve also seen people come through our doors from other places who I will never tell to go back to where they came from. Here are some reasons why:

 1. The Gospel must be preached

Not all churches that have the gospel correct on their doctrinal statement actually preach the gospel. Some churches are so focused on speaking to people’s felt needs and emotional struggles that they forget to be clear on the problem of sin and how Jesus solved it for us in His death, burial, and resurrection. And in case we forgot, the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17), nothing else. Sometimes people come to my church from another, maybe visiting with a friend or something, and they hear the gospel clearly proclaimed, and God convicts them of sin, brings them to faith in the gospel and regenerates them. And as we counsel with them we discover that though they’ve been at a church that has the right gospel on paper, they’ve never heard it preached before. But now they understand it, are broken over it, and put their trust in Jesus in light of it.

The deal is, if you don’t understand and believe the true and simple gospel, you are not born-again. You are not saved from hell. So, for me, when I meet this kind of person at Refuge that last thing I’m going to do is tell them, “Well I’m sorry, but you need to go back where you came from.” I’m going to love them and make sure they have the opportunity to get the discipleship they’ve never had.

 2. Heresy is real

This ties in with the last point, but not every church that names Christ actually preaches Christ. Churches get into weird crap. That’s the bottom line. I remember learning that a local Episcopal church in a town where I used to pastor had started encouraging their Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS) group to start using the Quran and Book of Mormon for their studies in addition to the Bible. Because of that kind of thing, I was more than happy to welcome a few transfers to our church who knew there was something wrong with that. They voiced their concerns, called for a change and repentance, and were unheard. So, I was happy to welcome them to a place they could not only be discipled, but invite moms to, knowing that they’d be getting the living water of God’s word instead of the poisonous waters of pluralism.

 3. Seasons in Life Change

We also need to allow for people to grow or transition into different seasons of life. If I were simply looking for a church to plug my family into in a non-vocational ministry sense today, I wouldn’t go to the churches I attended in the past. This isn’t because they are evil or wrong. They’re just not a good fit for where our family is at right now in our relationship with Jesus theologically and philosophically.

4. Sometimes Churches Really do Hurt People

One of the most tragic reasons I’ve seen transfer growth is when people are truly hurt by leaders and churches. A couple years ago a pastor in my area was found to have been having affairs with underage girls in the youth groups he was leading. Part of the fallout from that was that people transferred from that church to other churches, including ours. We welcomed these people to our church as a hospital where they could be cared for and encouraged.

 5. Sharing the lowest theological common denominator isn’t always enough

Generally speaking, if we have the gospel in common with another church I love to promote unity between us. But there are some churches that are involved in things that are just weird enough for me to understand why people would leave them. For instance I know of a church not far from us that began promoting the idea that certain crystals used in worship services can encapsulate the praises of God’s people and project them into the cosmos. This church was encouraging people to give their money and tithes to the people taking these crystals around and doing presentations with them. Then there is the whole prosperity preaching issue that was prevalent. Still other churches who have that “come to us if you don’t want to be held accountable for your sin, in the name of grace” reputation are a problem in our area too. Some of these churches claim (or really do) believe in the same Jesus and gospel we do. But that lowest common denominator isn’t always enough. I would never tell someone they need to go back to that kind of environment because of the way people over-generalize the problem with transfer growth.

I hate unnecessary, flippant, consumeranity, transfer growth. I want people to get saved through Refuge Church. But I also don’t want to be so naïve as to act as if there are no legitimate reasons people may transfer into, or out of the church I lead. So am I saying that all transfer growth is good? No! I’m just saying we need to not be overly-simplistic in the way we talk about the issue.

A Final Exhortation

Having a good relationship with the other pastors in your community is vitally important for handling transfer growth in a way that keeps the gospel witness in tact in your area. If the pastors in your area lob grenades at each other behind one another’s back without having face-to-face interaction, we turn into a bunch of squabbling church people. And most lost people don’t want any part of that. Communicate with the pastors in your community about transfer growth. Ask their advice on how to handle it, and follow-up with each other. The witness of the gospel depends upon it.

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168 Hours

Making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16

A couple of weeks ago, Kellen posted “Plan or Die” on the Cross Connection Network.  It struck an area in my life that God has been at major work on–time management.  One of the transitions I struggled with as I moved from life as a SEAL to life as a pastor was managing my time.  In the Navy I had no use of a personal calendar.  But as I transitioned to the pastorate, I quickly learned that I needed a calendar to keep straight the many meetings, appointments, and various events I was now juggling to keep.  This was my main struggle that forced me to make the leap from the flip-phone to a smart phone as paper pocket-calendar served me no purpose as I wouldn’t keep it in my possesion.

With my new smart-phone, a Palm Treo (this was before my iPhone conversion), I was now able to fill my schedule and keep up with everything.  It was sweet.  I was living out (misinterpreted and applied) my favorite verse, “…making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16) by filling it packed full.  This went on for years, until (well, it’s still a struggle technically) I preached on the parable of the soil found in Luke 8.  The verse that really convicted me was Luke 8:14, “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”  This verse continued to convict me following the message…which is rare as I am normally convicted during my study time leading up to the message!  I felt like the Lord was telling me to examine my schedule.

That Sunday night I laid my schedule for the upcoming week out on my desk.  I felt like I was to check my hours of the upcoming week to see what things were choking me out.  Although, I felt safe doing this as I thought I had a “light week” ahead and I though it would reveal a reasonable workload.  As I went through my calendar seeking to tally the running hours for the week, I was shocked to discover that this “light week” was really a 50+ hour work week!  The Lord clearly made His point with me–this was not what He expected of me and nor was it good for me or the church.

Kairos, not Chronos Back to Ephesians 5:16, “…making the most of your time.”  Whether or not I misunderstood the Greek here, my life certainly misapplied the intention this verse.  I applied this verse by understanding “time” as chronos meaning to fill up my calendar with as many things as possible.  This is wrong as the word is actually kairos meaning “to take full advantage of every opportunity” (Louw-Nida).  It may just be me, but this changes everything concerning how I view planning out my week because it forces me to prioritize things which, in turn, forces me to eliminate things (from the schedule of course)!

“Plan your dive, dive your plan.”  This was a saying we used in the SEAL teams concerning our dive plans.  The concept is pretty simple.  Plan your dive carefully.  Then carry out the plan.  To deviate from the plan would certainly result in major problems and failures along the way.  How does this apply for me concerning my schedule today?  Did you catch the title of this post?  That’s how many hours we have each week.  No more, no less.  We will never get them back once they pass, but how we use them will play forward in eternity for good or bad.

Coming up with a plan.  First, I confess, I have been slacking on planning my week.  I could give you a bunch of good excuses, but I won’t.  Typically what I try to do is account for every hour of the week.  I plan out things like: a day off, family time, exercise, sermon prep, writing, and people time.  As I plot these out, I am careful to keep a running tally of the work hours that have accumulated.  My goal is to land somewhere between 40-50 hours of work and then as the week plays out I will note unforeseen events in my calendar.

Flexibility of the plan.  If you are a pastor, you must be flexible and available.  As I write out my week, I understand that I have to be flexible.  Crisis’ come every week and I have purposed in my heart to be available as much as possible to my people.  By mapping out my week and the joy of a smart-phone, I can make mid-course corrections as they come.  Simply realizing how much time goes out has caused me to be more careful in saying “yes” to things and guarding things like family time that could so easily be stolen away.  Simply being aware of the running tally has unveiled my ignorance concerning the use of the time God has given to me.

Benefits of the plan.  The first thing I noticed was exactly what Kellen said in his blog, “I have more free time.”  I was shocked!  I simply became more efficient during my appointed times because I knew what the whole week looked like.  I have spent more time with the family on Saturdays than I ever did before.

The second thing I noticed was a clearer conscience.  The pastorate is an odd calling.  It is not like other professions.  We don’t produce a product per se, we are never really finished.  I think because of this many pastors burn the candle at both ends the the expense of their personal health and the health of their family.  We go and go and say “Yes”, “Sure”, and “No problem” (Jesus would, right?) when we are really burning ourselves out.  By keeping a running tally of weekly hours I see how much time I put into things.  Ultimately this helps me not to feel bad to turn off my phone and to play with the family.

I think Kellen’s title, “Plan or Die” is really appropriate when it comes to going the distance in the ministry.  Our families need us to plan our weeks and then to abide by our plan.  How are you utilizing the 168 hours that God is giving you this week?