chosen

Chosen to Abide and Rest

When I assumed the lead pastor role at a former church, one of the amazingly supportive couples in leadership sent me the following thoughts. The church was going through a grieving process over the loss of their previous pastor, always a tough situation for the incoming pastor.

When I received their note I sensed the presence of God in the words. Somehow I knew I’d need the assurance and confidence they would inspire within me. Now years later, I can see how true that has been. In fact, I find myself leaning upon these truths even today.

Last week I was meditating on John 15, and the Lord reiterated these same thoughts to my heart. Back in September (2012) when I went fulltime into my current ministry, Jesus spoke to me about abiding in Him, and He in me. That would be the key, I heard Him say. He would open doors, give me the wisdom I need, provide for our needs, and direct me clearly into the teachings He would have me share as I travel here and there.

All I can say is that He has been faithful, and I’m continuing to learn how to rest in Him.

I hope these words are a strength to you as well … rhema to your soul. God bless you.

_________________________________________________________________________

“You are in God’s place at God’s perfect time. Your days are in His hands, and He is your future. 

“He has gifted you and placed His hand upon you to bless you and make you a blessing.

 “The burden of your ministry is not yours to carry—as you rest, He will work; as you abide, He will bring fruit; as you sow, He will give the increase.

 “He is your shield and your exceeding great reward.” (Roy Lessin, from God Has Chosen You.”)

We thank the Lord that He has called you to Himself, to your ministry, and to us. God Bless You.

“You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”  —  John 15:16 (King James Version)

leadership

The Necessity of Pastoral Leadership

The role of pastor-teacher, especially that of lead pastor-teacher, is one in which a number of spiritual gifts are in operation.

The gift of the word of wisdom is essential, that the pastor might give a word in season in difficult situations (Isaiah 50:4). Prophecy is essential, that the pastor might speak edification and exhortation and comfort to men (1 Corinthians 14:3). Evangelism is helpful, especially for the church planter. Teaching is an obvious need, as the pastor is commanded to feed Christ’s sheep with the whole counsel of God (John 21:17; Acts 20:27). And so on…

But of all the spiritual gifts that a pastor may have, leading is right near the top of the list. The pastor who has strong abilities to tend and teach God’s people will do fine, but without the gift of leadership the church may get stuck in its numerical growth … perhaps at the 75 number that represents the size of the average American congregation; or perhaps at the 200 number that is typical of the size at which many churches remain fixed. [I’ll not be entering a discussion about the ideal size of a church. The ideal size of a specific church is determined by several factors. That discussion is too broad for the purposes of this blog.]

In my experience working with churches and pastors, I have observed that churches that have been able to create a culture of equipping and releasing legitimate ministry and responsibility have been able to exceed these numbers. The churches that remain small or stuck have not been able to create such a culture.

Sometimes churches are stuck because of the desire of the people. Some are not willing to be part of a church that is too large, as they feel uncomfortable. So if it grows past a certain point, they leave for smaller pastures. At other times churches are stuck because of the pastor. He may be uncomfortable pastoring where he does not know everyone personally. Or perhaps he is so engaged on doing the ministry that he neglects the training of others do to significant ministry. I’ve seen pastors that do it all—they clean, they mow, they teach, they sing, they counsel, they bookkeep, etc. Such pastors have something in common; their churches are always small.

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father in law Jethro gave Moses sound advice after observing him doing ministry all by himself. Jethro counseled Moses to find able men with strong character, and to delegate the responsibility of the ministry to them according to their abilities. This thrust Moses into another kind of leadership which not only saved his life but also made life much better for the entire congregation.

In the book of Acts, important ministry was thrust upon the apostles when the Greek speaking widows were being slighted in the daily distribution of food. Wisely, the apostles did not yield to the temptation of doing this ministry themselves. Instead, they oversaw a Spirit-led process of identifying and releasing seven men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom that would be responsible for the matter. The apostles were exercising leadership by such an action, and were able to be faithful to their God-given priorities of the ministry of the Word of God and prayer. The result was that the church grew by leaps and bounds.

I’m going to include an excerpt from the CCPN church planting manual that speaks very well to the issue of the priority of pastoral leadership. It is Jesus’ desire that His pastors do ministry His way. Hopefully this will encourage some to make adjustments that may prove helpful in the growing of His church.

_______________________________________________________________________

Leading: able to cast vision, mobilize, inspire and build systems. It seems axiomatic that lead pastors be able to lead (1 Cor.12:28). Leaders must know where God is leading them (vision) and be able to persuade others to follow them. C. Peter Wagner describes leadership as, “The spiritual ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to set goals in accordance with God’s purposes for the future and to communicate these goals in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work to accomplish those goals for the glory of God.”

Are you able to communicate and strategize effectively? Although pastoral care is important it may not be  the primary role of the pastor of the church, at least not if the church is going to grow numerically. In that case, the more important roles include casting vision, developing leaders, teaching, prayer and making disciples.

Chuck Swindoll observes that the key is inspiring influence, “Those who do the best job of management – those most successful as leaders – use their influence to inspire others to follow, to work harder, to sacrifice, if necessary.” When godliness and great vision are combined in the same person, that individual exerts great influence over others.

The average pastor can care for only about 75 people (the average size of a U.S. church). So, for the church to grow beyond that level requires the pastor to learn to effectively lead by establishing administration, organization, systems, delegating & intentionally mentoring others to lead (as in Exodus 18 and Acts 6).

Lifework: consider your ministry experience to date, what evidence is there to support the idea that you are a capable leader?

Teaching: effectively communicate the truth of the text, in context with cultural relevance, and be able to refute false doctrine since it threatens people’s relationship with God. Preliminarily, recognize that this is the threshold qualification for a pastor-elder (1 Tim.3). Our movement emphasizes expositional Bible teaching, verse by verse through books of the Bible (Is. 28:10). Consider the example of Ezra, he prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord (studied), and to do it (applied the Word in his own life), and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (note: he did not try to teach until after he studied and sought to live it; Ezra 7:10).

Also, we need to distinguish teaching from a dynamic personality or oratory skills. In other words, you may be able to draw a crowd but might not be teaching the Word of God. James provides a sober warning that those who assume the role of teacher will be headed to a stricter standard (higher judgment) regarding the soundness of the doctrine they expound (Ja. 3:1). Do you have the gift to teach and are you diligent to stir-up that gift? In other words, do you apply diligent effort to grow as a Bible teacher? Do you devote yourself to the study of the Word and seek to grow as a communicator of the truth? Have you studied systematic theology? Do you spend “quantity time” observing and interpreting the text before trying to apply the text to people’s lives? Are people growing in their understanding of God as a result of your teaching? Does anyone want to hear what you have to say? While numbers are not the litmus test of teaching success if you are unable to attract people you may not have the gift.

Lifework: consider your ministry experience to date, what evidence is there to support the idea that you are a capable teacher?

Shepherding: pastors will give an account to God for how they cared for the spiritual well-being of those they were entrusted to care for (Heb.13:17). You need to love people and be diligent to care for the flock – don’t view the people as your audience but love them like Jesus who was moved with compassion (Mk.6:34). Care for people because Jesus loves them & gave His life for them (Ac. 20:28). Protect them from wolves who attempt to draw them from Christ to themselves, & remember the Sheep belong to Jesus (Ac. 20:29). Learn to listen well or else you won’t discover how people are doing. I confess, that I need to remember to listen better, to be patient with people, and to avoid jumping to conclusions. When I listen better I’m a more effective shepherd.

God will set shepherds over His people who will care for them in place of worthless self- focused shepherds who desert the sheep (Jer. 23:4, Zech.11:15-17, Jn.10:12-13). Being a shepherd requires you to see people as individuals with needs instead of a multitude (Mk. 6). A shepherd is on mission to seek and save that which is lost (Lu.19:10).

A pastor’s perspective (from pastor Bruce Zachary): in my “early years” as a church planter I confused being a shepherd, in other words loving people, with wanting to care for every perceived need. It tended to create unhealthy dependency upon me, rather than God, and I tended to like being needed. Nevertheless, it was unhealthy for the church and for me on various levels. Furthermore, this dynamic is prevalent in small churches under 150 adults. Therefore, I suggest that you focus on leading and teaching as priorities and then being a shepherd.

tsp

You Need a TSP

your pastor left

 

You Need a TSP.

We’re not talking here about Trisodium Phosphate, Telecommunications Service Provider, or a Touch Screen Panel.

We’re actually talking about a Transitional Senior Pastor.

The following article by my friend Dr. Mark Platt has helped shape my ministry with Poimen Ministries (www.poimenministries.com).

Since I left Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay in 2006, I have been directly or partially involved in this sort of role in four different churches. I have discovered that it’s a hugely important and often unrealized ministry that could save the lives of many churches, and propel them on to greater fruitfulness in God’s kingdom. Other men working alongside of me with Poimen Ministries have done the same thing, with the same outcomes. Glory to God!

After my current TSP role is completed in American Canyon, my wife and I remain open to doing it again (and possibly again and again) in years to come. I love the ongoing blessing of seeing these churches grow and do well after I leave. (Finally! We got rid of the bum!” — LOL)

My hope is that the concepts in Mark Platt’s article will spread to many places. The church needs organic leadership like a TSP can provide.

——————————————————————————————————————–

You Need a TSP!

by Dr. Mark Platt 

A few years ago, I met with the chairman of a church where the long-term pastor had just announced that he was leaving. I began to explain to him how important it would be to hire a TSP (transitional senior pastor). This man who was a very successful businessman interrupted me in about my second sentence.  Confidently, he told me “we got it covered!” As a denominational worker, I thought I should explain the wisdom of a TSP to him so I tried again. But he interrupted me again: “Our church is different. You don’t understand!” As I left, I politely told him that if they needed any help I would be happy to help.

In the months that followed, it became clear that they didn’t have it covered. They tried get a permanent pastor within a month of the long-term pastor’s leaving.  The church voted him down. Then they quickly put one of the associates in as the “interim.”  It turned out that he wanted the job but didn’t have enough votes. Some people wanted him and others didn’t, which divided the church. When the interim was done, the church had lost people, lost money for missionaries, and lost a lot more.

Sadly, many churches think just like this man. They think they can just jam a new pastor in right away. Others think all they need is pulpit supply so they recruit a parade of para-church people, retired pastors, and seminary professors in to preach. Then they put an associate in charge of the staff as the “interim” and share the pastoral duties among the staff. Sometimes churches bring in a person who went to seminary but either has been an unsuccessful pastor or never been a pastor. This can be a disaster as the church declines. Once in awhile, churches get someone who is a stealth candidate who gets the inside track on a job that he should not have. The worst scenario is making one of the associates the TSP because this divides the church or insures that the associate will not be able to stay. While these plans might work occasionally and might save the almighty dollar, they are, at the least, ineffective and at worse, do great damage to churches.

After watching some transition tragedies as well as some glorious successes with TSPs for many years now, I have become convinced that churches need to hire a “transitional senior pastor,” (a TSP). In fact, when God led me to leave my denominational post after twenty-six years, He called me to help churches as a transitional senior pastor. I have seen first-hand how a TSP can greatly help churches in the interim time after a lead pastor leaves and until the new permanent pastor arrives.

I call this the work of a “transitional senior pastor.” I use this term and not the old name “interim” on purpose. I think “interim” connotes someone in-between who hold things together and marks time until a new permanent pastor arrives. After years of watching this from a very close vantage point, I can see how a church can either go through the interim time or they can grow through it. That is the difference between whether a church gets an interim or intentionally chooses to get a TSP.

A TSP has all the authority and responsibilities of a senior pastor: teaching the Bible. persuading people to live God’s way, loving, caring, leading, building unity, serving, helping the church reach out to their community with God’s love, mentoring leaders, guiding staff, diagnosing and treating problems, organizing, and getting a church ready for a new pastor. A TSP is part-foster parent, part-coach, part-teddy bear, part-warrior, part designated hitter, part-peacemaker, part-mentor, and a few more things.

When a senior pastor leaves, every church needs a TSP. I know I sound pretty bold and emphatic about this TSP thing. But I have seen enough to be convinced. When your church is without a pastor, you need a TSP! Here are 10 reasons why:

1. A TSP can be a stabilizing force. When a pastor leaves, some people in a church will see this as the time to go church shopping. Vision is very fragile and can dissipate very quickly in the interim time. A TSP can prevent drift and decline. If there is a parade of pulpit supply and no leader, the church will lose people. Seeing the same face in the pulpit gives continuity and comfort to a congregation. In my denominational work, Pastor Glennon Culwell did 14 TSP assignments for us. Several of these churches told me about the steadiness and stability that this veteran brought to their church. If you pick a good TSP, it will quiet the folks down who want a quick pulpit search and a shotgun wedding so the church can make a prayerful and methodical search that will honor God.

2. A TSP can deal with deferred maintenance. Every pastor has a style and a way of doing things. Pastors only have enough time, energy and political capital to deal with certain things. And just like a typical homeowner, most of us can’t see the things that need to be fixed. A good TSP will have “fresh eyes” to see the things that need to be fixed. The Apostle Paul told a TSP named Titus (1:5): “straighten out what was left unfinished.” If a TSP is doing his job, he can marshal the forces to move and improve the neglected ministries of the church.

3. A TSP can minimize conflict. A vacancy in the office of the senior pastor is one of the times when churches often fall into conflict. Frequently, there has been some element of conflict or disagreement as a pastor leaves. Conflicts often center on music, staff, budget, vision, and other issues. These days there are often diverse theological views in churches. The permanent senior pastor may have been the boy in the dike holding back warring factions. So, when the pastor leaves, these opposing points of view often think it is time to get their way. A transitional senior pastor can be the traffic cop who guides the church through this peril.

4. A TSP can preserve the power of the senior pastor. Whenever a senior pastor leaves, lay people, staff, the church board, and others will instinctively work to fill the void left by the departing pastor. This is very dangerous because these same folks will guard their new turf and can prevent a new permanent pastor from leading. That is why it is important to put a TSP in place almost immediately. A good TSP will keep and strengthen the power of the senior pastor. A good TSP will fill the leadership vacuum until the new pastor arrives. This is vital because strong pastoral leadership is a key element in a church’s health and growth. Proverbs 29:2 says: “When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order”.

5. A TSP can get the church acclimated to change. When a pastor leads a church for a long time, a church gets accustomed to doing things the certain way. This can be disastrous because every pastor is different. We want pastors to be themselves and be led of the Holy Spirit. So the job of a TSP is to prepare the church for change by making changes so the new permanent pastor can lead in the way God has wired him. If the TSP has made some changes, the new pastor can make needed changes easier.

6. A TSP can deal with hard and dangerous issues. He can be the one who takes the blame. There might be incompetent or disloyal staff members that need to be dismissed.  Quite often, the former pastor did not have the political capital to deal with who those who need to go. Since the TSP is there for a short time, it gives him the freedom and even courage that the permanent pastor might not have. A good TSP should have a thick enough skin to deal with systemic and persistent issues of the transitional church so the new pastor won’t have to. This is a crucial ministry a TSP can perform.

7. A TSP can help the search committee. Most people on search committees know precious little about how a church grows, how pastors think and lead, or how to conduct a God-honoring pulpit search. In fact, my experience is that most search committee members have never been on a search committee before. A good TSP will be able to guide them with the mechanics and intricacies of a pulpit search. He can point out the dangers and save them from making tragic mistakes. He can show them how to do background research, due diligence, a congregational survey, demographics, and develop a profile of the pastor that might fit. Many TSPs are well-connected to sources of potential candidates in ways that most search committees are not.

8. A TSP can help them in the grieving process. Grief is often the result of the exit of a long-term pastor or an adulterous pastor. It is vital to make time for healing within the congregation and to put the service of the former pastor in perspective. There must be a time of letting go of the former pastor and for discarding old expectations, wounds, patterns, and baggage of the past. Only when the congregation has let go of the former pastor can a new pastor be fully accepted. If this period is rushed or neglected, the new pastor will be viewed as an intruder and an interloper so that the new pastor will not last.

9. A TSP can help the permanent pastor succeed. I will never forget hearing Lyle Schaller speak at a seminar for denominational executives. This wise consultant to churches said: “Churches need to have an intentional interim pastor. If they don’t they will have an unintentional interim pastor (the Biblical term is ‘sacrificial lamb’).” A TSP can be the buffer after a beloved pastor leaves and whose legacy no one can match.  Recently, Chris Collingsworth became the successor to John Madden, the legendary sportscaster who is retiring from Monday Night Football. Collingsworth said something like this: “it’s better to be the person who follows the person who follows the legend, rather than be the person who follows the legend.” A TSP can follow the legend so the new pastor won’t have to and that is critical in the succession process of a church.

10. A TSP can save the church money. I have watched churches try to “go on the cheap” with their transitions and end up paying dearly when 20% or more of their people leave and their tithes with them. Other transition plans may work occasionally and may save a few bucks. But in the long run, not hiring a TSP can be very costly. A veteran TSP can help preserve the church. When Dr. Roy Kraft retired from Twin Lakes Church in Santa Cruz, California after 43 years, he was asked to help Arcade Church in Sacramento in their transition after Dr. Lee Toms retired. Dr. Kraft led Arcade for over a year. This church did well with Pastor Toms but it grew and flourished with Dr. Kraft as the TSP.  New believers and new members who began to support Arcade’s budget were the by-products of his TSP ministry. A good TSP will pay for himself and will help the church honor God!

What should you look for in a TSP? Now, a TSP is not a miracle-worker. He will need your prayers, your support, your alliances, your cooperation, and your willingness to follow his leadership. If you pick a godly and gifted TSP, it will greatly benefit your church in transition. So, pick someone who will not allow himself to be considered for your permanent pastor. Pick a veteran who has been a pastor with distinction. Pick someone who promises to be with your church the entire time until the new pastor arrives. Pick someone who can build on the church’s strengths and fix some of the church’s weaknesses. Pick someone who is seeing his ministry as a calling from God to help church through transitions. If you do these things, I believe God will move your church toward growth and blessing as you honor God.

If I have convinced you that you need a TSP, The Goehner Group is a great resource for finding a good TSP to help your church or para-church organization to navigate through your transition. Call them. My last church used The Goehner Group in their pulpit search with great results and satisfaction. I pray that God will help your church in honoring God in your transition.

________________________________________________________________ 

mark-platt-picDr. Mark Platt is a graduate of Lincoln High School in Seattle and Shoreline College. For 26 years, Mark worked for a denomination helping churches grow, pastoring pastors, and leading a new church ministry. Now Mark helps churches in the interim time between permanent pastors. Mark’s passion is honoring God and helping people know Him personally. Mark is a graduate of California State University in Fresno and Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. For many years, Mark was an adjunct professor at Western Seminary, Bay Area campus. Mark and Margaret like to travel, hike, and drive the back roads. Margaret teaches high school in Cupertino, California.

well

Dig Up the Old Wells

And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. (Genesis 26:18, NKJV)

I am a fan of this passage, and its present application as it pertains to church life. Last week, Jon Langley introduced the question about how to do church. From my perspective, Genesis 26:18 helps greatly in answering the question.

(Note: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached his incredible series on revival based largely upon this text, but that won’t be my subject here. For that treatment, check out the book. It’s called Revival.)

The passage tells about Isaac—young Isaac, inexperienced Isaac. As he began to move about in the land and enjoy/obtain the promised inheritance, he encountered some difficulties with Abimelech, king of the Philistines. In spite of these difficulties, Isaac was blessed and became very prosperous.

Things were going well for him when he came upon some wells that had been dug by his father Abraham. Although these wells had been earthed by the Philistines for some reason, Isaac felt it well worth the time and effort to unearth and re-dig the same wells. Apparently he sensed that these wells were valuable, having been dug by his well-respected father. Not only did he re-dig the wells, he revived their names. He called them exactly what they’d been called when Abraham had named them at first.

The connection between this story and the present day question of how to do church seems obvious to me. The application of this connection may not be so obvious.

If we’re going to do church today we should do it in view of history, in the light of what has been done before. Like Isaac with his father, we should respect the work of those who have gone before, and we should build upon any solid, Christ-centered foundation they have laid.

So how far back do we look?

As far as the church is concerned, we have to go back to her Founder, namely Jesus. Sadly, in far too many places even His well has been covered up. Living water isn’t flowing in such places, to be sure. Jesus is the One who said that He would build His church. Paul later added that no other foundation could be laid than that which has been laid. The foundation is Jesus Himself.

(Pastor, here are questions for you: is the church you are pastoring built upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know Him well? Do the people know Him well? Are the grace and truth of Jesus part of your personal and church DNA? Is the sole aim of the people to follow Him? Is it your sole aim to follow Him? Is He your example for love and grace?)

We must also look back and re-dig the wells of the apostles and prophets. We do this primarily through the study of the NT epistles and the book of Acts. We don’t need to look around today nearly as much as we need to look back. We look back to Romans for soteriology, to Ephesians for ecclesiology, to Colossians for Christology, to James for practical Christian living, to the book of Acts for the pattern of ministry in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, we look back and re-dig the Christ-centered, apostolic wells that are evident from church history. When we find such wells, we drink deeply and wisely, constantly measuring water quality through the tests of Christocentric and Biblical revelation.

And when we do look around at current methods of doing church, we’re in a constant evaluation mode. Is this thoroughly Biblical? Does it appear in the nature and teaching of Jesus? Is it found as a pattern anywhere in the book of Acts? Is there specific teaching on it in the epistles? Does it square with the two great commandments?

Isaac would have been extremely unwise (and disrespectful) had he decided to just pass by and ignore those old wells. So it will be for us, if we only look around at what others are doing … and fail to look back to what has gone before within the plan and purposes of God.

superhero

Vision – Part 3: Impartation

I love how imaginative my kids are. Ethan (4 years old) and Addie (soon to be 3) have super vivid imaginations (I’m sure Eva does too, but she’s only just turned 1).

The other day while driving home from Costco we had one of their movies playing in the back seat. During the “moral of the story” wrap-up the main character told the kids, “You see you don’t have to be a superhero to help people.” Without a second thought Ethan quietly responded, “Yes you do.” In his mind you do, and in his world we are all superheroes. In fact, if you were to ask him which superheroes we are… I’m Mr. Incredible (he’s a smart boy), Andrea is Firestar (he made that one up), he is Spider-Man (or Ironman, or Captain America), Addie is Elastagirl and Evangeline is Dash. Ethan has a vision. He lives his vision and he loves to bring others into it. Bringing others into your vision is what impartation is all about.

In my last post on developing vision I spoke of casting the vision to those leaders closest to you for the purpose of moving it from the general to the specific. Although some aspects of development carry over into impartation, impartation is the real incarnation of vision in the hearts of others. At this stage the more specifically formulated vision that has been developed in step two is now imparted to the larger body so as to make the idea a reality. At this point there are three important steps in birthing the vision in the hearts and minds of the body.

REMIND the people of what God has done previously. At the beginning of each year at CCEsco I spend 2 to 3 weeks imparting vision for what is on the horizon and I always begin first by reminding the body of what has happened in the previous year. I share how the Lord has provided for the work and opened new doors of opportunity. I remind the body of what they gave in support of the work and how that has practically impacted our community and the world; and we take time to remember some of the lessons we’ve learned as a result of what we’ve seen and been apart of.

Once we’ve taken some time to rehearse what God has done and is doing, I then ARTICULATE the vision of what God has called upon us to do in the new year. This articulation is not an in-depth treatise on every detail of the vision, but rather a simple overview of what we’re desiring to accomplish by God’s grace. As much as possible I believe that it is important to be as concise and precise in communicating the vision as the details of it can be expressed more fully later. Think of impartation as a form of inception.

As you rehearse what God has done and articulate what He is preparing to do it is essential that you then ELICIT a response from your hearers. In so doing it is important that you provide easy on-ramps for them to step into the process of making the vision a reality. Don’t just paint an abstract picture of what could potentially be, but provide practical ways in which the body can participate.

In Exodus 25, as Moses was still receiving the vision for the tabernacle, he began to impart the vision to Israel and prompted their involvement by requesting an offering. This offering was the initial spark that involved and employed their participation in making the tabernacle a reality. It [the offering] gave the people a practical way in which they could be a part of the birthing of the vision.

 

Newnan cemetery 1 29

Cemetery or Seminary?

In my spiritual journey God has used a number of things to shape me.  I think I accepted Christ at a Tuesday night Bible study that was at a Vineyard church.  From there I started attending Horizon, then to The Rock when Miles McPherson launched it, then to a little Mexican church in National City, then to help with an Evangelical Free Church, then I planted a church with my father-in-law that became Southern Baptist, to my current church which is Southern Baptist…this flyover covers about 17 years of my church life.  During the early years, 1996-2001, I traveled extensively as a Navy SEAL and would often find myself in different places on Sundays…I would always land at a Calvary Chapel because they were fairly consistent with their franchised product.  I know you guys are not a denomination, but nobody on the outside buys your claims. :)

As I was growing in the Lord and starting to sense God’s call, I wasn’t sure what the next step was or how I was to pursue this vague feeling inside.  I remember many of the pastors in Calvary Chapel bashing, or subtly making jabs against seminaries by referring to them as cemeteries.  I sort of found this funny because from the outside looking in it appeared as though many of the pastors didn’t have college degrees let alone any time at seminary.  Where was this attack coming from?  Why would they be critical of something they never actually participated in or completed?  Maybe it was a chip on their shoulder?  Maybe.  Maybe there was some truth in what they said?  Possibly.  I know that I may be treading on dangerous ground as the majority of the writers of this blog are Calvary Chapel guys.  I am the outsider, the black sheep of the group proudly waving my Southern Baptist colors…which feels weird as I don’t really feel connected deeply to this group, but I digress.

As God led me away from Calvary Chapel circles, I was exposed to a variety of very godly pastors who all had graduated from seminary.  Different seminaries all conservative, but with different flavors.  It was during this time that God’s call became very strong and my desire to study the Bible at a deeper level continued to grow, but I didn’t know how I could satisfy this as I was preparing to deploy to the Middle East.  Thankfully, I was informed of Moody Bible Institute’s distance learning program.  I immediately enrolled in a number of courses like “Old Testament Survey”, “New Testament Survey”, “Elements of Bible Study”, and “Advanced Bible Study Methods.” Oh, my soul was getting nourished in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.  I ended up completing a year’s worth of coursework through Moody’s program.  This whole experience opened up the door for me to complete my Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and Master’s of Divinity degree through Southern California Seminary.  From there, I would go on and work on my Doctor of Ministry degree through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I withdrew from the program when I was “All but dissertation” because I felt like it was interfering with the present ministry I was called to.

I had a wonderful experience through Bible College and Seminary.  I would not be able to handle the Word of God as accurately as I do now without my training there.  I understand that not every seminary is created the same, but that doesn’t mean that all are bad and ineffective in training people. Here are a few reasons why I support and encourage men called to the ministry to go to seminary:

You will grow and mature through the process.  Seminary is challenging.  Juggling life with coursework is challenging in of itself, but a good seminary is going to forged you to be handle the ministry–whether you are preparing to enter or are already doing the work.  To hunker down and to do the work will shape you in your walk with God.  This difficult season in my life definitely prepared me for the rigors that pastoral ministry would bring.

You will be equipped in handling the Word of God.  I often am asked, “Did seminary really help you?” I laugh and respond with something like, “If I wasn’t in seminary, I would not have been digging, researching, and writing about topics that forced me deep within the Word on a daily basis.”  Seminary will sharpen and expand you knowledge and application of the Word of God.  There is no way around this, you cannot experience this demand on your own.  I have often heard, “Seminary is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant.”  This is so true!

You will be exposed to others schools of thought.  I can already hear some Calvary guys jumping on this point saying, “Ahh, you will be brainwashed and wander into bad doctrine!  Beware!”  An assumption of mine is that we are talking about a conservative, Bible believing and proclaiming seminary–which there are many.  Within this context you will rub shoulders and discuss biblical things from different vantage points.  This is iron sharpening iron in its truest sense.  For example, when I wrote my thesis on “The Christian and Combat” we brought in a pacifist, who deeply loves the Lord, to challenge my position.  I am better because of this experience of being exposed to other views within Bible believing Christianity.

You will develop deep friendships and broaden your network.  Outside of the coursework, I developed deep friendships with others in the ministry from a variety of denominations or non-denominations respectfully.  These friendships have been very meaningful and helpful to me in my service in the ministry at large.  I am thankful for these men that I can go to for support and outside consultation by men who are outside of my circle.

Concluding thoughts.  First, if you are debating going to seminary choose well.  The price is the least important factor.  Seek out graduates and examine the doctrinal position of the school.  If you don’t feel comfortable with this, ask someone who can guide you and give you wisdom for not all seminaries are created equal.  Second, if you haven’t been, or graduated from seminary, I would ask you to refrain from the bashing of them through subtle comments like letting “cemetery” slip out of your mouth when “seminary” was the intended word.  It makes one look like they have a chip on their shoulder for lacking something.  Of course one doesn’t need seminary to go to the ministry…we simply need to meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Finally, whatever your background, I encourage you to read, grow, and study intently as you lead the body of Christ.

vision_eye

Vision – Part 2: Developing Vision

In my last post I ventured into the topic of vision and discussed the first of five important aspects of it for pastors, that of receiving vision.  I explained how that receiving vision is as easy as desire.  But, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage is that they’re not always entirely clear.  Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out what it is that we’d like to eat.  The specifics of the desire are often indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us this time to the second aspect of vision.

2. Developing Vision

I’m sure you’ve experienced the aforementioned scenario before?  For my wife and I it seems to be a regular occurrence that looks something like this…

I’m really hungry”
“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t know?”
“Do you want Italian?”
“No…”
“Mexican?”
“No…”
“Chinese?”
“Maybe.”
“Indian?”
“Definitely not.”

So it goes as we hone the desire from the general to the specific. This is the refining stage of visionary desire and is a very important aspect of developing vision.

As I mentioned previously, vision is not always entirely clear.  In this development phase it is important for visionary leaders to gather around themselves others with whom the can explain and cast the vision so as to refine the raw materials of it.  Such sounding boards must be comprised of the kind of individuals that are able to handle the abstract and not be bothered by initial ambiguity.  In this process the visionary desire is pared down from a wide 90° spread to 80°, then 60° and 45°, on down to a fairly focused visionary plan.  Most often is takes place through a prayerful interrogative process.

I find that this development phase can be easily overlooked or under-engaged.  If either one happens a vision can be wholly short circuited at this point.  Refining a vision is a must, but many times leaders that are uncertain or lack confidence will not allow themselves or their vision to be scrutinized.  It is important to recognize that as you subject your vision to the interrogation and scrutiny of others, you may not necessarily have perfect answers for every question.  It is the question itself and the process of discovering an answer to it — with the help of your team — that will rein in and refine the vision.

At the close of every calendar year  I begin proactively seeking The Lord’s vision for our church in the new year.  Sometimes that vision is drawn from a verse or passage of scripture, at other times (like this coming year) it is as simple as one word.  For 2012 our vision was “Enjoying God’s Grace and Extending His Glory.” My desire and vision for our church in the new year is simply “Reflect.” In many conversations with pastors and leaders in our fellowship I share the desire (i.e. vision) of reflecting God in both local and global contexts, and we ask the question, “what would it look like to be reflections of Christ in the context of local outreach, or men’s ministry, youth, young adults or foreign missions? As we do so the vision is reduced from general to specific.

Ultimately our pastoral team gathers for a 2 to 3 day getaway in the end of every year at which we pull together the specific details of our vision and plan for the new year.  It is through this process of vision development that we are able to write the vision making it plain and essentially ready for the next step, impartation/communication.

A few more key considerations are helpful at this point.  First, know your rhythms. Each of us have a different cadence or pulse. This is true as it relates to how we approach our day, week or year. As a result there are times throughout these cycles where we are more apt to catch creative current. By recognizing what our rhythms are we can take full advantage of them more effectively.

Secondly, know and understand your strengths and weaknesses. I highly recommend Gallup’s Strengthsfinder for this. If your strong in the areas of Stretgic and Ideation, then make sure you make time for solitary idea development. But, also make sure that you work to your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. Surround yourself with co-leaders who complement your abilities and you theirs. People like myself that are strong with strategic ideas need Arrangers, Activators and Deliberative Developers around them. Never feel threatened by co-leaders who are strong where you are weak, rather strive for effective communication coordination of tasks to best suit strengths.

Finally, vision often seems bigger than our capacity or ability to facilitate it. Don’t be discouraged by big vision or expansive obstacles.  It can be frustrating to have such vision, until you recognize God’s timing and abundant resources.  Be faithful to develop the vision you receive of Him and He will supply what is lacking.

Playing_Cards

Know when to hold em, Know when to fold em

I know that I am Jersey boy. I also know that guys from New Jersey don’t do country music. There is nothing wrong with country. But New Jersey is the home of Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi and Skid Row. Not Kenny Rodgers. But everyone knows that classic song, The Gambler. The Gambler needs to know when to hold and when to fold. He needs to know when to walk away and when to run. Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. The Gambler knows that there will be time enough for counting when the dealings done. You know the song.

This song speaks to me as a minister. In many ways, an aspect of the ministry that I have done is to be a type of a spark plug. I have been blessed to see many things start up. A church in New Brunswick, NJ. A church in Mill valley, CA. A church in San Francisco, CA. I’ve been blessed to see these ministries birthed and transitioned into new leadership. The hardest part of this is wondering what would have happened had you stayed where you were. In some ways, doing ministry is like gambling. You sense a leading from the Lord and you act upon what you understand the confirmations to be. You can see what God has done on your new step. But you often wonder what would have been had you stayed put. Sometimes I wonder if I have ministerial ADD. Sometimes ministers are ministerially catatonic. Either way, the key is to be where God is asking you to be.

I have also seen some great ministries started. The Calvary Church Planting Network has a project of mine. Wanting to church planters not have to recreate the wheel but have simple mentorship in the process. Just last month, CCPN had their first large conference and God is using it in a major way. I got the thing going and then others took it to the next level. What a joy for me to see God at work. Since being here at Crossroads in the last 11 months I have gotten to launch both a School of Ministry and a Married’s Ministry and handed them off to other pastors to run with. So awesome!

The CrossConnection Network blog is another one of those ministries. What began as a few conversations with my good friend Miles DeBenedicis about starting a collaborative blog turned into this site. We wanted a blog where people were free to explore ideas about life in Christ and ministry. We wanted contributors who had unique voices. Sure the masses enjoy the same old trumpeted sounds but innovation happens where people cringe and get upset. We are good with that. While some aren’t. We are okay with that too. What is awesome is that over last few years, we have watched CrossConnection blossom into a significant site with a really large audience. And a continuing growing audience. We have seen some of our contributors begin to blog for other sites. Awesome! We’ve seen some of our contributors quit blogging altogether. Again, God’s will be done. It is time for me to step away though. Not because I do not love CrossConnection. I do. But because, at this time, my work here is done. Starting it up was part of my roll and now it is time for others to take it to the next level. I will be watching with joy. But this will be my final article.

As for me, I will be focusing on the next set of things that God has in front of me. So if you think of me, please pray for me. I want to be the best husband and father in the world. We are finishing up the leadership transition here at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA in the coming months. God is doing amazing things here. God has tremendous things in store for Crossroads and we are just beginning to understand what the future will hold. Wild and exciting. We are seeking to reach out to the next generation with the Viral Movement with our first warehouse concert/crusade this Friday. I am working with an amazing literary agent and working on the manuscript for my next book (and am humbled by the interest from some big publishing houses). If you have ever written a longer work, you know the energy and diligence that that takes. On top of that, I have been blessed to be invited to do a bunch of conference teaching in the upcoming year. My own website has been growing as well. So I need to focus on all of this.

I wanted to thank you all for letting me add my ideas to this blog. I have been assured that I can submit articles from time to time. But at this time, I guess it is time for me to pull back from the table and let the dealing be done. Blessings!

persistent-widow

Abysmal, or Improving?

It can be said, I suppose, that the curse of the ministry is busyness. Some of it is what I call  administrivia. Some of it is the result of techno-preoccupation (I’m guilty). Some of it is the result of having way too many things on our plates. Some of it is due to the fact that we’ve done a poor job developing men … leaders … guys that are called and passionate to serve Christ’s bride along with us.

No matter what the cause, the greatest problem of busyness is prayerlessness. The poll numbers have been in for some time. We pastors are abysmal pray-ers, as a whole.

In my last post on Cross Connection Network, entitled “I’ve Got to Pray More,” I wrote on the subject of prayer, and the ways in which I was encouraged to pray more while at the reEngage Church Planting Conference.

Today, I’m at it again. I am serious about ramping up my prayer life. Since I wrote, I’ve seen some serious answers to prayer. But I’ve only improved slightly in my prayerfulness. My take is that the Father is pleased with any new effort in this regard. Like a father encouraging a son learning to ride a bike, our Father encouraged me with quick results. And I am encouraged.

(I wrote this blog on Saturday, November 3). Tomorrow morning I’m speaking at a church in the Bay area of CA. My message will be from Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward, the intent of which was to stimulate His disciples to always pray and not lose heart. I picked that passage because I need it. It was a selfish choice, admittedly. Hopefully, the result … in the long run … will benefit many.

Here are the notes from that message. It’s almost in manuscript form, so it’s fairly easy to follow. Check it out, if you so choose.

www.billholdridge.com/Luke/We Ought to Pray Always.pdf

vision

Vision – Part 1

Over the last several years I’ve given much thought to the subject of vision and have written a few times of it here on Cross Connection. Verses like Proverbs 29:18 regularly come to my mind — “Where there is no vision, the people perish” — and keep me cognizant of the fact that vision is important. It is however strange to me that discussion on the topic of vision seems, for some, to cause a problem. I’m not entirely sure what the problem is, but often when I speak on the subject, people (especially pastors) will, almost aggressively respond with things like, “Well, I’m not a visionary leader,” or “I’ve never seen a vision,” or my all-time favorite, “I haven’t had any visions since I became a Christian and stopped taking psychotropic drugs.” With that in mind let me begin by saying, I too have yet to “see a vision” and have never tried psychotropic drugs. Furthermore, I’m not sure I’d account myself as a “visionary leader.” But I do recognize the importance of vision, especially from Christian leaders and for Christian churches.

I greatly appreciate that the New Living Translation translates “vision” in Proverbs 29:18 as “divine guidance.” This translation sheds light on the fact that Christian leaders need to be led. Most Christian leaders (i.e. pastors) can accord with that. They fully recognize the need to be following the Lord in their leading of others, thus we seek the Lord for His guidance. His vision.

So as I’ve contemplated the question of vision I’ve concluded that there are five important aspects of vision that pastors and leaders should be aware of. Over the next several weeks I’ll be developing them here.

1. Receiving Vision

More than a few pastors have confessed to me “I am not a visionary leader.” I don’t necessarily believe them when they say so, because I am not convinced that they’d be leading if they weren’t. One of the problems is that we tend to look at those doing extraordinarily cutting edge things in ministry as the “visionaries” of the bunch. But I’d suggest that those leading edge pioneers are not the only ones, and that if we allow ourselves to think that only they are, then we will in some way fail to lay hold of the vision for which Christ has laid hold of us for. Well then how do we lay hold of, or receive the vision that God has for us? It’s actually easier than you might think.

In considering my personal ministry experience and the observations I’ve had of other’s, I’m more convinced than ever that divinely guided vision is as easy as a wish. In other words, vision begins as a desire. Thus, if you are to receive divinely guided vision you should delight yourself in the Lord. Yes, I’m referring to Psalm 37:4, in the sense that those who delight in the Lord will find their will (read, desire) subdued to God’s will. For, it is God who works in us to desire (Philippians 2:13).

This, I believe, is one of the “signs of life” for a Christian, new desires. Just as at physical birth a newborn baby experiences new desires it has never experienced before (to breath, to eat, etc.), a newborn babe in Christ does as well. This is almost instantaneous. How many times have we encountered new believers that say things like, “I just don’t want to do the things I use to want to do”? Why is that? Because the Spirit that dwells in us yearns jealously (James 4:5). His Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are in fact newborn children of our Father in heaven. And as we delight ourselves in the Lord He imparts to us new desires (i.e. visions) to do things that we would not have other wise done.

Although it’s something of an aside, I think that it is important to highlight that there are a number of things that can aid in receiving vision. Since vision, in the context in which we’re speaking of it, is divine guidance, I believe that it is important (especially as a leader) to place yourself in the places in which God has told us that He will be. For your consideration I’ll give a few.

a. Jesus told us that He is with us when we are “going” on behalf of his name and kingdom.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

– Matthew 28:19-20

b. God has revealed that He is present when His people praise Him.

But thou are holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

– Psalm 22:3

c. Jesus revealed that He is in the midst of those gather in His name (i.e. fellowship).

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

– Matthew 18:20

Now, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage, they’re not always entirely clear. Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out just what it is that we’d like to eat. The specifics of the desire are indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us to where we’ll be heading next time with the second aspect of vision.