Church of the Week: Westminster Abbey

This week's church is Westminster Abbey (whose formal name is the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster). It is a Gothic monastery church that is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English monarchs. However, it is neither a cathedral nor a parish church, but is actually OWNED by the royal family.

According to tradition, a shrine was first founded here in 616 on a site then known as Thorney Island. It was said to have been miraculously consecrated after a fisherman on the River Thames saw a vision of Saint Peter. While the existence of this shrine is uncertain, the historic Abbey was built by Edward the Confessor between 1045 and 1050 and was consecrated on December 28, 1065. Its construction originated in Edward's failure to keep a vow to go on a pilgrimage; the Pope suggested that he redeem himself by building an abbey.

The original abbey, in the Romanesque style that is called "Norman" in England, was built to house Benedictine monks. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style between 1245-1517. The first phase of the rebuilding was organized by Henry III, in Gothic style, as a shrine to honor Edward the Confessor and as a suitably regal setting for Henry's own tomb, under the highest Gothic nave in England. The work was largely finished by the architect Henry Yevele in the reign of King Richard II.

The lovely Robin and I visited the church during our 1995 trip to England with Aubrey and Aaron.

Thanks, Cobblestone!














Wow, what a great day of worship and fellowship at Cobblestone. As usual, I am renewed and restored by the worship of God and the communion of saints. What a privilege to pray with so many after each celebration, for various needs! What a blessing to be a part of such an enthusiastic, worshiping, praying, responding, missional part of the body of Christ. God is moving, and I am a blessed man, a blessed pastor, and a blessed worshiper.

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Should a Pastor Blog His Prayers?














Almost four years ago, I started a daily prayer blog (bobhostetler.blogspot.com), where I would post selected prayers from my prayer life, some of them original to me and others that I had sung, read, or recited in my times of communion with God. Since then, I've posted over a thousand prayers.

I do this for several reasons. It is just one more practice that I have found drives me to prayer and keeps me connected to God; sometimes I transcribe prayers from my prayer journal, and other times I pray while actually sitting at the computer. I do it because, if I could teach one thing as a pastor, it would be to teach my loved ones to pray, and so it may be that someone may benefit and learn from the example of a pastor who is desperate to "pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests" (Ephesians 6:18). I also do it because I want to model openness, honesty, vulnerability, and intimacy in prayer, thereby teaching by example that we don't have to confine ourselves to "proper prayers," but can go to our Abba with every emotion, every desire, everything on our minds or hearts. And I do it because I decided years ago that I don't want to play the "pastor game" with my church family; I want to be honest and open (never inappropriate) with who I really am: flawed, fickle, often fearful and too seldom faith-filled...but learning and becoming and growing.

All of that is fraught with danger, of course, because sometimes people don't like what they read in my prayer blog. Some don't think I should share my ups and downs. Sometimes they think (especially when I pray a psalm of lament or imprecation) that I'm talking about THEM! Or, perhaps worse, they think I'm targeting someone else with my prayer. And quite often, one or another of my loving church family will express concern because of the mood that is reflected in my praying....particularly when I've blogged a string of imprecatory prayers!

I've had to explain on occasion that (especially when I'm praying a psalm) I most often pray a lament or imprecation against the Enemy of my soul, the Adversary, rather than flesh-and-blood. On rare occasions I will have in mind a person or persons when I am praying, but I never name anyone except in the most glowing terms, and on most occasions, the reference actually applies to more than one person, group, or situation (unfortunately, any pastor could probably attest to the reality that in ministry there's never just one burden to carry or attack to counter at a time). If there were ever any possibility that a reader could connect such a prayer to themselves or someone they know, it stays in my journal! But lament is part of a Biblical, authentic prayer life, and so I choose not to exclude such praying from my blog (and, come to think of it, lament is a part of any authentic pastor's life, too, and it's okay for people to know that!).

But those among my flock who read my prayer blog have mostly been so supportive and encouraging as a result. It has been a blessing not only to know that others are praying along with me, but also to have someone approach me from time to time and say, "Are you all right?" One dear friend even called me once and said, in no uncertain terms, "You're coming to dinner tonight," because he wanted to encourage me and support me in the midst of an attack. Making some (by no means all) of my prayers public in this way removes some of my burden; too many of us pastors suffer unnecessarily because no one knows how human we are and how often we hurt.

Blogging my prayers has had another benefit, which I've only realized recently: It has driven home to my heart and mind the degree to which prayer lifts my head, to use the Biblical phrase. On various occasions, someone who has read my prayers has approached me to ask, "Are you all right?" and when they explain that they were asking because of something I had prayed and blogged, I realized...yeah, that's what I was feeling when I prayed it....but the very act of praying helped to such an extent that the lament or the burden or whatever it was had disappeared by the time they inquired after my well-being.

So I think I'll keep blogging my prayers. However, I may start adding a disclaimer when I blog a psalm (I've so far prayer-blogged my way through Psalm 97 of the 150 psalms, in order), to the effect, "Please don't panic when reading this prayer. I am praying with the psalmist, and therefore will paraphrase his words as best fits my situation. I may not be as desperate as the psalmist. And even if I am, God brought him through, so he'll bring me through, too." Or something like that.

(The photo above is of me journaling and praying by the Sea of Galilee in March 1987. Yes, I was thinner and younger then. Wanna make something of it?)

?

The Naked Pastor blog (seriously) is one of my favorites, and this cartoon from not long ago sure depicts churchianity's aversion to questions and uncertainty.

Unless I misunderstood. And it's meant to be a critique of me or something.

Nah....

New Series

I am soooo looking forward to speaking this weekend. We started a new series last week. John Johnson kicked off the series "SHIFT" with a message called Earth. This Sunday I get to deliver the message, "Wind," and I'm pumped about it. I can't wait. The five messages in the series will each present our vision for Cobblestone moving forward from here, five areas in which we believe God is calling us (corporately and individually) to a significant shift in our thinking and acting. I think it's gonna be awesome.

Victory by Surrender

From Granger Community Church. THIS is a call to worship:

Victory by Surrender from Granger Community on Vimeo.

Credits

Actor - Greg Teghtmeyer (a volunteer at Granger)
Soundtrack - Dustin Maust (using stock files)
Script - Kristin Baker
Worship leader - Seth Bible
Song - We Win! by David Crowder Band

My Computer History

I bought my first computer sometime around 1983. I remember using it primarily to program little prayer chorus tunes, which I subsequently played back during my personal prayer times....which was neither the wisest use of my time nor of the technology. Since then, I've owned and used (some of them to death) at least seven computers. Here's what I remember of my computer history:

Radio Shack TRS80
IBM 286
PowerBook 520c (pictured)
PowerMac 7300/166
Toshiba Satellite laptop
Compaq Presario desktop
iMac Aluminum Mid-2007 (current)
Macbook Pro (current)

As you see, I went from PC to Mac to PC to Mac....but now I can confidently say I am never turning back from my devotion to Mac. My PC years were occupationally driven, back in the days when it was important to send Word documents to publishers (and conversion from Mac was not always perfect).

Oh, and by the way, the Powerbook 520c still works. My son has it.

What Sabbath Looks Like

Contagious Joy

I don't think I've ever done this before. While reading Will You Choose Joy?, by Normajean Honsberger, I caught myself smiling. Repeatedly. Actually, almost constantly.

Now, this may be because I knew and loved the author, before her body succumbed to cancer at the age of forty. She was a delightful, humble, beautiful, loving servant of God. But I think, even if I had not known Normajean (and her husband Al, who also died of cancer, five years before her), I still would have smiled through much of the book.

This is because Will You Choose Joy? is as delightful as its author. Its subtitle, "Reflections on Philippians," hardly does it justice. It is a thorough and tremendously insightful exposition of Paul's letter to the first-century church at Philippi, in which his theme was joy. And it is also a reflection on the topic of joy, an instruction manual on living a joyful lifestyle. But it is even more than that. It is a depiction of joy, a powerful testimony to the reality of a joy that not only survives sorrow and pain, but is actually nourished and strengthened by such difficulties. And it is a vehicle of joy, as I'm confident that any reader will, like me, inhale the joy this book not only encourages, but exudes.

Will You Choose Joy? retails for $14.95 (ISBN 978-0-89216-115-7) but is available for $9.99 from The Salvation Army. The book can be ordered by calling toll free (888) 488–4882 or via e–mail at use.trade@use.salvationarmy.org. It should also be available soon in stores, and online via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Church of the Week: Arequipa Cathedral

Arequipa Cathedral is a beautiful example of Spanish colonial architecture, but is especially impressive because of its immense size. Its huge facade dominates an entire side of the Plaza de Armas in the center of the white city, as Arequipa is called because of the prevalence of the white volcanic stone mined from the nearby Misti.

The cathedral was originally constructed in 1656. It stood for over two centuries, but was gutted by fire in 1844 then destroyed in the earthquake of 1868. The cathedral was rebuilt shortly after.

We saw the cathedral repeatedly on our 2009 visit to Arequipa. It's hard to miss! We were introduced to it by our hosts in Peru, Don and Christie Latta, who as we passed it on our way to breakfast on the plaza, explained that the left tower in the photo above (also pictured in the shot below) was toppled in a large earthquake that hit Arequipa in June of 2001. The tower was subsequently rebuilt.

Among the impressive sights inside the cathedral is an organ donated by Belgium in 1870, which is said to be the largest in South America.

What Kills a Church?


Yesterday, a post from Perry Noble's blog got me thinking. He asked, "What makes a church come alive?" I added a few ideas, and then thought further: "What kills a church?"
BURNOUT…when too much is being done by too few.
GOSSIP…when we start to talk ABOUT each other when we need to be talking TO each other.
BITTERNESS…when we fail to forgive and instead nurse grudges and let a root of bitterness take hold (Ephesians 4:31-32).
MISSION CREEP…when we start to focus on "What I want" instead of "What God wants."
IVORY TOWER SYNDROME…when the people making decisions are not on the front lines. When leaders are not (to use Cobblestone's parlance) seeking, sharing, and serving.
So, as I asked yesterday, How about you? Would you add anything?

What Makes a Church Come Alive?

Great post from Perry Noble's blog, got me thinking. He asked, "What makes a church come alive?" His answers:
CHANGED LIVES…when dead people are being brought to life a church cannot remain on life support. Changed lives change a community!
THE GOSPEL…when the Gospel is THE agenda instead of some ridiculous issue that happens to be the “fad of the year.”
HIS PRESENCE…when He becomes UNDENIABLE!
WORSHIP…when the goal isn’t to see how little of the song we can sing but rather to sing with everything we’ve got.
GIVING…when God is honored because Christians don’t just trust Him with what they can’t see…but are willing to trust Him with what they can see.
SERVICE…when believers are unleashed to serve Christ by using their spiritual gifts rather than depending on the “paid professionals” to do it all.
DEDICATION…when people in the church are way more passionate about pursuing Christ daily rather than showing up on Sunday and getting their attendance star on their chart.
PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY…when people in the church begin to accept responsibility for where they are in their spiritual journey…and then are willing to do something about it.
LEADERS WHO FEAR GOD, NOT MAN…leaders who know that God called them and will take care of them…and refuse to let the threat of not getting a paycheck stop them from doing what God has called them to do.
UNITY…when a church can truly celebrate when a church…ANY CHURCH…sees something great happen for the Kingdom.
BAPTISM…it’s NEVER a bad thing to see hundreds of people go public with their faith.
SINCERITY…when people show up with hearts ready to hear, repent and be brought near rather that people checking out the fashions of others.
DESPERATION…for Jesus to show up and make Himself known.
EXCELLENCE…for people to be willing to give their very best effort to honor the God who saved them.
TECHNOLOGY…embracing it and using it rather than fighting it. (Find it funny and sad that there are churches who say that using lights and video is “not in the Bible,” yet those same churches use air conditioner and heaters…which are not in the Bible either!).
That's a great list. I would add:
PRAYER…when people begin to pray, and see answers to prayer, and realize that (as E.M. Bounds wrote), "God does NOTHING but in answer to prayer!"
LOVE…when people truly love each other, even when they're disagreeing, and show love to everyone. I LOVE to stand in the atrium at The Loft and watch people hug and smile and laugh and greet each other, even newcomers, with true affection.
COMMUNITY…this is related to the last item, but I think a church comes alive as people enter into community, when they join a small group, meet together in homes, and experience the blessing, joy, support, accountability, etc., of true community.
How about you? Would you add anything?

Sticky Church

I believe God led me this past week to this book, Sticky Church, by Larry Osborne, pastor of the big North Coast Church in California. So glad I read it. Some of it actually squares up with some loving, constructive criticism I've received (about me personally).

The first several chapters are quite compelling, and he obviously knows whereof he speaks. Yet he manages to do so in a way that doesn't denigrate those who may not share his perspective. The majority of the book makes the case for and presents helpful how-to for a church made up of sermon-based small group discussions. I found myself wishing he had expanded beyond that argument to include other ways to make a church "sticky," but he obviously believes that promoting sermon-based small groups is pretty much the most important information he could share.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book (all from the first few chapters):
No matter what the church does to expand the size of the front door, it's going to be hard to keep reaching people when the predominant word on the street is, "I used to go there" (p. 18).

I'm not saying we never have people walk out the back door. Of course we do. And sometimes it's more than a few--usually over some great theological issue like allowing coffee in the sanctuary, changing the worship style, or using the subwoofers at full capacity (p. 20).

The most important number to know about North Coast Church is not the weekend attendance. It's the percentage of adults who participate in one of our small groups. Since 1985 that number has equaled at least 80 percent of our average weekend attendance (p. 21).

The decision to stop advertising forced us to grow by word of mouth....People who come through the front door of a church through word-of-mouth referrals have a fundamentally different experience than do those who come as the result of a marketing campaign (p. 27).

A sticky church needs a healthy leadership team composed of people who genuinely like one another, share the same vision, and pull in the same direction. It's hard to close the back door when everyone is headed a different direction or there's an under-current of distrust and conflict. And if board members leave the church once their term is up, it's pretty tough to close the back door for everyone else (p. 29).

Happy sheep are incurable word-of-mouth marketers (p. 31).

One of the most basic laws of retention: Whatever you do to reach people you have to continue to do to keep them (p. 31).

The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small group is simply to velcro people to the two things they will need most when faced with a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation: the Bible and other Christians (p. 43).

To Lead Is to Make Decisions

From the Pooped Pastors blog comes this comment by Tom Wood:
Someone said once, that the one thing all leaders have in common is that they have followers. True. But they also have enemies.

A friend recently defined leadership for me this way:

“Leadership is disappointing people at a pace they can tolerate.”

That makes more sense, in a real, down to earth type of church setting.
It reminds me of a quote I read recently in a Teddy Roosevelt biography, which I adapted to:
To lead is to make decisions. To make decisions is to alienate some.
I wish it weren't so, but it is. Every time a leader makes a decision, someone is going to disagree--perhaps strongly--with that decision. But it is the leader's task to decide, and whenever possible to communicate the reasons for a decision as effectively as possible, so that (it is hoped) the majority of folks who might have an opinion are helped toward acceptance and even support of the decision. But every decision will engender disagreement, and the harder the decision, the more likely the disagreement will be both sharp and broad.

Some leaders, wounded by this reality, turn to a modus operandi of trying never again to make an unpopular decision (which, of course, makes them more followers of the crowd than leaders of the flock). Others of us try to survive by shutting down or shutting out all criticism because it's just too painful, demotivating, and even demobilizing to hear a constant thrumming of negative reaction.

I hope to become a leader who can do neither. I hope to get better at facing the reality that decisions invite disagreement. But with THAT reality comes another: every disagreement presents an opportunity for a new decision, to fight, to flee, or (the choice I hope to take), to acknowledge the leader's role, responsibility...and respect for those who disagree.

I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me

Another awesome day this past Sunday at Cobblestone. Great worship celebrations, amazing rendition of "The End of Summer Blues" by the Under Cover guys, beautiful response, full Cobblestone 101 class, a huge blessing of a victory report from someone I've been praying for the past two weeks, and more. Thank you, Lord!

Church of the Week: Kumler Chapel

This week's featured church is Kumler Chapel, on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

I've performed at least a half dozen weddings in this lovely Romanesque chapel, including this past weekend. This was also the site of the hottest wedding I've ever performed, that of Ben and Lisa (Rohret) Weser in July of 2004, I think. This was before Kumler was air-conditioned, and it was 100 degrees-plus that day. Lisa was wearing a beaded gown that had to weigh about eight million pounds, and couldn't wipe off the sweat from her face fast enough. I cut the ceremony down to the bare essentials and am happy to report no one fainted.

Kumler was built in 1918, adapted from a Romanesque church in France. It was a gift of Anna Kumler Wight and Ella Kumler McKelvy, daughters of a Presbyterian pastor. Its stained glass windows focus on women of the Bible and of Western College women.

The Sin Underneath

"The sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands” (Martin Luther).

A Pastor's Idols

Eugene Peterson was a young pastor organizing a new church. He gathered a core group of committed people, and together they not only formed a congregation, but also built a new church building. It was a moment of victory…and temptation. He writes,
The organizational work was now over, the construction complete. We were, I thought, ready to begin. We could spend all our time and energy now in our real work—worship and witness and mission….Then I got one of the big surprises of my life. After two or three weeks of celebrative gathering in our new sanctuary, attendance began to decline. I couldn’t understand….I learned to my dismay that nothing at all was wrong, it was just that there was now nothing to do. The challenge had been met successfully. I was advised by my denominational supervisors to start new projects immediately—recapture the people’s enthusiasm with something “they could get their hands on.” I respectfully declined their counsel, for I had suddenly awakened to the fact that what we can get our hands on is idols.
That was the plea the Israelites made to Aaron in the shadow of Mt. Sinai: “Come, make us a god who will go before us” (Exodus 32:1, NIV). A god we can see. A god we can get our hands on.

Peterson discovered early that even pastors can succumb to idolatry.

Gods We Can Get Our Hands On

No one knows better than pastors themselves that people in ministry are far from immune to temptation, so it shouldn’t surprise us that pastors can be prone to idolatry as much as anyone. As John Calvin said, “Man’s nature . . . is a perpetual factory of idols,” and that includes pastors, of course. Not that we would ever turn our backs on the One True God; not that we have turned aside from worshiping him. Not at all. We don’t keep a golden calf in our office or chant prayers to an image, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our lives and ministries are free of idols. It may just mean that our idols are more subtle. It may mean that the idols we worship, we “worship in ignorance,” like the ancient Athenians (Acts 17:23). It may mean we have opted for gods we can get our hands on, gods we can get our arms around, gods that promise to make our ministry paths a little smoother than the God who thunders from Sinai.

So what are these idols? Not Baal of the Canaanites. Not Dagon or Marduk. No, our idols are of a different sort entirely (my book, American Idols, discusses in detail fourteen quintessentially American idols, and could easily have identified more). But for us pastors, some of the most prevalent seem to be:

Approval. Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle (www.marshillchurch.org), says, “The Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft rightly states that the opposite of Christianity is not atheism but rather idolatry. And idolatry is nothing more than holding something or someone other than Jesus as the object of our highest affection. For me this includes the endless ways I can seek my value apart from the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus with such things as the approval of people.…Early on in our church plant I became convicted that I so desperately needed the approval of others that I looked forward to mingling after the service to hear the praises of people for my sermon.”

Kevin Butcher, pastor of Hope Community Church of Detroit (http://hopecommunitychurchmetro.org), agrees. “I speak all over the place in many different venues, and I get tons of appropriate feedback. But I still struggle with wanting everyone to ‘like’ what I had to say, to be ‘touched’ by it, to ‘have their life changed’ by it. Where is Christ in that? Sure, by His grace he still works through my words. But I still feel like it is an idol...an idol I worship—on the side—while I am preaching the worship of the true God.”

Approval is a legitimate human need, of course; most of us have a God-given desire to know that we’ve done a good job, that our efforts are valued. But an inordinate proportion of people in ministry (this author included) seem to be pursuing man’s approval to an unhealthy—even ungodly—degree.

Busyness. Carol Seiler, a leader in The Salvation Army in the U.S., struggles with the idol of busyness, “which is to say that God couldn't do it without me, no one else can do it as well as me, and the salvation of the world could well rest on my shoulders…because I’m just so doggone important.” As author and pastor Eugene Peterson writes:
The one piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket is the letter addressed to the “busy pastor.” Not that the phrase doesn’t describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me.

I’m not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way it’s used to flatter and express sympathy.
“The poor man,” we say. “He’s so devoted to his flock; the work is endless, and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly.” But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.
That’s putting it bluntly. But the truth is, many of us are busy because we don’t trust God. As Seiler says, we honestly don’t believe God can run things without us. We don’t believe that, if we don’t “eagerly seek all these things” (Matthew 6:32), God will be able to pick up the pieces. We don’t believe that God’s timing is perfect, and that if we are simply faithful today that he will take care of tomorrow. We don’t trust him to do the things we can’t—or should not—do. So we keep trying to do it all, a condition Hillary of Tours diagnosed as irreligiosa sollicitudo pro Deo: “a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.”

Relevance. Spiritual director Kasey Hitt confesses an idolatrous allegiance to so-called “relevance.” “As I prepared a sermon last week,” she says, “I kept hearing this voice in my ear saying ‘You're not relevant enough.’ My sermon did not quote a famous author or poet; it made no mention of a movie line or music lyric. I began to furiously think through all the ‘relevant’ quotes and media hoping that something would strike me, would offer the kind of hook people want in a sermon. Then I sat in silence for ten minutes, and I began to realize that this voice prodding me to relevancy was not God’s! I grabbed a note-card and wrote, ‘I know this to be a temptation and fear, not from God. For I believe Scripture preaches. It doesn't take a media clip, a PowerPoint presentation, or quotes from musicians, movies or authors. The allure of relevancy is being impressive…sparkle, intelligence, pizzazz…that's not God's way.’”

In his 1989 book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen warned Christian leaders against the temptation to be relevant, saying, “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.” There is, of course, nothing more truly relevant than the Gospel, the Word of God, the Christ life. And while Jesus himself modeled effective communication techniques, he never stooped to mere pizzazz, never bowed to the idol of relevance.

Success. How ironic is it that churches, pastors, and church members who claim to follow the One who talked repeatedly about seeking out last place (Mark 9:35), taking the lowest position in a social setting (Luke 14:10), and including the least “important” people in your plans (Luke 14:13) seem so enamored of size and success? Pastor and author Jim Kallam points out:

Scan ads in Christian periodicals and you’ll reach this conclusion: Success can be yours. If you need to know how to market your church, try this or that program. . . . Listen to how we describe churches. Our words ooze success: “Fastest growing church in the Southwest.” “Largest in their denomination.” “The church with the key to reaching the next generation.”

Kallam goes on to mention a book that identifies the top one hundred churches in America. Think about that: The top one hundred churches in America. Do you doubt that size, prestige, and fame were among the criteria for making the list?

Casting Down Our Idols

If Aaron, the high priest, was not immune to the lure of idol-worship, we should not be surprised that idols have crept into our lives and ministries. They may be harder to recognize than a golden calf or a stone idol, but they are as abhorrent to God as the idols that tempted and afflicted ancient Israel. And if we don’t do something about them, they will corrupt us and diminish our ministries just as they did the Israelites.

So what do we do? The first step, obviously, is acknowledgment. Your ministry may not be prone to all the idols above—and you may identify others not mentioned—but it’s important not to become defensive. Like Moses (Exodus 32:19-20), we must honestly confront and resolutely resist the idols in our camp.

The second step is confession. When we recognize an idol, we must be humble and repentant, call our pet idolatries by their proper name—sin—and confess each one to God.

Casting down our idols will also mean devoting ourselves to the cultivation of new beliefs and new behaviors, replacing our false gods with an awareness of—and dependence on—God’s sufficiency. When Moses returned to the camp after the Israelites fashioned the golden calf, he “took the calf they had made, burned it up, and ground it to powder. He scattered the powder over the surface of the water and forced the Israelites to drink [it]” (Exodus 32:20), an action that was probably intended to be remembered for a long time, and guide their future behavior. Mark Driscoll says that, once he recognized his unhealthy reliance on people’s approval, he “stopped being available to our people after preaching, because I found myself working from impure motives even from the pulpit.” Carol Seiler says she has had to become accountable to others as a way of overcoming the idol of busyness. Kasey Hitt resisted the idol of relevance with silent, listening prayer, after which, she says, “I felt an invitation to let go, release my grasp, my pushing, my forcing, my fear.”

Finally, we must consciously and repeatedly turn from our idols to serve the Living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). We must “set apart Christ as Lord,” in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15, NIV), giving ourselves anew to prayer. We must stop dancing to the world’s tune and instead get in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). Hitt sees this as absolutely fundamental. She says, “There are a host of voices out there calling, begging, screaming for our attention. Needs of ‘seekers,’ desires of church members, creative ideas for evangelism, good ideas for new ministries, unique ways to serve our community, dreams of building a larger sanctuary, wonderings on starting a blogging ministry for teens, questions on who to hire for the children’s ministry…and these are all good ideas, good voices!” But good ideas are not enough. “We must listen for God’s voice, God’s invitation on where we are to go, what we are to do next, rather than simply asking for his help and blessing. In the current way of doing ministry, we leave little room for God to change our plans. We leave little room to hear what good things we may be making into idols.”

So we must make room. We must sweep from our hearts such idols as approval, busyness, relevance, and success—and others as God reveals them to us—and restore God to his rightful and exclusive place in our hearts and our ministries.

Grace Builders

My writer-friend (and former pastor and missionary) Cec Murphey tells the following story:
"Since you came, Mr. Murphey, our church has lost some of its dignity," Dorothy said as she served me tea from an ornate silver pot resting on a silver tray. And with the next breath she asked, "Milk or sugar, Mr. Murphey?"

"One lump, please," and I reached for the cup.

"We had such—such quiet dignity before you came. I don't want to hurt your feelings in telling you all of this. But…"

I had been the pastor of the church less than four months before she and her two sisters invited me to tea. For the next forty minutes the three of them tried to help me see the error of my ways. They didn't seem interested that we had added new members or that attendance by members had increased. Their concern was the loss of decorum.

Dorothy smiled as she offered me a cookie from a silver plate. "And another thing…" She looked at a pad of paper on which she and her sisters had written a number of items.

As I walked out of the house, depression weighted me down. Their criticism hurt. I sat in my car for several minutes and prayed in deep anguish. By the end of the day, however, I had grasped one significant fact about those three sisters. They were God's grace builders in my life.

Since that I've realized that every church, company, and neighborhood has at least one grace builder. They serve a divine purpose: They teach us invaluable lessons about patience and longsuffering. They force us to grow spiritually. Grace builders drive us to pray more fervently and to scrutinize our motives. Maybe they do more for us than all the sweet, kind, and encouraging people we encounter.

Grace builders: I've known many of them. Like Johnny. He pats me on the back and sounds friendly. He makes everything into a joke so that means I can't get angry—not even when he insults me. Even when he ridicules me. I'm not paranoid; I don't feel persecuted. But I have enough sense to know when a person insults me even though hiding behind jokes and light-hearted humor.

For the past 25 years I've been a full-time writer and I haven't escaped those grace builders. They email to remind me that they discovered a misspelled word on page 197 of my latest book (as if I yearned to know that or could do anything about it once the book is in print). Or one woman said, "You're a decent writer, not as good as _____."

We all have our grace builders. Our occupation doesn't matter. And, as much as I hate to admit it, they make life miserable enough for us that we pray and realize how much we have to depend on God's help. They serve a practical, spiritual function.
I don't like the grace builders in my life. I try to avoid some of them as much as possible. With others, I grit my teeth and face them. When I think of the grace builders at work in my life I have several words to describe them: They're obnoxious, self-centered, opinionated, and demanding. Without them I could accomplish more, and feel better about life and—or could I?
Probably not: They serve a practical purpose: They are God's gifts to make us grow. And we all have them.

Which makes me wonder: Whose grace builder am I?
Cec’s words sure ring true with this pastor. I had not been more than a few months in my first church (at age 22!) when a dear old saint in the church told my wife that the difference between me and my predecessor was that he had had personality! My wife and I laugh about it now, of course, but as the years have rolled by, I have had hundreds of similar opportunities to grow in grace as a result of what Cec calls “grace builders.”

Everyone has obnoxious, self-centered, opinionated, and demanding people in our lives; pastors certainly do! But are they really “grace builders….God’s gifts to make us grow?” Is that how you look at them? If so, why? And if not, why not?

What's a Pastor to Do?

Ed Stetzer has planted churches in New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia and transitioned declining churches in Indiana and Georgia. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed served for three years as seminary professor at the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and has taught at fifteen other seminaries. He is currently the Director of Lifeway Research and Lifeway's Missiologist in Residence.

What's a Pastor to Do? from Ed Stetzer on Vimeo.

Hobbies for Pastors

Pastoring can be a tough gig. The work is never done. People can be changeful creatures. Ministry is so constant, need never takes a holiday, crises never cease, and criticism rolls on like a never-ending stream. Every time you deliver a sermon, the next one is a mere six days away. Every time someone volunteers, someone else resigns. For every repentant soul, there are half a dozen who are making eyes at the devil. Or so it seems at times.

That's why I'm convinced every pastor needs a good hobby. Something that can counter the frustrations and struggles of ministry. Something to make Mondays a little brighter. Something to replenish the empty fuel tank. Something sufficient different from ministry pursuits to constitute a mini-vacation every week or so...if only for an hour or two. Like:
Jigsaw puzzles. New ones, so there are no missing pieces. Because, unlike ministry, they can be finished!

Jogging. Gets you outside. Gets your dopamine flowing. Every run you complete is a small victory.

Photography. When you take a nice picture, it stays took. It never turns around to bite you, either.

Sudoku. Numbers go in squares. Numbers add up. Numbers stay in squares. Numbers seldom get mean. Unlike people.

Writing. I used to write full-time, and I miss it mightily. Because unlike ministry, in which very few things are in your control, words do what you tell them to do. Most of the time, anyway.

Music. Whether you collect, play, or attend, music really doth hath charms to soothe the savage breast.

Travel. Nothing like the open road--or open sea--to clear your head and renew your soul.

Grandkids. Not sure it qualifies as a hobby, but one of the most restorative things I do is pick up my grandson and take him out to lunch. I'm looking forward to doing it soon with his sister, too, and his cousin. It's often the emotional high point of my week.
These are just a few ideas, of course. What about you? Do you have a hobby that refreshes you?

Church on the Cheap

Awesome post from an awesome blog:
Let’s face it - Churchin’ aint easy, and it ain’t cheap either. Especially if you are a young start up where the only reality you know is “bootstrap” (not sure we should ever loose that kind of creativity and dependence). We want to do Church on the Cheap. We are finding that limited resources = Higher Innovation!

Cheap, however, does not mean Low Quality. It means Low Cost in every sense of the word. In other words - How do we do the Absolute Best we can with the seemingly little we have.

Here are a few things that we have found or done along the way to keep Soul City Church a Church on the Cheap:

1) Ask God to give you stuff

I know this seems like the right thing to say when talking about church, but I can’t tell you how few times in the 14 years I’ve spent in established churches NOT asking God to provide. We just sorta knew it would be there one way or the other. Those days are done and we ask God for the things he already knows we need By Name and To The Penny.

2) Ask People to give you stuff

This is sometimes harder than asking God, mostly because people can look you in the face and say “no”. They might, but they also may say “yes”. We’ve asked for Videos, Graphic Design, a Blog, Photography, Adobe Creative Suite, a Warehouse, people’s time, people’s help, and people’s prayers. We have been amazed at people’s generosity and willingness to give to God (not us). Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask people to partner with what God is doing through your church. If you believe in the vision of what God’s doing, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask.

3) Do what only you can do best, outsource the rest

We have been amazed at how many resources there are out there to accomplish huge tasks simply, professionally, and cheaply! Here’s a few of the things / places we outsource

PS20 – ALL (and I mean all) of our accounting is done though PS20 (a business set up to do this FOR churches at an incredible rate). Instead of us paying “someone” a full time salary to do our books, we pay PS20. We’re not that good at math (which is why we use PS20) and they are passionate about partnering with churches to be their accounting department.

Wordpress Blog – This blog is our most active and effective source of communication about the church. More people have heard about the church through this blog than any ad or announcement or mailer ever could and it cost us $0.00.

Clover Sites – Instead of paying $4000 for a website that you don’t know how to work, Clover sets people up with a beautiful website that is incredibly easy to use and is only getting better later this year all for $1000 (+ $20 month).

Free Web Services such as Mail Chimp, Jotform, and Picnik have saved us $1000’s in software and have changed the way a Start Up can get a Leg Up. I can’t say enough about how much we use them and how much we love them.

4) Staff Creatively

Big Dreams don’t always require Big Teams. We’re exploring ways to Staff ONLY the positions that demand full time work. The rest comes from a combination of Part Time, Contract, and Volunteer. We’re exploring ways we ask companies we know to hire out members of our team on a contract or part time basis. We’re exploring creative ways to cover the high cost of Health Insurance. We are encouraging some of our staff to work Part Time in the community and Part Time for Soul City – this way we are engaged in the day to day life of the neighborhood.

5) Say NO

This is an everyday battle. Some of our best ideas we’ve had to push back or shut down simply because they did not have the absolute highest ROI (Return on Investment). This demands of us clear Vision, great Wisdom, and deep Dependence on God that he will lead us through sifting out all of our Cool Ideas for the very Best Ideas.

These are just a few of our thoughts and some of things we’re working on right now. We’d love to hear what you’re learning or doing to keep you church a Church on the Cheap.

Church of the Week: Gatlinburg Wedding Chapel

The lovely Robin and I discovered this charming wedding chapel in May 2009 on Rt. 321 in Gatlinburg. There are numerous wedding chapels of varying design all around the Gatlinburg area, of course, but we both fell in love with this rustic design.

It's right next door to a large home, too, and both structures seem to be for sale. If anyone wants to buy them for me, I think it would make a great retirement home: we could live in the beautiful, spacious home, and I could perform weddings in the chapel.

So...anybody? Anybody?

Churches I Truly Want to Pastor

Okay, I've found some churches I truly want to pastor. Like this one, which I discovered at smashingdownloads.com:















Or the Abbey church at Mont St. Michel, in France (which I hope to visit someday):














Or maybe this remote church on the shore of Lake Tekapo, New Zealand:















I'm sure there are SOME at least in my church who would want to ship me to one of these places. Right?

Life Is Mostly Edges

I'm a Calvin Miller fan. His writing and speaking have both blessed me innumerable times. So when I learned of his memoir, Life Is Mostly Edges, I knew I had to read it. I'm glad I did.

His love for God, his mother, his wife, the church, his children, and students is inspiring. His writing is always entertaining, often enthralling. But it's his honesty in these pages that most encouraged me. To hear of his struggles as a pastor--people leaving his church, people meeting to conspire against him, people asking him to resign, and so on--made me feel less alone and more hopeful as a pastor. When some of my dear brothers and sisters in Christ cast aspersions or make amazingly mistaken or arrogant or even wicked assumptions about me and others among their leaders, I take it very personally, and wonder what the heck is wrong with me. But when I read about Calvin Miller experiencing the same behavior from the flock, I think maybe there is hope yet for me as a pastor and leader. I mean, if someone could leave the church because Calvin Miller is such a crummy pastor....I can't imagine! And he manages to be insightful, honest, and yet charitable all at the same time. God, make it so in me.

Some of the passages and lines I hope to remember:
It wasn't just Jesus that appealed to me. It was what Jesus did through people, who could for brief shining moments stop thinking about themselves and turn their minds to someone else. To give up selfish concerns and think of others is a small miracle in a selfish world. This is the grand narcotic--self denial! How addictive it is in the life of anyone with the courage to put it into practice (p. 117).

I had always like anonymous gifts. They force you to be nice to everyone, because you just never know (p. 119).

"Never say 'never.' God could be listening and the devil could be taking notes" (p. 219).

Bitterness is never appropriate. Hard times are never a matter of personal choice. Bitterness is (p. 284).
I must confess to deep, deep envy as he described his departure from the pastorate to become a professor. Consequently, while I highly recommend this book, and especially to pastors (and would-be pastors), I think it should come with a warning: Pastors, do not read this book on a Monday.

I Should Practice Rolling My Rs

From a favorite book AND movie of mine. I remember Dr. Beeners reciting the final line of his sermon in Speech class at SFOT:

2019 Leadership Defined

Dale Burke, in his excellent book, How to Lead & Still Have a Life, suggests:
An exercise you may find very helpful is to get a piece of paper and ask God to help you write a description of what kind of leader you want to be 10 or 20 years from now (p. 65).
In twenty years, I’ll be seventy, so I thought I’d better go with ten years out. What kind of leader do I want to be in 2019?

I want to be an unhurried leader, someone who exemplifies the harpoonist of Eugene Peterson’s illustration, who sits in the bow of the whaling boat, calm, patient, while all around him is frenetic activity...and he does this in order to leap into action when the moment comes. It is effective action born out of purposeful tranquility.

I want to to be a focused leader, doing a few things extremely well. I want to be prayerful. I want to be the absolute best preacher I can be. I want to train new leaders, preachers, and prayer warriors. I want to be focused most of the time in my areas of strength and allow others, like Aaron and Hur, to shore up my many weaknesses.

I want to be a healthy leader. I want to be an example to the flock in my marriage. In my relationship with my kids and grandkids. In my eating and exercising. In my friendships. In my mental and emotional health.

I want to be a missional leader. I want people to look at me and say, there’s a man who is fulfilling the Great Commission, and intent on and effective in helping others to fulfill.

I want to have a rhythm as a leader. I want to stop feeling constantly under the gun, “with ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go,” to quote James Taylor.

I want to be a leader who successfully passes the baton to others. I’ve witnessed the suffering of churches whose pastors hold on to position too long, long after they might have passed it on with great results for the Kingdom of God. I don’t want to make that mistake. I want the wisdom and humility to recognize when the moment is right to pass the baton to my successor(s).

Alas, it will be quite a task to make that happen, as I don’t think any of those things is true of me and my leadership now. But God is a God of miracles, and I will pray for these six miracles to be performed in me between now and 2019.

A Pastor's Daily Prayer

For the last couple years at least, I have included in my morning prayers “A Prayer to Begin Every Day,” which sometimes (when I’m cooperative) helps me begin my day in the right frame of mind, with the most crucial petitions on my lips. It goes like this:
Lord God, Abba, Father,
thank you for this day,
and for all the promise and challenge it holds.
Help me to fulfill its promise
and answer its challenge.
Make me mindful of your presence all day;
remind me constantly that you are constant;
deliver me from temptation;
save me from stress caused by small faith;
help me to greet every turn in the path today
in the awareness that nothing surprises you,
nothing overwhelms you,
and nothing is too hard for you.
Grant me the peace that comes
from single-mindedness:
I have nothing to do today
except follow you as closely and faithfully as I can,
and the rest--all the results and ramifications--
is in your hand.
Amen.

Church of the Week: Peter's House

This week's church has got to be one of the most unusual and unique in all Christendom.

When the lovely Robin and I first journeyed to Israel in 1987, we were hugely interested to learn that the site of Peter's house in Capernaum is one of the most well-attested Christian sites in the Holy Land. Above is how it looked in 1987; the room contained within the central octagonal shrine appears to have been part of an insula (a complex of small single-story residential rooms and courtyards) that toward the end of the first century was put to public use, possibly as a domus ecclesia, a private house used as a church. The plastered walls of the enshrined room were found to be scratched with graffiti in Aramaic, Greek, Syriac and Latin, containing the words "Jesus", "Lord", "Christ" and "Peter".

When we made our second trip to the site in 2001, we were amazed (and a little disoriented at first) to find that the Franciscans (who have owned the place since the 19th century) had built an unusually-shaped modern church over the site of St. Peter’s house. Hexagonal in shape and rather spaceship-like in appearance, it is elevated on pillars and has a glass floor, so that visitors can still see the original church below.

I was really disappointed at first. I much prefer archaeological sites to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox habit of plopping a church down on every meaningful piece of land they can find....BUT, you gotta admit, them Catholics sure know how to build churches! Despite the intrusive exterior, the church is beautiful inside...and does preserve the pilgrim's ability to see the actual house of Peter through the glass floor.

"Don't Hate" Church

From one of my favorite blogs, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks:



So many questions, so little time.

3 Steps to Fighting Discouragement

From CatalystSpace:
As a leader, discouragement is one of your biggest enemies. It will cause you to feel defensive, defeated, de-motivated and make you less effective.

Discouragement often comes when your expectations are not met or your desires are not realized. Maybe things didn't turn-out the way you had hoped, or you didn't get the thing you wanted, or something terrible went wrong.

When one of these happens, these steps might help you get un-discouraged:

1. Remember that God is in control of all things
Just like with Job, He allows us to suffer challenges, difficulties, pain. His ways are not our ways - He LOVES us so deeply, but our goals often do not line-up with His - so if things don't work-out the way we want, remember, they DO work-out the way He wants, and what He wants is actually best for us.

2. Remember God works all things for your good
Not only is God in control, but He's actually on your side. As it says in Romans 8:28 - God works all things together for the good of those who love Him... Also, He disciplines those He loves (Heb 12:6, Rev 3:19) - so negative things happening to you may be discipline to mature you. Maybe you wanted something or an outcome that's not for your good. Trust God that He really does this - look for it and you might even see the positive things He's doing from what was discouraging you. His ways are not our ways - but His end result is for our good.

3. Praise & Thank God
"...and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance" - Romans 5:2-3. We have much to praise and thank God for. Cultivating a heart of praise and thanks - especially when you're discouraged - helps you get out of yourself, realize that your life is but a vapor, and our Amazing, Glorious God is doing something wonderful in history, but He's also meeting your needs every day, and giving you some pretty great stuff to enjoy too! Furthermore, according to scripture, we can even thank God for suffering, because it's for our good!

It's fun to wallow in self-pity. Our flesh loves to feel wronged or like things are unfair. There is something alluring about despair. But this is all a lie that the enemy uses to destroy us or make us ineffective.

But God's way is better! Rejoice in your disappointments, praise and thank God, remember that He's in control and working it out for your good! Seek first His Kingdom, and all will be added unto you.