red

Ministry in the Minus Column

I was curious about the origin of the word minister and so I went online to dictionary.com and found the following etymology.

Origin: 1250-1300; (noun) derived from the Latin minister, servant, equivalent to minis – (variant of minus, a lesser amount…)

Did you catch that?  MINUS – a lesser amount.  I guess minister could be spelled minuster in order to retain its unique flavor.  A minister is someone who is less than another – like a servant!  He is someone who lives and labors not for himself but for those above him, those to whom he is responsible.

Paul says that we should all minuster to one another.  He exhorts the Philippians –

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…  Philippians 2:3-5

The passage then goes on to describe how Jesus put Himself in the minus column for you and me by humbling Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant made in the likeness of men.  He considered our needs above His own and put Himself below us in order to raise us.

Being in the minus column also implies being in the red – operating from lack.  This is an essential aspect of being a minuster.  Paul captures this in the following passage –

We are not adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  2 Cor. 3:5-5

Ministry in the minus column has some wonderful benefits.  If I’m in the minus column, I’m in the red – I operate out of lack.  What comes forth from me, in reality comes forth through me as I am His vessel, His servant.  I am not a cistern, I am a fountain fed by springs of living water.  I have this treasure in an earthen vessel and the surpassing greatness of the power is from God and not from me.  When I put myself in the minus column, them I am in the plus column.

punching-bag

Dealing with Discouragement

Everyone understands discouragement. Discouragement is simply a feeling of having lost confidence or hope. Sure the Bible says that all things are working together for good (Romans 8:28) and that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35). Yet, it is so common to feel otherwise. Discouragement is very real in the pastoral ministry. Sometimes I feel like I have a PHD in discouragement. I have, at times, been profoundly discouraged as well as, at other times, have had over-riding generalized discouragement. I write this article, not because I have conquered discouragement. But since this is a ‘ministry blog’ I figured that it will most likely scratch many of you where you itch. Maybe not itching there today (hopefully), but maybe will be a blessing at some point. Discouragement is very real and can bite us all from time to time. Plus I got it packaged in 5 A’s 😉

As a communicator, I realize that putting it in a specific experience will help explain the concepts. So I will use a very specific discouraging season in my life to show the process. For me, this was the first 18 months of planting Calvary North Bay in Mill Valley, CA. It was a challenging season as I was trying to get a church off the ground in the Bay Area, work a job, as well as a few other situations that caused much discouragement.

Acknowledgement

For all us, sometimes it is simply hard to acknowledge the reality of our own hearts. I have found that my discouragement tends to linger when I am unwilling to call it what it is. So much in life hinges on acknowledgement. So we can only begin to deal with discouragement by acknowledging that it is there and that God wants to tend to it.

In that season of my life, it took me awhile to acknowledge that I was simply discouraged. My wife knew it. But I was too proud and unwilling to admit that I was discouraged. When I finally was able to say, “Man! I am discouraged!” God was given room to move in my heart.

Assessment

Once we can acknowledge that we are discouraged then we have to assess its causes. What is the root cause of my discouragement? Is it a holy or an unholy discouragement? An unholy discouragement is one that is rooted in my own heart issues. I am discouraged because God wants to change my heart. A holy discouragement is one that God wants us to change our circumstances.

In that season, there was a mix of unholy and holy discouragement. On the holy side of things, there were specific heart issues that were being revealed. I was struggling to persevere in ministry and in simply trusting God with the church. I was also being unteachable and prideful. On the unholy side, I realized that I had decided to put myself in some very stress-filled situations. It didn’t have to be but I chose to be there. One side of this was the blog sites that I was on. There was a lot of fighting, bickering and everything was generally negative. Another side was that I was trying to change some things that were completely out of my control.

Action

Once we have assessed the root causes of our discouragement, then we need to make an action plan. What is God asking of us? Are there decisions that we have to make? If my discouragement is an unholy one, I often have to spend time in prayer and repentance. When it is a holy discouragement, I have to make tangible decisions to change my circumstances.

For me, I spent much time talking to my wife about what I seeing and feeling. She was incredibly encouraging and convicting in her assessments. I apologized for much and sought the Lord with much passion. I also had to discipline myself to stay away from discouraging situations online. I pulled myself off of blogs that were driven by arguments or by people always thinking the worst of each other. I also decided to stop trying to change things that are not my responsibility or calling. I needed to focus on what God had put in front of me.

Analysis

This is all about making sure that I don’t have to re-learn a lesson by not following through on the things that I have learned. This is the thoroughness of keep checking back and ensuring that I wasn’t allowing myself to slip back into the same types of discouragements. In many ways, this is about valuing God’s lessons enough to really want to see them implemented.

I have to keep going back and making sure that I am still living out what I have learned. I have to remind myself that I get to chose what I involve myself in online. I have made a commitment to myself not to engage in endless debates on the internet (especially with people that I do not know). It is one thing to work out issues with friends or people who God has called me to walk through life with in the local body, it is another thing to have endless run arounds with people who you have never met and most likely never will. God has called me to love all people but that doesn’t mean that I need to be involved in every debate with every person sitting in front of a computer. There is to much important ministry to do to get sidetracked. I also need to make sure that I am always doing exactly what God has called me to. In ministry, there are infinite needs and infinite good things to do. But what has God called me to? And simply keeping to that.

Appreciation

Finally, as in all of life, it is all about seeing God’s grace at work. In my discouragement, God’s grace is at work. When the issue is in my heart, God wants to apply his grace afresh to my failings. When my chosen circumstances cause me to be discouraged, God’s grace is at work there as well (even if I am realizing that I am not supposed to be there). So in all of these situations, there is no judgment, there is only grace. And God’s grace is to be appreciated!

Large Service

Jesus, Big Church, & Small Church

The Training of the Twelve as Local Church Model?

This morning I listened to an interesting discussion between some pastors and missiologists on whether or not we should emphasize large gatherings or smaller gatherings in seeking to do the best job at discipleship. The conversation intrigued me because I’ve been thinking a lot about how to do a good job with discipleship in the context of the church I lead.

One of the center-pieces of the conversation was the idea that Jesus’ relationship to the twelve disciples as portrayed in the gospels should serve as our template for how we function as the local church. I’ve heard this kind of thinking from people who contend that the local church should operate according to a house church model. The house church model often includes:

  • Little to no emphasis on large gatherings (15 or more)
  • Dialogue learning (discussion) versus monologue (preaching)
  • Informality versus formality
  • Group prayer/spiritual gift manifestation versus worship led by an individual

Support for modeling the local church in such a way is often claimed by pointing to how Jesus related to the twelve. People will note that “Jesus spent most of His time with twelve people.” This is true. He spent lots of time eating with, instructing, and training twelve disciples. And thus, as they say, we shouldn’t have local churches made up of hundreds or thousands, but of tens.

 

 The Real Focus of Jesus’ Small Group: Leadership Training

But can we really look to Jesus’ relationship to the twelve as depicted in the gospels as a template for the local church? Did Jesus really intend for us to do so? I would contend that this is not the case. First of all, the truth is that while the gospels spend much time describing Jesus’ interactions with the twelve, they do not exclusively do so. They also portray Jesus teaching and sending the seventy as well as often speaking to what the Bible calls the multitudes. Jesus is seen in some cases preaching to thousands of people at one time.

 As opposed to serving as a template for how the local church should be organized, I would contend that Jesus’ relationship to the twelve is more of a template for how we should do leadership training for the local church. The men Jesus spent so much time with ultimately became the first pastors and church-planters for the local church. He spent time instructing them formally and allowing them to participate in the ministry He was doing. He would send them out to do ministry and bring them back to the huddle and explain where they needed to grow. And at the end of His physical stay on earth He sent them out in the power of the Spirit to establish and lead local churches.

And yet, the local churches these men led were in many cases anything but small groups or what many have in mind today when they talk about house churches. The church in Jerusalem was thousands strong, and they had no problem with that. The church in Antioch was also a huge church and they saw no problem with that. The early church met both “publically and house to house.” (Acts 2:46; Acts 20:20) It wasn’t just house to house, but publically that they met. They met in the large gathering areas of the temple. (Acts 2:46) What’s more is that archaeological excavation projects have revealed that many of the so-called house churches described in Acts met in huge courtyard and banquet halls of wealthy homes that could seat hundreds of people.

Besides the large numbers of Christians coming together in large gatherings, Acts also shows us the continuation of Jesus’ practice of training leaders of God’s people in smaller apprentice-styled ministry groups. Acts 20 reveals Paul traveling with a group of ministry trainees (verses 2-4) and also gives us a glimpse into how he related to a group of pastors he’d trained according to the pattern of Jesus’ training of the twelve as seen in the gospels (verses 17-38).

We get another clue as to where the apostles stood on having large gatherings by taking a look at the New Testament epistles. It is worth noting that in most cases the epistles are addressed to entire churches, and were intended to be read and taught in the presence of all believers living in the city to which the letter came. In Ephesians 6:1-3 the exhortations addressed directly to children show that even the kids were assumed to be present for the reading and teaching of the New Testament letters when they were originally written and delivered. Also, nowhere do the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) exhort pastors to keep the numbers of local churches down to small group sizes for the purpose of discipleship, but rather imply the multiplication of leadership, numbers of believers, and the open preaching of the Word to all under their charge. What’s more, the exhortations to the seven churches of Revelation (Rev. 2-3) are addressed to entire churches.

Conclusion

So what’s the point? Am I against house churches, small groups, community groups, and so on? Absolutely not! They are invaluable. There is a type of discipleship and community that can only be nurtured in a smaller context that happens in smaller groups. The pastors of the church I lead are right now praying with our church about starting ten more house church style fellowships in addition to those we already have going before the end of 2012.

But small gatherings are only one aspect of how we should seek to facilitate discipleship. They are not the template for us to follow in establishing principles for local church size, dynamics, and overall structure. I don’t believe that Jesus’ training of the twelve serves as a template for how we should do church, but how we should train leaders for the broader church. Look to Acts and the epistles for a template for doing church. Look to the gospels as a template for leadership training

 

dictator

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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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?

jobsfriends

No More Bildad, Zophar or Eliphaz for Me

Note: I have been duly impressed with the recent posts about church planting, multi-site churches, and ministry practices. Great job, everyone. Your thinking is stimulating and challenging to me. 
 
As a blogger and writer of musings, I most often gravitate toward subjects that point to some truth I’m learning, have learned, or want to learn. This musing represents a monumental period of growth in my life, originally written in 2007. These lessons have had profound effects upon the way I view others, and the way I do ministry. By God’s grace, He is continuing to teach me these things. 

After much reflection, I’ve made an important determination about the way I want to live my life and conduct myself in ministry.

I no longer want to be a Bildad, Zophar, or Eliphaz.

For those of you who remember the story of Job, these were the names of Job’s three friends. When they heard the tragic news that Job had lost his children, his property, and then finally his own health, they came together from their respective lands to mourn with Job, and to comfort him.

So far so good.

For seven days and seven nights they sat down with Job in mourning. Each of them had torn their robes (an oriental expression of great grief), lifted their voices and wept, and sprinkled dust on their heads (another sign of mourning and grief)—and then they sat silently with their friend, empathizing with him, grieving with and for him.

Again, so far so good.

The Job spoke. Job spoke out of his own personal confusion and pain. He spoke—not really knowing why these things had happened to him. He spoke without knowing that in fact, his life had become a testing ground for a spiritual battle between the devil and Almighty God. Job, whom God was proud of, experienced everything being taken from him except his own life. In the process, it would be determined whether or not a man (Job) could truly worship and honor God even though God allowed that man (Job) to go through unspeakable suffering.

It should be said at this point that Job passed the test. At the end of the story, God confirmed that all throughout his trials, Job had spoken that which was right concerning Him.

Well … after his friends empathized with him for seven days, Job finally spoke up. When Job spoke, he cursed the day of his birth and wondered out loud why he was allowed to even exist, since he was in this state of misery. In stating these things, Job didn’t at all conclude that he was suffering due to anything that he had done wrong. Without saying it, he was defending his own integrity.

This was too much for Job’s three friends to handle. Each of them had a clear “theology” of suffering that concluded that evil, sinful people suffer and righteous people do not suffer. We get what’s coming to us in this life, or so they said.

As the dialog wears on throughout the book, these three men keep beating the same drum, and Job continues to insist that he is innocent of any wrongdoing that caused his current pain. His friends feel very confident that they know exactly why Job is suffering, and exactly what God is doing in Job’s life.

They were wrong. Exactly wrong, in fact. At the end of the story, they were sharply rebuked by the Lord Himself! They had not spoken of God that which was right. They were wrong about God! Job, on the other hand, was vindicated. He was right about God, according to the Lord Himself.

So what’s the lesson here for me? For you?

Speaking personally, I can tell you that many times as I’ve encountered sufferers, I have automatically gone the path of trying to analyze and summarize what went wrong and why it had happened. I would come to quick conclusions, and then base my input to them on those conclusions. I’m sure there were times I was correct, but I also know there were times when my input wasn’t what was needed. I so easily develop opinions about people, and about their situations. Too often, I’ve been a Bildad, Zophar, or Eliphaz in someone’s life.

Nowadays, I aspire to be bearer of grace and a breath of healing in other’s lives. That does not mean I won’t speak the truth in love as the situation calls for it … but it does mean that I’m going to try not to jump to conclusions and judge a matter prematurely. I also have no need to figure out God’s ways in a person’s life. He is doing things I have no knowledge of, and is working in ways that I could not even imagine.

I want to fulfill these two passages:

1 Corinthians 13:7 [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

During my own trials of the last couple of years, almost 100% of the people with whom I spoke were understanding and empathetic, prayerful, non-judgmental, and encouraging to me. Only a few [that came to me] thought they knew what was happening in my life, and thought they knew what God was doing in me. Some even thought that God was doing these things to me. One woman asked (right in the middle of my worst pain), “So are you broken yet?”

People that could believe the best about me and could trust God for my life—I considered them “safe.” The few that could not do that, they were unsafe.

One of the keys to my personal recovery has been to keep safe people in my life. They are the ones who have trusted the Lord with me. They have prayed and been with me in my journey—as I’ve sought to grow, to hear from the Lord, and to move on toward the future the Lord has for me. When I’ve needed truth, it’s been the safe people who were best suited to deliver it.

Their example to me has taught me a lot about grace, and has caused me to ask myself the questions, “have I been a safe person for others?” I assume that at times, I have not been. But I want to be that now. No more Bildad, Zophar, or Eliphaz for me. At least that’s my heart.

How do I think about others when I’m away from them?

What do I say about others when I speak of them?

What do I believe about others as I relate to them?

Do I trust God to be the One who works in their life? Is He the sovereign Lord to them? Or do I think that I understand all?

When/if Jesus says to me, “Well done, you good and faithful servant,” I have a strong suspicion that His words will be rewards for grace that I’ve extended to others. It’s His grace, flowing through my life.

That’s the way we’re supposed to live. We’re free to do so. Grace allows us.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Thanks for reading.

multi_site

Multi-site churches–what do they reveal about us?

Since my arrival back in the San Diego area I have run into a number of fellow believers that are currently fellowshiping in one of the multi-site churches that exist in the San Diego area.  Each of them told me that when they were first invited to visit this new and different way of “doing church” they were skeptical that they would actually enjoy it and thus they went in with almost no expectation that they would ever desire to actually become a part of that type of church.

But, once they actually did attend, they realized their concerns and the skepticism those concerns produced were unfounded.  In fact, they found many things that struck a chord in their hearts and that just “made sense” to them.

A few weeks after having those conversations I watched a video from the recently held CC Senior Pastor’s conference.  It was a panel session with Greg Laurie, Bob Coy, and Brian Brodersen answering questions lobbed at them by Ricky Ryan. [lightbox title=”2012 CC Senior Pastor’s Conference” href=”#vimeo_lightbox” inline=”true” width=”630″ height=”355″]Click here to watch.[/lightbox]

The first topic discussed had to do with the validity and challenges of multi-site churches.  At first, I questioned the wisdom of beginning with that subject considering that probably 99 percent of the pastors in the room don’t pastor multi-site churches, probably don’t like them, and more than likely will never actually attempt to move to a multi-site type structure for the churches they pastor.

But as the discussion unfolded it became clear to me that this was an amazing window into the minds of these men of God that revealed some important principles they navigate ministry by, along with a small glimpse of American church culture that it would be helpful for all pastors to understand.

Based on what Greg Laurie and Bob Coy said,  (the guys who actually pastor multi-site churches at this time),  my perspective is that they navigate in their pastoral ministry based on the following principles:

1.  If you have been gifted by God with communication skills that can draw large numbers of people to hear you expound truths from God’s Word, you have a responsibility to use that gift to the fullest.  Be creative and use as many vehicles as possible to unleash your gift for expanding God’s kingdom.  Good, Godly stewardship is clearly the motivation.

2.  If God has given you the desire, the people, and the financial resources to expand the influence and impact of your ministry in a church form, rather than just your recorded messages alone, give serious consideration to doing so.  Keep in mind that expanding the seating capacity in your current facility is extremely expensive.  If you’ve already gone to multiple services and are already using available technology to use every square foot of space to its maximum potential, why not take the much less costly step of establishing other, off-site campuses.  This might mean planting the new satellite church from the ground floor up, renting a building, assigning existing staff to be the pastors at that campus, and all that goes along with that.    Again, this too is an example of good stewardship.

3.  Or, if a fellow pastor is struggling with the size of his congregation and the different challenges that presents, especially in the financial realm,  then definitely consider using your gift of drawing people.  Make your gift available to draw people into this church that this brother would then no longer serve as the senior pastor.  He will no longer have to worry about the financial side of things or the fact that his teaching gift isn’t quite ready yet to draw large numbers of people to listen to him.  This will actually free him up to use his other pastoral gifts, especially the relational ones like counseling, personal encouragement and exhortation, and so forth which he is obviously much more gifted for experienced in.  This too is an example of good stewardship, but not just for the gifted communicator and his ministry, but for the pastor of the small church that has been struggling.

4.  (This next principle wasn’t discussed on the video, but is based on my discussions with my friends who attend multi-site churches). Although it isn’t essential that the pastor teaching the congregation at the Sunday services actually be there in person, it IS essential that the worship be done live, preferably by members of the congregation using their gifts. If there aren’t enough people with worship leading gifts from the congregation itself, a worship team from the hub-church can be sent out to lead live worship for the satellite campus.

In other words,  the key element that most Sunday services are built around, the message, can be delivered by the senior pastor on a recorded video or by a live-feed from another site, BUT, leading the congregation in worship must be done live and in-person. This is also good stewardship because it offers the opportunity for actual members of the satellite church to use their gifts to bless the entire body at that satellite location.

And what do multi-site churches reveal about those that attend?

1.  At least initially, they want to hear and SEE someone that can really communicate God’s truth to them, regardless of whether the person is actually present or not.

2.  They understand and act as if the title “pastor” doesn’t necessarily imply anything other than an ability to teach God’s word and they don’t have a problem referring to someone as their “senior pastor” that they have never actually met and probably never will and will certainly never have an actual relationship with.  To them, for all intents and purposes, a person with an ability to communicate God’s word effectively–a bible teacher, is qualified to be referred to as “my” pastor.

3.  But at the same time, they do want a real relationship with a “pastor” from their church, which is why the multi-site churches have campus pastors at each location.  The members of the church desire and need the fullness of pastoral ministry, but it isn’t important that it come from the person they enjoy listening to each week alongside hundreds of others and that they refer to as their “senior pastor”.

4.  The gifted communicator that isn’t actually present is what draws them in, but the majority of the people are kept in the body by the real relationships they build  with the campus pastors and the others that congregate alongside them on Sunday mornings and during the week.

What does all of the above mean?  I’m not sure.

What I am sure of are the many questions that multi-site churches raise in my mind, questions like:

1.  Is there anything required, other than the ability to communicate God’s word effectively in a way that draws large numbers of people to hear you do so, to be given the title of “pastor”.

2.  Is the title “pastor” given, rather than “evangelist”, because there is a teaching element to this communicator’s gift and because most of the people that are drawn to listen to him are already believers and need instruction rather than preaching?

3.  Does good stewardship always require that you expand the impact and scope of your gift to as many people as possible?

4.  Is it possible that what we believe is good, Godly stewardship, might actually be hindering someone else from stewardship lessons that are derived from day in, day out faithfulness?

5.  Although I’m sure it’s happened somewhere, what happens when the gifted, non-present communicator is no longer present on video?  Has the church lost its pastor?  Will the flock scatter and find another place where there’s a gifted, non-present communicator?

Just wondering….

 

 

 

gsguard

Pastoral Ministry Practice #4

I was keeping them in Your Name…I guarded them   John 17:12

This is the fourth essential practice of the pastoral ministry – to guard the flock.

Jesus said to His Father, “I was keeping them in Your Name…”  One of the meanings of the word ‘keep’ is to guard a prisoner to prevent escape.  The prisoner is put somewhere and is meant to remain there.  It is someone’s job to guarantee the prisoner stays put.  Jesus had made a revelation of the Name of God to His disciples, and they had seen and learned and appropriated something of God’s Name as they accompanied Jesus.  They had desires which developed into characteristics of personal godliness as they remained with Jesus and obeyed His Word. In short, they were transformed by being with Jesus.  In a similar fashion, whatever the Holy Spirit works into us to remain with us.  The Lord doesn’t want to see the work of the Holy Spirit escape or diminish through neglect and lack of faith.

The transforming work of the Holy Spirit is meant to be a permanent work and not a transient one.  The changes we experience by being with Jesus are not meant to be weekend wonders and mountaintop miracles, but permanent possessions in the valley.  Jesus is laboring to keep you in His beauty – the beauty of holiness.  He is directing you to Christlike responses in the circumstances and challenges of life.  We know how the correctional officer keeps the prisoner – bars and guns, handcuffs and barbed wire.  How does Jesus keep the believer in the Name of the Father?

Jesus keeps us in the name of the Father in the same manner as He kept His disciple – He guards us.  James and John wanted to call fire down upon a Samaritan village because they weren’t gracious to Jesus and the apostolic band (Luke 9:51-56).  The ungracious snub of the Samaritans was met by the unmerciful request of James and John.  Jesus had been a living example of the grace of God toward sinners and the patience of God toward His enemies.  How He longed for these two men to remain in the name of the God of grace and mercy – to extend mercy to those who would do them wrong.  When they spoke this unmerciful word, Jesus rebuked them, saying,  “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

Please note how Jesus kept them in His name – He rebuked them and He reminded them.  He rebuked them not merely for what they said, He got to the heart of the matter.  James and John not only had a bad choice of words, they gave expression to a bad spirit.  “You don’t know what spirit you are of,” Jesus said.  Christ came to save, but the thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy.  Jesus doesn’t destroy, the devil does.  They were giving expression to the spirit of the devil and not the Spirit of Christ.  Jesus had said elsewhere, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”.  In the rebuke is a revelation – Jesus revealed their judgmental hearts to them.  They saw how far from Christ their hearts were in what they said.  Following the rebuke there is a reminder and in the reminder there is a revelation of the heart of Christ: “…for the Son of God did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”  In the rebuke there is a revelation of the heart of man and in the reminder there is a revelation of the heart of God.

In this fourth essential practice of ministry of Jesus He examples a methodology for keeping believers in the name of God – rebuke and reminder – revealing their hearts in contrast to the heart of God.

The Lord’s guarding ministry is seen throughout the Bible –

Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus tells him to put his sword away.  “Don’t go there, Peter”, is essentially what He meant.  We don’t fight against flesh and blood and Jesus doesn’t want Peter to do battle in that realm.  How easy it is to think that people, and not spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places are our enemy.

David wanted to take out his anger on Nabal, a man who had shown disrespect toward him.  Nabal had refused to give David food and drink so that his men could enjoy one of Israel’s feast days.  This angered David because he and his men had been guarding Nabal and the farmers and ranchers from the marauding bands that would steal from them.  David and his men mounted up and were riding to kill Nabal and every male in his home when Abigail, Nabal’s wife, heard of what was unfolding.  She quickly went to intercept David and persuaded him not to shed innocent blood and not to seek vengeance on those who had wronged him.  Abigail says:

…the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil will not be found in you all your days.  1 Samuel 25:28

She reminded David that the Lord was fighting for him and that he was not to take his own revenge.  David was guarded from making a horrible mistake.  Here’s how David responded to Abigail.

Then David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand. “Nevertheless, as the LORD God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from harming you, unless you had come quickly to meet me, surely there would not have been left to Nabal until the morning light as much as one male.”  1 Samuel 25:32-34

As Jesus rebuked Peter in order to keep him from a sinful course of action, and as Abigail reminded David of truth in order to keep him from a sinful course of action, you and I are to rebuke and remind those the Lord has given us to care for – we are to keep them in the Name.

Break-in

Not only does a prison guard keep the inmates from breaking out, he also keeps outsiders from breaking in.  After Jesus had fed the 5,000, the crowd wanted to make Jesus king and so Jesus removed His disciples from the scene so they wouldn’t be swept away and caught up with the crowd.  He told them to get into a boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

Satan demanded permission to sift Peter like wheat – Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would stand firm.  He prayed that the devil, while breaking upon Peter, wouldn’t break in to Peter.

At Women’s Conference my wife attended, one of the speakers had a word of knowledge that someone was thinking about suicide.  15 women stood to receive prayer.  Jesus was preventing a break-in!

In addition to rebuking and reminding, you guard by the three pastoral practices already mentioned: manifesting His Name, declaring His Word, and praying for the Body of Christ.  As pastors, we need to discern who needs personal attention.  Close encounters of the pastoral kind are often called for.  Sometimes, someone needing personal attention can be contacted via e-mail.  At others times, e-mail won’t do it and a phone call is in order.  Often, an e-mail or phone call aren’t enough and a face to face is necessary.  If you haven’t seen someone for a few weeks, an e-mail can communicate that you are concerned.  If a brother or a sister has incurred some loss, a phone call can bring the comfort of Christ.  I have found that when the sorrow or the sin is at a certain level, a pastoral visit is necessary.  The purpose of all this: to keep them in the Name, the love, and the care of God.

Jesus said to the Father, “I guarded them.”  May we be able to say the same thing.