Most driven people do not retreat well. I used to be one of them. I grew up under the notion that the more spiritual (and manly) you were, the harder you pressed and worked. This is not an argument against working hard and pushing through in difficult situations. I think most leaders do that in relatively automatic fashion. What I am advocating is what has been taught to me in the last 10 years… the power of unplugging.I speak regularly with numerous other pastors, and with several, my almost constant question is, "Are you taking time off?" or "When's your next vacation?" And too often the answers are evasive or apologetic. I can't stress enough, for myself or for others, the efficacy of living like Jesus in this respect: practicing Sabbath, going apart to rest awhile, and so on. And not only as corrective measures, but as preventative routines as well. In fact, in this as in many other areas, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.
The reason I’m writing about it now is that I have been powerfully unplugged for the last few days in an attempt to live out what I believe. Here are a few of the reasons I believe – and have been reminded of the last few days – that retreating is so energizing.
1. I live tired… retreating affords me time for extra rest.
2. I live distracted… retreating gives me permission to turn off the electronics (all of them).
3. I live divided… retreating gives me time to evaluate my priorities & match my choices to my goals.
For reasons like these (and many others), I will never apologize for retreating. I will return home tomorrow feeling refreshed as a husband, father, pastor and friend. Jesus got this. Really? Absolutely. Read the gospels. He is frequently “going apart to rest awhile”. Be introduced to the power of retreat. As I always used to say to students when I wanted to challenge them… I dare you.
It's good. But it's not that good.
In this memoir, subtitled A Search for Eden Among Life's Weeds, Cunningham explains "how coming to religion through the front door—rather than through a weeping, born-again conversion—can make it difficult to understand how faith changes life, and even harder to grasp why it must" (from the product description). Her voice is endearing. Her stories are strikingly (sometimes laughingly) familiar to those of us who grew up in the church. And her insights are often impactful.
Unfortunately, I often wondered as I read where I was being taken, and why (a not-uncommon struggle of mine with memoirs, but never with the really good ones). She did periodically return to her theme of the search for Eden, but in between those times, while I was entertained, I wasn't compelled forward in my reading.
Still, I think nearly everyone will find her experience and perspective thought-provoking, and many will fall in love with her, and with her book.
The lovely Robin and I have visited this church several times, most recently this past January:
Here is a photo of the main altar (shown also above), with a lovely painting of the wedding:
And the two altars to the left and right of the main altar:
In the lower level of the church are displayed several stone water jars, perhaps like those described in the Bible (though how many firkins these would hold, I have no idea). But because this village of Kafr Kana has no nearby water source, the area was replete with such stone jars, used for storing water--just like in the account of the wedding.
In the church's courtyard is a serene little pool, with water jars built into the design of the fountain (I would mention that I have trouble not seeing the face of the Cookie Monster in the fountain, but that would be too distracting, I'm afraid):
A modern-day tradition is for couples to renew their wedding vows or propose marriage in Cana, with the Wedding Church as an unforgettable backdrop. The town is also--understandably--a popular place to buy wine!
I got to meet two or three new families, and was thrilled to meet new members of a family that has only been coming since our last Family Movie Night in late February.
Got to rejoice with a young woman who prayed to receive Christ this morning! YES!
Also got to pray with several folks, before and between and after the celebrations.
LOVED the celebration of communion this morning (always do, I guess). I got to talk about my latest visit to Jerusalem.
Our group was walking through the Old City of Jerusalem,
on the way to the Via Dolorosa,
the “Way of Sorrows” Jesus traveled to the cross.
As he walked, our guide Nader pointed out to us several times
a scrap of bread on a window ledge
or a few pieces on an electrical box.
He finally stopped in front of a bakery,
where a man was wheeling out a cart full of fresh-baked sesame bread.
Nader pulled a loaf off the cart and shared it with us.
Then he explained.
not only is the bread tastier than anywhere else,
because of the unique qualities of the Jerusalem springs used to make the dough,
but even beyond that, bread is so revered by the people of that city,
that they will not throw it in the garbage…
and if any bread falls to the ground or is seen on the ground,
the residents will pick it up and place it on a ledge
so it won’t be trampled underfoot.
just regular bread.
But to them, there is no regular bread.
Because Jesus, during his life on this earth,
“I am the bread of life” (John 6:48, NIV).
And if you remember,
he once taught on a Galilean hillside
to a crowd of thousands.
And because the day was getting long and the people were hungry,
he took a small offering of fish and bread
and lifted the bread
and gave thanks for it
and broke it
and multiplied it….
and that vast crowd went away full.
And later when he sat down to a special Passover meal
with his closest friends and followers
the night before he was executed,
“I have passionately longed to share this Pascal meal with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15, paraphrase).
And then he took the cup, and then the bread,
and just as he had done on that Galilean hillside,
he broke the bread,
and gave thanks…
but this time saying,
“This is my body given for you” (Luke 22:19, NIV).
And then, a few days later,
after Jesus had been crucified, died, and was buried,
and then rose from the grave on the first day of the week,
he appeared on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus,
only the two men he joined on that walk
didn’t recognize him as Jesus.
and Jesus talked,
but still they didn’t know that this was the resurrected Jesus
who walked and talked with them…..
having invited him to eat with them,
He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him (Luke 24:30, 31, NIV).
It was in the breaking of bread
that their eyes were opened
and they recognized Jesus.
So I asked everyone to approach communion,
expecting to meet the living Christ
in the breaking of bread.
And then I asked them, on their way back to their seats,
to leave a piece or two or more of bread
on the window ledge
to represent the person or persons they had
to invite to Easter,
with a prayer that that person would someday soon
be meeting the living Christ in the breaking of bread,
just as they had just done.
It was a beautiful response.
I took this photo of just one portion of the window ledge
after the first celebration (much more was added after second celebration):
So now, Easter is just ONE WEEK away! Let's do all we can to make sure that those who need to be there are there…and in the meantime BEG GOD to do something amazing!
Well, turns out, I'm not the only such pastor out there. One of my favorite bloggers, Perry Noble, wrote this on HIS blog just a few days ago:
I’ve been a senior pastor now for about 10 years…and the longer I do this the more I realize that I really don’t know what I’m doing, which is awesome for because realizing this will keep me desperate for God’s voice; after all, it IS His church.True dat.
I will NEVER have church leadership figured out! The more I am around amazing leaders the more I realize I have so much to learn. The thing that I have learned though is that in order to be an effective church leader we MUST be willing to throw out philosophies, ideas and “book knowledge” that doesn’t fall in line with what the Scriptures and the Spirit is saying…
The beginning of Jesus bringing serious change in His church is when He begins to bring that type of serious change in the leadership of that church! If we are willing to embrace all He has for us…we will see things that absolutely blow our minds…and that’s my prayer. I don’t want to know it all…I want to know HIM who controls it all…and trust Him to lead me step by step!
- Jesus has 777,777,777,777 fans
- He has 144,000 messages in his inbox
- The disciples wrote on Peter’s wall: So, Jesus told us to walk up to people we don’t know, and basically steal their colt and donkey… This is sketchy, don’t you think???
- The High Priests have created a group: How to Use the Temple for piety AND profit
- The High Priests have given Judas a gift: 30 pieces of Silver
- Judas and the High Priest are now friends
- Jesus has taken the “What Kind of Messiah are You?” quiz
- Jesus has given Roman Soldier a gift: A New Ear
It is astounding to me that this happens. And even more astounding that it happens often enough to have been NAMED! God help us.But they all cried out together, “Away with this man…” – Luke 23:18Since this is my first blog entry, and hopefully not my last, I guess I should give a very short introduction. I’ve been a practicing counselor for 30 years; I’ve served twenty of those years in church and para-church ministries; I have always provided services to pastors and their families for no fees; Steve Brown was my pastor for many years; I am the Executive Director of PastorServe South Florida – a ministry to care, support, counsel and love on pastors; I’m also a doctoral student researching clergy stress, burnout and mobbing. Mob what?
The fact that you are reading a blog for pooped pastors means that you may well have experienced something that until fairly recently has not had a name attached to it. It's a devastating experience that often results in pastors leaving the ministry. It's called mobbing. Although this may not sound familiar, every pastor I talk to tells me they have either been mobbed or know a dozen other pastors that have experienced it.
Mobbing is related to workplace bullying, organizational power factions, forced resignations, and forced terminations. Mobbing is defined as the prolonged malicious harassment of a coworker by a group of other members of an organization to secure the removal from the organization of the one who is targeted. Mobbing involves a small group of people and results in the humiliation, devaluation, discrediting, degradation, loss of reputation and the removal of the target through termination, extended medical leave or quitting. It is a traumatizing experience that often results in significant financial, career, health, emotional and social loss. Mobbing is unjust, unfair and undeserved. In a church setting the organization includes staff members, elders, deacons, and congregation members.
Church mobbings can be set in motion by a church member, elder, deacon or staff member. The target might be a senior pastor, associate pastor, or ministry staff. Usually there is a focus on some issue of disagreement (robes or no robes) that triggers the mobbing. Sometimes there are just vague “problems.” The pastor is rarely confronted by individuals seeking to solve an actual problem or there may be a bullying attempt to control the pastor. The mobbing begins as others are pulled in and are persuaded that the target is the problem. In churches there is rarely, if ever, a chance for the pastor to face his accusers because of the “people are saying” syndrome and “they” don’t want to cause problems! Mobbing is progressive and eventually the targeted pastor is so confused by the unfairness of it, and so in shock by the brutality of it, they simply don’t know what to do. In addition, pastors are often told not to talk to anyone or they will split the church and that would not honor Christ. Spiritual, emotional, relational and financial ploys are all available to the mob as weapons, tactics, and strategies employed in the removal of the target.
The impact of mobbing on pastors and their families is profound and traumatizing. The personal impact includes deep humiliation, anger, anxiety, fear, depression, and isolation. There is often a profound sense of shame (guilt is “I’ve done something bad,” shame is “I am something bad”) that works to redefine all previous accomplishments as meaningless and all future hopes as dashed. In short, mobbing often convinces the target that they are failures and always will be.
The spiritual impact can also be profound and often result in a crisis of faith and leaving pastoral ministry. Pastors serve Christ and love people and when “Christians” treat them with such contempt and malice, how can a pastor come to grips with that? Persecution from non-believers is one thing but execution by congregants is an enormous betrayal. The pastor attempts to find biblical solace and comfort but mobbing is so unjust and so unfair, and the pain so profound, that they often feel abandoned even by the Lord. They know that it's not true but emotionally and spiritually they are devastated.
Every relationship is impacted by a mobbing. The spouse and children pay an especially high price as they watch their loved one being unjustly mistreated and are often the recipients of the pain being expressed by the pastor. Unfortunately that pain is expressed through anger, resentment, conflict eruptions and isolation. Most frequently the pastor is so confused and ashamed at what is taking place they remain silent and isolated from family and friends which only serves to deepen the trauma. They are fearful that even their family members believe they have brought this upon themselves.
While a mobbing is taking place the pastor and his family do not know who they can trust or who they can talk to. Fearing further reprisals they remain silent, deepening their isolation, and become either depressed or physically ill. It is a vicious cycle that, because of the shame attached to it, doesn’t end when they leave the church.
What’s a pastor to do? For starters, talk to someone who can help you understand what has happened to you. Now that you have a name for it you can begin to release some of the shame you have been feeling. For many of you reading this, just having a name put to your experience is comforting. Given the traumatizing affect of mobbing, I believe its imperative you find an experienced counselor to help you in the healing process.
Finally, talk to the Lord and honestly express your pain, confusion, fear and resentment. Take the time to pray with your spouse about the pain and fear asking the Lord to enter into it and provide comfort beyond what you are capable of experiencing. Psalms 34:18 tells us that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit and David tells us in Psalm 62 to pour out our hearts to him for God is our refuge. Also know that Christ can provide a special comfort to you because he too was mobbed and he loves you.
Everyone knows that there are abusive pastors in the church. May God save his church from them. But there are also abusive churches and church members. And they can wreak havoc. Unfortunately, hurting people can say and do all sorts of cruel things to a pastor, and there is seldom anyone to speak up for the pastor. Almost every pastor I know has put up with shameful treatment from members of the flock, and many still bear the scars. May God save his church--and his servants--from such things.
Rarely do I read a book in its entirety on my weekly Sabbath. Rarely do I identify so strongly with an author or book. Rarely does a book make me feel less alone, even hopeful, as a pastor. Rarely do I finish a book with the intention of reading it again.
But The Pastor as Minor Poet, by M. Craig Barnes, is that book.
Subtitled "Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life," the book is divided into two sections: The Call of the Minor Poet and The Craft of the Minor Poet. Although I was disappointed when the first section ended, because I had gotten so much out of it and wasn't ready for it to end, the second section quickly dispelled my disappointment, finishing the book just as strongly as it had begun--which is something else that makes this book relatively rare.
If this is the first M. Craig Barnes book you read, it will be quickly obvious that he knows the joys and frustrations of the pastor's life (he is currently senior pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA). It will be equally clear that he knows preaching. And people. And pain.
Some of the portions I underlined and hope to remember:
To be of service to the Holy Spirit, who is at work in human lives, the pastor can never reduce ministry to servicing parishioners' complaints about the church (p. 16).There is much more in this book. As one reviewer has written, it "offers a hope and a vision for ministry that is at once vocationally satisfying and Scripturally faithful." It is honest, entertaining, captivating, timely, and deep. And rare.
The pastor-poet does his or her best work not with presenting issues, which are seldom the real issue. This is the fallacy of those who try to define the pastor as a manager, an entrepreneur, or a service provider who is only in need of more skills to be a success in handling the many issues that have presented themselves. Most presenting issues are merely symptomatic of underlying theological issues (p. 23).
The congregation will never ask their pastor to remain loyal to the identity of a minor poet. They need one too much to even know that they need one (p. 28).
The Reformers claimed that the church would always be a hospital for sinners. This means that we cannot expect its members to be spiritually healthy (p. 38).
Victimization is a waste of our suffering (p. 39).
It's the scars on the pastor's soul that makes it attractive (p. 49).
I doubt that there is such a thing as a measure of spirituality, but if there is, gratitude would be it. Only the grateful are paying attention (p. 64).
Churches are filled with symbols: crosses, liturgies, music, clergy, and even the building itself can appropriately symbolize our true worship of Yahweh. But the moment we "need" any one of them, they have lost their symbolic value and have become idols (p. 68).
Those in the pews will not be startled by the power of God's Word unless the preacher is (p. 80).
As an irritated woman once said to me at the door following worship, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Is that all you know?" Had I been thinking clearly at the time, I would have said, "It's all I know that can be of help to you" (p. 93).
All of the stories of conversion in the Bible are also stories of calling (p. 101).
God is not easy on those who are called (p. 103).
Nothing is more important to the congregation than the pastor's doing whatever it takes to maintain a vibrant spirituality, or the poetry will die for the congregation (p. 119).
Pastors are never fully trained (p. 120).
The question of the Gospel is this: Can we move as slowly as Jesus to see what God is doing? (p. 135).
Fellow pastor and blogger Kevin Martineau posted the following on his excellent blog, Shooting the Breeze:
On Monday I began reading John Kaiser's book "Winning on Purpose." It has been incredibly challenging and refreshing so far. In the first chapter of the book, Kaiser asks the question "Why does your church exist?" He narrows down the question by asking "If your church were to disappear, what difference would it make or for whom would it make a difference?"Ouch! Tough questions if you are an inward focused church.
He goes on to say that there are only three possible answers to the question: "Why does your church exist?"
1. This church exists for us - the people inside.
2. This church exists for others - the people outside.
3. This church exists for both.
The first answer obviously reflects a church with an inward focus. Caring for its own members is the primary task. Sadly, most churches (in practice anyway) choose this option. A minority of churches would choose answer #2 and would say that their "primary customers" to be served are the people who "aren't here yet." And then there is option #3 - we are here for everybody. These churches exist to help Christians grow and to see people come into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This of course is the "right" option to choose BUT it isn't sufficient either.
Kaiser explains why it is not sufficient:"If we say that our congregation is here to serve both the insider and the outsider, we are compelled to ask a follow-up question: Who will we serve first? Now if at this point we try to achieve the overrated virtues of balance and lack of controversy, we will discover a surprise. If we say that we will serve both groups equally, you may be sure that our congregation will wind up hopelessly focused inward. How so? Because the needs of those inside the congregation are the ones that will always be in your face. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and if there is one spiritual gift that all congregations have, it is the gift of squeaking with tongues. Why don't we ever sing my favourite songs? Why didn't someone visit me when I was sick? Why don't we have a children's club for my third grader?However, no one will ever march down the street from the neighbourhood, pound on the pastor's office door, and demand, 'Why haven't you started making disciples of Jesus on my block?!'" (pg. 26)The bottom line is this: we MUST choose serving others (those far from God) first and serving ourselves second. The need of outsiders to be reached MUST be raised noticeably higher than the needs of the existing members. This of course is a challenge because of what was mentioned above BUT it must be done. This is what Jesus called us to do when He left us the command to "Make disciples!"
Why does your church exist? If your church were to disappear, what difference would it make or for whom would it make a difference?
In our years as a portable church, Cobblestone had our Christmas Eve services in the oiled-wood-smelling chapel of this historic country church. It's a beautiful country church, and some beautiful people worship there.
What a blessing it was for me personally to give out three welcome folders to newcomers.
After talking yesterday to four new volunteers for the OverDrive group in our children's ministry, I had the blessing of talking to two more this morning!
One of my favorite things in the world is to pray with people after a worship celebration; that never gets old.
After our second celebration, a lot of people stuck around to stack chairs and wheel them out of the auditorium; the carpet is due to be cleaned this week (and the chairs replaced Friday and Saturday).
Cannot WAIT to preach again next week, closing out the "Do Something" series with the "Passion" message. In some ways, this feels like the most important message of the six!
- Workaholism ("Workaholics wind up creating more problems than they solve")
- Ignore the details early on
- Meetings are toxic
- Say no by default
- Let your customers outgrow you
- Drug dealers get it right
- Forget about formal education
Don't believe that "customer is always right" stuff....Let's say you're a chef. If enough of your customers say your food is too salty or hot, you change it. But if a few persnickety patrons tell you to add bananas to your lasagna, you're going to turn them down, and that's OK. Making a few vocal customers happy isn't worth it if it ruins the product for everyone else (pp. 153-154).
We've all seen job ads that say, "Five years of experience required." That may give you a number, but it tells you nothing. Of course, requiring some baseline level of experience can be a good idea when hiring....But after that, the curve flattens out. There's surprisingly little difference between a candidate with six months of experience and one with six years. The real difference comes from the individual's dedication, personality, and intelligence (p. 213).
In short, despite the authors' claim that "ASAP is poison," I would recommend reading this book, and reading it...ASAP.
Several months ago, a former executive at our company made a commitment to a third-party via email. It is obvious that he didn’t research the cost of his promise, nor did he get anyone else’s approval. I was not aware of the obligation until the other party brought it to our attention. When I learned that the commitment was north of six figures, I gasped.
- The executive is no longer at the company.
- He obviously didn’t count the cost.
- He wasn’t authorized to make this commitment.
- This project is already under water.
- This amount is not in our budget.
- I wasn’t even aware of the commitment.
- Our CFO wasn’t aware of the commitment.However, after a few moments, I remembered that our first core value at Thomas Nelson is “Honoring God.” We amplify this by saying that “We honor God in everything we do.” We then go on to describe the behaviors that express this value. The fourth item on the list is this:
We honor our commitments, even when it is difficult, expensive, or inconvenient.”
That brought everything into clear focus. This was initially motivated by Psalm 115:1,4:LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? … He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.Simply put, this means that our word is sacred. I don’t think it is claiming too much to say that this premise is the foundation of Western society. Without it, our society begins to fall apart.
When I was growing up a promise and a hand-shake were all you needed. Contracts were largely foreign and unnecessary. In fact, to insist on one would have been an insult. Why? Because a man’s word was his bond. No one was willing to risk their social capital or relational equity by breaking their word.
My, how times have changed.
Twice in the last month I have had people blatantly dishonor their own word. Both were under contract. Their obligations were explicit. There was no ambiguity.
This is tragic—especially for them.
Keeping your word is the essence of integrity. As Stephen Covey points out, “honesty is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.” It is essential to leadership. Without it, you cannot be an effective leader.
Yes, keeping your word is sometimes difficult, expensive, and inconvenient. But the cost of not doing so is even more expensive. It will ultimately cost you your leadership.
- Integrity is required for trust. If people can’t trust your word, they won’t trust you.
- Trust is necessary for influence. People choose those they let influence them, and this is based largely on trust.
- Influence is essential for impact. You can’t make the impact you want to make unless you can influence others and shift their behavior.
So someone approached my friend just recently (he didn't mention the name, or even the gender) and said, in a semi-critical tone, "Robin's not the typical pastor's wife, is she?" My friend inferred that the speaker meant she doesn't lead children's ministry or the women's group, as "typical" pastor's wives do.
But here's the fun part. The person's next comment was, "Why does Bob's son have to be on stage every Sunday?"
Unfortunately, a golden opportunity was missed, because my friend never asked the person to clarify the seeming contradiction in those two statements. Is the pastor's wife supposed to be visible in certain areas, but not the pastor's son? Or should they both have chosen other ways of serving God and the church? Or something else?
But really, there is no contradiction at all. At least this person could verbalize his or her expectations. The pastor and his (or her) family are constantly measured against many more UNspoken (often unrealistic) expectations. In a church of several hundred people, those expectations are multiplied hundreds of times. So it's quite natural that different people's differing expectations would clash. It's just a tad unusual when they clash so apparently in one person and one conversation!
Oh, the life of a pastor!
The Da Vinci Code
The blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code, is a case in point. I knew the premise of the novel before I started reading, and so was prepared to more or less check my brains at the door and go along for a good fictional ride. And, truth be told, Dan Brown is a darn good plotter. But his utter carelessness with theology and history were absolutely maddening to me. For a man who claims to have researched his fiction, Brown's mistakes--and, worse, his clueless assumptions--made it hard for me to keep reading. For example, the book’s central claim about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being husband and wife and having a child would mean nothing, even if it were true. The characters in the book act and talk as if the church claims that if Jesus were fully human, he couldn’t possibly have been divine. That shows an astounding ignorance of Christian theology! In fact, there actually are millions of Jesus’ blood relatives living on earth today. They’re called Jews.
Different by Design
I have great respect for John MacArthur, the author of Different by Design. It is a respect I maintain in spite of this book. It was recommended to me as an example of respectable "complementarian" scholarship--that is, the view that women (and their roles in the church and family) are "equal" but different; they are intended by God to function in complementary roles to men. I approached the book as an egalitarian (one who believes the Bible teaches mutuality between males and females in the church and family), but with a sincere willingness to grant any well-made Biblical point. Unfortunately, I was appalled at the author's unexamined presuppositions and the book's shoddy scholarship.
Among my favorite topics for reading and study is the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and, in particular, the life and ministry of Jesus. So I was interested to read Bruce Chilton's Rabbi Jesus, though I knew he and I would be on quite different pages theologically. But I was thoroughly unprepared for the wild flights of fancy and imaginative conjectures he tried to pass off as "scholarship" in the book. His rather detailed description of Jesus' physical appearance (portly and balding, among other things) and his conclusion that Mary and Joseph of Nazareth were irresistibly drawn to each other and began having sex virtually from the moment they met are just two examples. I didn't mind that he called on other literature to paint his "portrait" of Rabbi Jesus, but his habit of sometimes citing a morsel from the canonical Gospels' as reliable and dismissing other content from those same texts as clearly unreliable made it hard to take anything he said seriously (he also treats later, non-canonical sources as much more authoritative than what he calls the "traditional" teachings of such sources as the Synoptic Gospels).
As I look back at this post, I really hate to sandwich Dr. MacArthur in with Brown and Chilton. But it is what it is. These are the last three books I can think of that made me mad.
The first church was built here around 390 by Poimenia, a pious Roman lady. The original church was destroyed in the Persian attack of 614 but restored by Modestus. In 680, the pilgrim Arculf described the church as a round building open to the sky, with three porticoes entered from the south. Eight lamps shone brightly at night through windows facing Jerusalem. Inside was a central edicule containing the footprints of Christ "plainly and clearly impressed in the dust" inside a railing. Pilgrims were permitted to take some of the dust home with them!
A 9th-century record notes that the church was served by three clergy and presbyters. When the Crusaders arrived, they rebuilt the Church of the Ascension as a roofed octagon (c.1150) and fortified the exterior. In 1198, after the fall of the Crusader kingdom, Salah al-Din gave the church to two of his followers, who added a stone dome and mihrab. The ascension of Jesus is recognized in Islam, although it is not mentioned in the Qur'an. The building remained in use as a mosque for over 300 years and the site remains to this day in Muslim possession.
Entered from the west, the chapel has a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca in the south wall. On the floor, inside an asymmetrically placed frame marking the spot tradition says is the last place Jesus' feet stood on earth before he ascended, is a slab of stone with an imprint said to be the footprint of Christ:
However, if this footprint was made by Jesus, he was an exceptionally small man; the foot looks like a size 7 or so. Another portion of the rock, bearing the left footprint, was reportedly taken to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Middle Ages.
The lovely Robin and I visited this chapel several times, most recently in February 2010, where with a group of friends we read Acts 1:6-11. It was inspiring on this wonderfully clear morning to look past the dome of the chapel to the sky and remember the words, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11, NIV).
When I was hired to join the team at Granger we had 400 people and 5 staff members. And we all did everything. I remember in those early days thinking, When we can just hire one more person, then things will be good. Or I’d visit a church with 15 or 20 staff and think, Man—must be nice to have so much money and so many staff members. Someday when we get there—life will be nice!
I’ve now been at Granger more than fifteen years. I’ve seen it grow from 400 to more than 5,000. I’ve served with a church staff team as small as 5 people and as many as 95. And we have never had enough staff. It has never been comfortable. We’ve always gone into every year wanting to hire more people than we’ve been able to. And over the past three years—we’ve actually had to reduce staff while the ministry continues to grow.
I’ve visited hundreds of other churches…and I’ve actually never talked to a pastor who thought he had enough staff. I’ve never met a team who had so much money they could hire anyone they wanted.
Whether yours is a church of a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand, if your goal is to accomplish the Great Commission, you will never have enough staff. If you think you’re the exception and you have enough staff, then you need to get a bigger dream. Are all the people within driving distance of your church already following Christ, growing in their faith, and taking steps in their spiritual journey? No? I didn’t think so. If you think you have enough staff, you may need to ask God for the perspective to see the need around you!
And you know what? Not having enough staff is a good thing. It forces us to our knees. It requires that we get really smart about the priorities of the church. It compels us toward creativity and innovation. And it makes us get serious about leveraging the time and talents of our volunteers.
I’ve been to churches in which the pastors do everything and the church members see it as their responsibility to warm the pews and “keep the pastor accountable.” Where is that in the Bible? Instead of agonizing over how to find the money to hire staff, what if you spent your time figuring out how to motivate the members to take part in the ministry. Your church may have a long and rich tradition of laziness. The pastors or leaders who preceded you may have bought into the lie that they were supposed to do everything. They may have spent their time teaching the congregation about the nuances of transubstantiation, but forgot to mention that God wants them actively involved in the lives of others. It may take months or years to transform your church into an army of volunteers that influences your community through service and love.
But my hardworking friend Brad was an example to us all, tirelessly slaving as he did to serve God and his fellow Cobbleheads with unremitting labor, as you can clearly see:
Our cleaning duties done, Brad and I hightailed it over to the Parkview Arms apartment complex, where we joined Jim and Lacey, Dale and Karen, Sharla, John, and Janet, for the weekly door-to-door outreach, giving out milk, bread, kids' snacks, doggie treats, and smoke alarm batteries. As that was drawing to a close, I headed over to The Loft to meet folks for the noon door-to-door outreach in our neighborhoods around the Loft, handing out smoke alarm batteries to our neighbors with me, John, Brad, and (pictured below, left to right), Reva, Mike, Michelle, Scott, and Janet. It was, as you can see, a soggy, soggy day, but man, our spirits were high, and we met some great people and some were very appreciative to receive the batteries.
After that, I had a quick lunch, did some beeeeautiful pastoral visitation (beautiful for me, don't know about them!), and then headed home to work in the office for the rest of the day.
Thank you, Lord, for such a fine day. Now, let your rain fall (spiritually speaking) on your people tomorrow, as we gather to worship you in spirit and truth!
I’m nearing the 10-year mark of being a church employee. That practically makes me a veteran. Ten years, four churches and millions of cups of Starbucks later [I’m convinced that’s the drug of choice for church workers] I’ve had a first hand-look at how the church works [by work I mean how it functions day-to-day in the church office] and after reading REWORK I’m convinced we’ve got some things that drive me crazy that need to change.Actually, I take it back. I don't think #4 is prevalent in my church. But if the rest were a virus, we'd have to wear masks to church.
Before I continue, let me say this: I love what I do. Every single day [except meeting days] I’m excited to be a part of the life of the Church. It’s an immense privilege to be able to do what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything… well, most of the time.
With that… here’s 10 Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working for a Church
1. We are really good at burning people out.
For some reason we feel like working long hours against ridiculous timelines and neglecting our personal lives, health, or families is a good idea… as long as it’s for God.
Not so much.
The average church employee stays at a church for about 2 years before they peace out.
“It doesn’t pay to be a workaholic. Instead of getting more done and being on top of your game, you actually start a chain reaction that results in decreased productivity, poor morale, and lazy decisions. And don’t forget the inevitable crash that’ll hit you soon enough.”
We all need to learn one simple word: NO. Even though something may be for a great cause, it’s not worth losing your soul to make it happen.
2. We focus way too much on what we don’t have.
One of the most common complaints I hear from church staff members has something to do with what they don’t have.
In the Gospel account of the feeding of the 5,000 all they had to start with was 5 loves and 2 fish, but in the end, there was more than enough.
“Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.”
Celebrate simplicity. Remember God can take nothing and make it into something.
3. We are afraid of change.
I guarantee we’ve all been a meeting where the phrase, “well we heard people say _____________ about _____________….”
Fill in the blanks… the music was too loud, they didn’t like that message, they don’t like this, they don’t like that…
These conversations usually center on a sensitive topic in the church: change.
And how do we respond? We quickly turn down the volume, change our minds, or reverse a decision.
“Sometimes you need to go ahead with a decision you believe in, even if it’s unpopular… remember negative reactions are almost always louder and more passionate than positive ones… so when people complain… let them know you’re listening. Show them you’re aware of what they’re saying. But explain that you’re going to let it go for awhile and see what happens.”
Give change time and be more concerned with what the voice of God is saying to you and let that influence you more than the voices of other people.
4. We use “let me pray about it” as an excuse to get out of making decisions.
I absolutely believe it’s important to pray about major decisions that impact the life of the Church – we shouldn’t move unless we feel God leading us. But all too often we use the “let me pray about that” card to delay simple decisions.
“Whenever you can, swap “Let’s [pray] about it” for “Let’s decide on it.” Commit to making decisions. You’re as likely to make a great call today as you are tomorrow. Don’t make things worse by overanalyzing and delaying before you even get going.”
Pray about what’s important but don’t sweat the small stuff… just make the call and ask for forgiveness later if need be.
5. We LOVE meetings.
For some reason we love meetings. Planning meetings, prayer meetings, planning meetings for prayer meetings. I feel like we have entirely too many and lose valuable time we could be devoting to things that matter.
“Meetings are toxic. If it only takes seven minutes to meet a meeting’s goal, then that’s all the time you should spend. Don’t stretch seven into thirty. Think about the time you’re actually losing and ask yourself if it’s really worth it.”
What’s one meeting you could condense or remove from your schedule? DO IT!
6. We try to do way too much.
Most churches are hyperactive and never sleep. We thrive on activity. The whole “less is more” thing hasn’t sunk in yet.
What if we focused on doing a few things REALLY well l instead of doing a million things half-aced? << that’s my PG version
“Cut your ambition in half. Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.”
What are some good things you’re doing that could be sacrificed for great things that will make a greater impact?
7. We try to be something we’re not.
If I see one more 40somethings pastor dressed in Abercrombie so help me…
Ok, but for real… not just pastors but churches in general tend to have a problem of trying to be something they’re not.
“Don’t be afraid to show your flaws. Imperfections are real and people respond to real. There’s a beauty to imperfection. So talk like you really talk. Reveal things that others are unwilling to discuss. Be upfront about your shortcomings. It’s OK if it’s not perfect. You might not seem professional, but you will seem a lot more genuine.”
8. We spend too much time looking at other churches.
We spend way too much time looking at what other churches are doing, be it a church across the country or the church across town. It’s great to watch and learn from others’ successes, but if you look at other churches as you competition your focus is waaaay off.
“Focus on competitors too much and you will wind up diluting your own vision. Your chances of coming up with something fresh go way down when you keep feeding your brain other people’s ideas. You become reactionary instead of visionary.”
Your church has a unique and specific role it’s meant to play in the life of your community. If your church ceased to exist, what would people miss? Whatever that is should be where you focus your time and energy.
9. We worry about people leaving.
We’re quick to cater to the needs [or demands] of people who have been around for a while instead of focusing the needs of people who are new.
We should spend more time figuring out how to create a wider front door instead of focusing on how we can “close the back door”… even if that means losing people who give us a lot of money [there, I said it].
“Scaring away new [people] is worse than losing old [ones]. Make sure you make it easy for [new] people to get on board. That’s where your continued growth potential lies. People and situations change. You can’t be everything to everyone. [Churches] need to be true to a type of [person] than a specific [person] with changing needs.”
10. We don’t feel trusted.
For whatever reason churches tend thrive in a weird culture of mistrust. It’s not or conducive to a positive working environment. Some churches have crazy rules, policies and procedures that create layers of red tape that, while probably well-intentioned, communicate a lack of trust.
“When you treat people like children, you get children’s work. Yet that’s exactly how a lot of companies treat their employees. When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers. You create a boss-versus-worker relationship that screams, ‘I don’t trust you.’”
This is one I don’t have a quick answer to but know it’s something I’ve experienced and something I hear about consistently from others who are in the trenches. BUT, I will say working in a church that has a trusting environment, I’ve never felt so empowered to do my job and that has fueled my productivity exponentially.
Church work is tricky but I will say the blessings have far outweighed the frustrations.
The challenge of being on staff at a church lies in the fact that we don’t have the option to leave our work at the end of the day. Our work is deeply connected to what we believe and to our faith community. It’s easy to get passionate about what we do because we do is attached to something that’s incredibly personal to us. We’ve got to learn the discipline of drawing boundaries.
While the Church has endured throughout the ages, each generation has had its unique challenges and opportunities. I believe the challenge and opportunity facing next generation leaders lies in how we manage and steward the resources we’ve been blessed with.
I love the title. I love the subtitle ("Rescuing Jesus from His Followers, Recapturing God's Hope for His People"). And the book itself ain't half bad, either.
Mike's book reminds me that he is way smarter than me. His frequent quotes from N. T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, and others remind me that he's more well-read than me. And the thoroughness of his reasoning reminds me that he's a better thinker and writer than me. Man, I hate his guts.
As Publisher's Weekly observed in its review of Death by Church, Mike makes the case "that the church needs to recover its communal, subversive, confrontational, countercultural truth-telling mission of incarnating the upside-down way of the kingdom of God." Though he sometimes drove me crazy with his use of the pronoun "we" to refer to himself, especially late in the book, he is at his best when speaking most personally and directly to the reader (for example, in the last chapter, "Jesus Wept: Apologies and Apologetics," and in the postscript to pastors and church leaders)--so much so, in fact, that I wish he had done more of that.
Death by Church is not for the casual reader. It's a serious book (though not without humor). And, ironically enough, though Mike rightly bemoans the consumerism that infects much of the Western church, the book's title and many of the chapter titles make the message of the book more appealing and accessible to--well, consumers. But that's okay. Consuming this book is an acceptable, even laudable, form of Christian consumerism.
Hymns are great. The level of erudition and expression in the hymns of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and Fanny Crosby is unequalled in today's worship music. Because they are two different genres. Entirely. They are apples and oranges.
In my experience, at least, hymns enable me to worship with my intellect, by and large. There are exceptions (Great is Thy Faithfulness, for example), but generally speaking, when I sing a hymn, my mind is engaged with lofty thoughts and divine truths, but my emotions, not so much.
Much of today's worship music, by contrast, does something else entirely for me. With some exceptions, these songs engage my heart and soul. They draw me into the presence of Jesus Christ. Some are theologically shallow--even questionable (but then so are some hymns, like "In the Garden" and "Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild"). Some are repetitive, even annoying (a little like the chorus of "Angels from the Realms of Glory" and the chorus "Be Still and Know That I am God"). And some are confusing or vapid or even comical (sort of like the song I remember singing forty years ago, "Standing Somewhere in the Shadows You'll Find Jesus;" I was never sure if it was supposed to scare or touch me, but I still chuckle at the image of Jesus as Phantom-of-the-Opera it inspires).
But many modern songs are far more like Biblical psalmody than the hymns I sang over the years (and still sing and pray today). A great number are actually Scripture set directly to music, while others are thoroughly Scripture-based. For example, the song “Knowing You” is drawn from Philippians 3, and the words of "Those Who Trust" are based on Psalm 125. And it is true that many of today's worship songs are written and sung from a highly personal, perhaps narcissistic frame of mind (the personal pronoun "I" does dominate some of them)...but then, even the most casual glance at the psalms will reveal precisely the same thing.
Most hymns were written with different instrumentation and venues in mind; they are great for pipe organ, piano, and choir. An entirely different music form might have resulted if Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley had written for guitars and drums, as many of today's songwriters do.
Moreover, a hefty portion of hymns are songs of testimony ("Amazing Grace") or sentiment ("The Old Rugged Cross") or proclamation ("How Firm a Foundation") as well as worship ("Immortable, Invisible, God Only Wise") and prayer ("Nearer, My God, to Thee"). While that is true of modern worship music, it seems to me that a much higher percentage of the worship songs we sing at my church are designed to lead me into God's presence, keep me there, express my heart in prayer, and commune with him ("Draw Me Close to You," "Blessed Be Your Name," "Breathe"), in ways that even the best hymns seldom do.
Oh, and one of the voices at that conference table a couple weeks ago mentioned the point that classic hymns have stood the test of time, which ought to prove that hymns are superior as a music form. I must grant that BOTH the "pop" nature of today's worship songs AND the frequency with which they are sung (sometimes repeated almost every week for months or more, until worn out, whereas the same hymn is seldom sung two weeks in a row) make it less likely that they will last for decades, let alone centuries. BUT that is also true of tens of thousands of hymns. The hymns we still sing are classic because they are among the few that have stuck around...among a huge number that entered well-deserved obscurity long ago.
And, finally, some of today's most popular worship songs adapt or incorporate ancient and classic hymns, like "Be Thou My Vision" and "My Chains Are Gone/Amazing Grace." So it's not a cut-and-dried either/or thing. Not by a long shot.
Most importantly, of course, the typical argument (whether for or against current worship music) misses the point. Worship is not defined or limited by musical forms. I worship regularly in Gregorian chant, a music form that is more than a thousand years old, not to mention hymns and more modern worship music. Each form assists me in worship in one way or another...but I am the worshiper, not the form I use. It's perfectly okay to prefer one form over another....but it seems silly and absolutely unnecessary to me to try to argue for or against any of the forms. If a certain way of worshiping is not your cup of tea, fine...but it's a cup of tea, not a hill to die on.