- A lot of us as leaders are willing to allow our team members to make decisions, but want to step in as soon as we see something done differently than we would do. Don’t make that mistake. It is totally demoralizing to your team.
- Four things poison a team faster than anything else: arrogance, lack of communication, “me-first” vs. “we-first,” and jealousy/cynicism.
- What pastors can learn from business leaders: (a) Collaboration (b) Excellence (c) Execution.
- What business leaders can learn from pastors: (a) Relationships first (b) Income for greater purposes (c) Leadership.
- Ultimately, we create a culture of trust by trusting, and trusting more, and trusting even more.
- I would much rather have a horse I have to hold back versus a horse I have to spur to get going.
- Love people until they ask why.
Obviously, God builds the church, but He uses people to build it. What kind of people does God use to build a great church? As a pastor, I have noticed some trends among church people who help move the church forward. The following is a list of characteristics of those type of people. Not everyone will have every quality, but it’s the combination of each of them in people that builds a great church.
Great church people:
1. Support the pastor and the church.
1 Corinthians 16:10‑11 When Timothy comes, treat him with respect. He is doing the Lord’s work, just as I am. Don’t let anyone despise him.
A pastor is always looking for someone he can feel is his friend. Great church people are that friend.
2. Are encouragers in the church.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
Great church people are a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. They look for ways to help, invite their friends and neighbors, and help without having their arms twisted.
3. Don’t think everything is about them!
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”
Did you know everything may not go your way? Great church people are willing to allow the best to be done for the church even when it goes against their own desires.
4. Think outside the walls of the church. They think external not internal.
Acts 1:8 But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me every where‑‑in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Some churches are hard to tell apart from a Country Club. Great church people don’t encourage that kind of church!
5. Maintain a friendly church.
2 John 6 Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.
Great church people make sure visitors never stand around long with no one to talk to.
6. Believe and love God’s Word.
Joshua 1:8 Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed.
Great church people let the Bible be their guide.
7. Grow in prayer.
Ephesians 6:18 Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.
Great church people pray rather than worry.
8. Build on faith.
Hebrews 10:38 And a righteous person will live by faith.
Great church people are willing to walk by faith even with bold moves as God leads.
9. Put God’s will first.
Mark 3:35 “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Great church people put God’s will ahead of everything other agenda.
10. Enjoy meeting with God regularly.
Amos 4:12 says, “Prepare to meet your God,”
Great church people look expectantly for opportunities to worship God and experience Him with other believers.
I’m so thankful to be in a church with so many who make this list easy to write.
For starters, Hagar is a gutsy woman who dared run away from an abusive situation, a listening woman who was willing to obey God even when it made no sense, and a seeking woman who named God. As the loser in a one-sided battle seemingly marked by envy and greed, the Egyptian slave-woman Hagar encounters God not once, but twice.In this well-written book, Major Shade (an officer in The Salvation Army) takes the reader on a memorable and meaningful journey, drawing helpful lessons from Hagar's story--sometimes mining gold out of a short phrase or a single word. She touches on a vast range of subjects, from abuse and pregnancy and revenge to single parenting, abandonment, grief, and more. Some of the chapters ended much too soon or suddenly, I thought, but each chapter offered sparkling insight and application, like chapter twelve's focus on the angel of the Lord's words to Hagar at a well between Kadesh and Bered:
The God who seeks and finds is also the God who stays involved with his people. When the messenger of God speaks, he does two things. He names Hagar, and he defines her by the role she fills in the household of Abraham.There is much to take away from this book--and not for women only. Any seeking soul, any student of the Bible, anyone who is craving hope and encouragement, will profit from it. As Shade writes,
The angel of the Lord knew her name. That is so encouraging to me. God knew the name of an Egyptian slave-woman. God knows the name of every child that was killed in the typhoon and tsunami and every child who wanders the streets of Calcutta, begging for food. He knows my name and your name. And he knows the names of the unnamed, those the narrator doesn't identify throughout the Bible, such as the Levite's concubine, the woman at the well, and the widow who gave her last cents in the temple. Each one has a name, known to God.
If God redeems the desert places for Hagar and for Sarah, for Isaac and for Ishmael, then we can have hope. Because if God can work in their lives, he can redeem my desert places, both the deserts I am forced into and the deserts I willingly choose.Major Shade's The Other Woman will delight and inform--perhaps even transform--anyone who takes the journey.
The Other Woman can be purchased for $12.95 via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by calling toll free in the USA (888) 488-4882.
This week, I thought I'd feature the first ever synagogue as "Church of the Week." The famous Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo was originally a Christian church, which the Coptic Christians of Cairo had to sell to the Jews in 882 AD in order to pay the annual taxes imposed by the Muslim rulers of the time. The church was purchased by Abraham Ben Ezra, who came from Jerusalem during the reign of Ahmed Ibn Tulun, for twenty thousand dinars.
That's my son leading worship tonight at the mic in the center, and my daughter-in-law on the left (in front of the drum stage, under the vertical bank of lights). My daughter was on coffee duty, and my son-in-law in the sound booth. And that is the normal state of affairs at "The Third" on Sunday evenings. No greater joy.
I like certain forms of science fiction. OK, I admit it, I am a Trekkie. One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek explored the possibility of parallel universes. Quite to my pleasure, the new TV series Fringe does the same. They imagine that there could be various quantum realities and we breached the wall between them.
Well, I have news for them. I think there are parallel universes. At least, it seems that way to my eyes.
What I mean is that Christians in the USA seem to have created a universe parallel to the secular one.
There are more obvious versions of this -- the Christian Yellow Pages being foremost in my mind -- but there are subtle versions too. Think of all the ways we have devised to "Christianize" every conceivable form of human relationship in education, commerce, diet, and exercise. There are Christian food co-ops! Christian exercise videos. The list is long.
While I certainly do not deny the right to free association, I do have one question: is this what Jesus called us to? I believe he prayed explicitly in John 17 that we would NOT be taken out of the world. I believe Paul wrote these words:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10 ESV)
Well, I think Paul would be quite shocked that we have managed to do exactly that -- we have "gone out of this world" -- at least in practice, if not in body. We have created a parallel Christian universe.
But the problem is more subtle than that. As I listen to friends speak of their work or their neighborhoods or their schools or their kids sports -- it is almost always in the context where they note who the Christians are in those places ("My son is in little league, and his coach is a Christian"). They do so with a sense of relief or with greater confidence in the safety of their kids or with some sense of the magic of influence the coach will have over others. It is even better if the coach is a former professional athlete who is a Christian.
I would also observe that for some it seems desirable for Christians to work and play alongside of people who are not in Christ and somehow manage to avoid too much intersecting of their lives with them. In other words, some would avoid any breaches between these parallel worlds. It would never occur to them to engage their colleagues world and life.
Granted I am stereotyping, and there are many many exceptions. There are traditions in the evangelical world that are not so world-detached. But this stereotype is based on years of data collection. Generally, I think mainstream evangelical USA Christians are uncomfortable with associations with unbelievers that are too close, too personal. Generally, we are afraid that simply being with them will have some corrupting influence. So we create a parallel universe. We have effectively done what Paul thought impossible -- we have gone out of the world.
I sometimes think that we live in fear and call it wisdom. But we live in fear -- fear of the negative influences of the world. We live as though we have far more to fear from the "world" than they have to fear from us. We carry with us the Good News of Jesus the crucified and risen. The explanation of that news changes people; it removes them from the kindgom of darkness and brings them into Jesus kingdom. It is far more a threat to their way of life than they are to us.
We live in unbelief and call it moral separation. We live in unbelief, and actually deceive ourselves into thinking that we can create a parallel universe and thereby escape the corruptions that are in the world. We are not confident in this message and its power in us and its power toward others.
Now, of course I am aware of our vulnerability, and of course I am aware of the care of my children, and of course I am aware of all the arguments that can be marshalled for caution and safety and the rest -- but I am pressing for the other side. I am doing so because the Gospel calls us.
We follow the One who was a friend of sinners, who took on flesh and blood as he entered a world in which there was nothing but defilement. He came down into this world, in association with people ruined by sin and living in sin in all its various forms, he lived in the same universe, not a parallel one. He was a friend of sinners and lived in purity at the same time. And he has sent us into this present age with the same mission -- to be the people of God in the midst of this world, not to isolate ourselves from the people of this world.
God wants believers to have confidence in the Gospel and to pass this on to our children to as well. I am simply asking -- are we confident? are we imparting confidence to our children or teach them to live quarantined lives? Are we living in invisible hazmat suits? in a parallel universe?
How fast the weeks return—we are again upon the eve of a Sabbath. May the Lord give us much of his own Spirit on his own day. I trust I have a remembrance in your prayers. I need them much—my service is great.(from Tony Reinke's Miscellanies blog)
It is, indeed, no small thing to stand between God and the people—to divide the word of truth aright—to give every one portion—to withstand the counter tides of opposition and popularity—and to press those truths upon others, the power of which, I, at times, feel so little of in my own soul. A cold, corrupt heart is uncomfortable company in the pulpit.
Yet in the midst of all my fears and unworthiness, I am enabled to cleave to the promise, and to rely on the power of the Great Redeemer. I know I am engaged in the cause against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. If He died and rose again, if He ever lives to make intercession—there must be safety under the shadow of his wings: there would I lie. In his name I would lift up my banner, in his strength I would go forth, do what he enables me, then take shame to myself that I can do no better, and put my hand upon my mouth, confessing that I am dust and ashes, less than the least of all his mercies.
Yesterday afternoon, I was discussing with a few guys on Twitter how and where we spend our time working. When I came to Grace nearly three years ago, there was no “office” space for me at the church building, which meant that I was to do the majority of my work either at home or somewhere in the community. For me, this was a huge win because I’ve always struggled with the idea that a pastor’s ministry is to be confined to an enclosed office space. That’s not to say it is entirely wrong; it’s just not who I am and how I try to function.Great post, right?
Over the past three years, I have gone back and forth try to determine where is the best place to work for accomplishing certain tasks. With two young boys (3 and 1), my home office is not the ideal place to work, so I have ended up as a patron at various coffee shops and eventually landed at a local Panera Bread where I spend most of my “office” time.
I’ve ministered in churches which have a rather strict policy for where and when a pastor works (“office hours”). Needless to say, the confinement approach was less than appealing and effective, and fortunately for me I have the privilege of working on a pastoral team with a high level of flexibility and trust. In any case, I thought I’d post what my typical work week looks like, including the places, times, and purposes of each.
First, here’s the breakdown of times and places of my work:
Panera Bread (or various coffee shops) – 25 hours
Home Office – 20 hours
Church Office – 10 hours
Public Library – 5 hours
Second, here’s the purposes of each workplace:
Panera Bread - administration, discipleship, counseling, coaching, communication, planning
Home Office – reading, writing, studying
Church Office – staff meeting, elders meeting, membership interviews, counseling, service planning
Public Library - sermon prep and teaching prep
Thirdly, the daily breakdown usually unfolds like this:
Panera Bread – Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 8-5
Home Office – Nightly 9-12
Church Office – Tuesday 9-5; Wednesday night 6-9
Public Library – Saturday morning 8-1PM
You may be wondering why I choose to work the majority of my time at Panera. Here’s a few reasons:
1. I want to live as a missionary. As I work, I want to be mindful that people around me are lost and need the gospel. I structure my work at Panera to encourage interruptions for everyday conversations and hear the stories of the employees. I learn my community by hearing their questions and find myself able to stay somewhat connected to the 94% of my neighbors who are unchurched and unbelieving. If I am exhorting our members to live evangelistically or missionally, then I should seek to live exemplary in that manner as well.
2. I want to be considered a pastor of third places. I have come to know the stories of most of the employees at Panera. J.J. is a young man who two months ago lost his brother in a tragic accident. As far as I know, there was no other Christian to minister to him. I was able to encourage him and pray for him during this time, which has in turn created an openness in him to the gospel. Audrey is a lady whose husband is like me–Assyrian and Iranian, both of whom are believers. Kyle is a mystic and seeker, being brought up with a New Age spirituality and almost weekly wants to engage in gospel conversations. Then there are the other regular patrons, many of whom like me are looking to connect with folks in the community for various reasons. I want to be on the frontline of pastoral ministry for the unchurched, and that means these people knowing that I care for them, living among them, and desire to minister to them (and not just be a drive-by Christian).
3. I want to maximize time management. Usually, a pastor will burn 1-2 hours in transit from home to church office to lunch appointments or other meetings. I take care of that all in one place. I have a four-seater table where I spread out when I need to work and pack up when I need to meet with others. Not having to drive to multiple locations allows me to utilize that time with greater efficiency. It’s my office, counseling area, lunch table, and planning center.
4. There are several other practical benefits. I get free refills on fountain drinks (including sweet tea!). I have free wireless internet. The ladies are always bringing me food they would ordinarily have to throw away, so I’m amply supplied. I can counsel people in an environment that is both private and yet public (I don’t want anything I do to be unnecessarily hidden, so who I am and what I do is in full view). My wife and boys join me for lunch on occasion, too.
Now, I am not as open in the public library. In fact, I’m rather tunnel vision as I am there only to work in solitude to bring my teaching or sermon preparation to completion. It is more focused and disciplined, recognizing the nature of the work requiring my full attention. As you can see, the goal and functioning is completely different.
At home, I work in the evening time when my wife and kids have gone to bed, usually for 3-4 hours. This is the best time for me to read and write in the comforts of my own home and study without distraction.
That pretty much sums up the way I work. How do you work? If you are a pastor or church planter, how and where do you spend your time? I’d love to get your thoughts and experiences on this and how perhaps I might tweak the structure of my week with the wisdom you provide.
However, if you (like me) happened to notice that his work hours (absent such things as preaching, teaching, visitation, etc.) total 60 hours a week, I would add that (while that's not unusual for any conscientious pastor) it ought to be cause for concern...even discipline. That's right, I'm not exaggerating. Especially for a man with a family, a sixty-hour workweek (again, absent his preaching, etc.) is too much, at least on a regular basis. And if I were his supervisor, I'd be on that like spaghetti on a toddler's face.
I always find Sproul's writing to be endearing and rewarding, and this book is no exception. His lively perspective on familiar Bible passages (which frequently gave new insights to me) is engrossing. And the way his mind works, evident in the flow of the chapters, from "Holy, Holy, Holy" (chapter two) to "The Fearful Mystery" (chapter three), "The Trauma of Holiness" (four), and so on, is fascinating. And, though he does mount his hyper-Calvinist soapbox late in the book, it could have been much longer and more polarizing than it was (particularly in a book on the holiness of God!).
His fifth chapter, "The Insanity of Luther," was a bit of a "bump" to me. I wasn't sure for much of the chapter, where he was going with it, and why. It felt like a confusing detour on an otherwise well-marked road. It eventually did make sense, however, and was unremittingly gripping reading.
The Holiness of God is essential reading for every Christ-follower, in my view. If you haven't read it yet (I'm a bit ashamed now that it took me this long), get to it as soon as possible. A fine audiobook verson is even available for FREE right now from christianaudio.com.
Tyndale House Publishers is launching a new book club enewsletter. In honor of that launch, they’re running a 30 day giveaway on their website. The Book Club Hub Newsletter will be an email newsletter geared towards people who are in or are running book clubs. It will feature suggestions, discussion guides and great ideas for your book clubs. You can see a preview by clicking here.
To enter the giveaway you just need to visit the contest page and click on the book you’d like to sign up to win. You can even go back and sign up for both books. Each day is a new giveaway so you can return to the site each day and try to win. Every few days the books change, so check back!
I've been in the process of writing about how big churches are continuing to get bigger and highlighting some of the reasons why I believe that's happening. In this post, I'd like to talk about the leadership factor.I would add that, while I don't think there is a single "biblical" church structure (though some are definitely unbiblical), Tony's list does reflect, almost point by point, the practice of the New Testament church. But it seems to me that, at least here in America, we tend to model and practice church structure more after democratic ideals of the American revolution than the biblical pattern of the early church.
I'm in the camp that believes leadership is a spiritual gift. Romans 12:8 tells us, "If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously." One of the distinctives of large, growing churches is that they value leadership development. That's not the case in small, declining churches.
In small churches, leaders are controlled. This typically happens through the way churches are structured. Instead of giving pastors and other ministry leaders the freedom to make decisions and make ministry happen, churches will add layers of boards and committees, rules and processes to prevent leaders from doing just about anything on their own. The smaller the church, typically, the more complex the structure.
In growing churches, what I usually find is that leaders have been released to lead. Boundaries are established to create a framework for decisions and actions, but within those boundaries is the freedom for leaders to leverage their spiritual gifts. Unfortunately, many churches are willing to embrace shepherds, teachers and pastors, but they're unwilling to embrace leaders.
Churches who understand the leadership factor share these characteristics:
* They are staff-led and not committee-controlled.
* They empower the senior pastor and the spiritual authority of that position.
* They see leadership as critical not only at the very top of the organization but in every layer of the ministry.
* They know that leadership is a gift, and it must be developed.
* They understand that not everyone is a leader and they're intentional about moving people into ministry that best fits their gifts.
* They embrace both staff and volunteer leaders. Paid staff are not the only people with the leadership gift.
* They recognize leadership isn't just for men over the age of 40.
* They are careful to prioritize the character over the skill of a leader.
The bottom line is that it's impossible to grow a healthy church and have an environment that values control over empowerment.
The lovely Robin and I visited this church in early 2010, but we were told we couldn't take photos inside the church. So we didn't. But I was glad to see these video images of the church, which is built over the site of the home where, according to tradition, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived during their sojourn in Egypt after fleeing there sometime after Jesus' birth.
(from Richard Baxter, quoted by J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, 1990), 279)
(photo is the pulpit of Grote Kerk in Haarlem, in the Netherlands)
One of the first ways you can tell that you are moving beyond temptation into a pattern of sin is if you find yourself in a time of prayerlessness.I think that goes double for pastors.
That isn’t just a “spiritual maturity issue”—it’s a gospel issue.
You are recreated through the gospel with a nature that longs for communion with God. The Spirit within you cries out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Prayer is exactly how you experience the sympathy of your high priest who has triumphed over your temptation. After all, you are not the only one praying when you pray. The Spirit himself prays through you, and as he does so, he works to align your will and desires with those of Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:26–27).
If you are reluctant to pray, it just might be that you, like Adam and Israel before you, are hiding in the vegetation, ashamed to hear the rustling of the leaves that signals he is here (Russell D. Moore, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, p. 171.
Over the years I’ve noticed that a good number of church plants grow for two or three years and then plateau and then decline. It’s not unusual for a church to grow to 150-200 over a three year period and then go nowhere. My experience has been two reasons are cause of this failure to continue to grow.
1. The pastor changes his or her focus from getting butts in the seats to taking care of the membership, tinkering with organization, and formalizing leadership. This shift seems to be due to a couple of things: one, the laity begin to whine about not being taken care of; and two, it is easier to work with participants than to continue bringing butts into the seats. I’ve found that until the church reaches 500 in worship the pastor’s main focus should be on getting butts in the seats.
2. As the church grows the pastor fails to hand-off ministry as soon as possible. Often the pastor enjoys ministry so much that he or she hoards all the good ministry and robs the laity of the joy of serving. The more the pastor continues to do the more self-centered the laity become and the cycle continues to deepen.
So what’s the solution? Keep your focus on getting butts in the seats and handing off ministry like crazy. And as you hand it off watch and see how well people function- your future leadership may well come out of some simple hand-off.
Now if you have a need to be needed and just can’t hand-off ministry you shouldn’t have planted a church- shouldn’t be a pastor either of any kind of church. Remember Eph. 4:11-12? It’s the role of the pastor to equip the saints.
I teach these truths with football images. Pastors, like coaches, don’t play they game; they coach the players (laity). Pastors, like coaches, are also scouts or have scouts who recruit, that look for future players. The key is to scout, recruit, and coach people into becoming all God intended them to be. That’s the gist of Eph. 4;11-12.
"America's Family Financial Expert" Ellie Kay organizes The 60 Minute Money Workout like a visit to the gym, with each chapter (or "workout") offering a "warm up," "strength training," "cardio burn," "heart rate," and "cool down" portion. As one would expect from the financial expert on Good Money (ABC NEWS) and commentator for Focus on the Family (not to mention mother of seven), each of the fourteen chapters is intensely practical, filled with solid tips that can be applied immediately to your finances.
As the chapter titles reveal, this book does not need to be read cover-to-cover; just like at the gym, some workouts will apply more to one person's situation than to another's. But a quick glance at the chapter titles will show the promise of the book's content:
1. 60 Minutes to Financial Freedom
2. The 60-Minute (Split) Personality Workout
3. The 60-Minute Spending Plan Workout
4. The 60-Minute Retirement and Savings Plan Workout
5. The 60-Minute Debt Workout
6. The 60-Minute Cha-Ching Guide to Paying Less Workout
7. The 60-Minute Travel and Fun Guide Workout
8. The 60-Minute Allowance Workout
9. The 60-Minute Kid Entrepreneur Workout
10. The 60-Minute College Plan Workout
11. The 60-Minute Passion for a Home-Based Business Workout
12. The 60-Minute Launch Your Home-Based Business Workout
13. The 60-Minute Couple's Workout
14. The 60-Minute Giving Guide Workout
My favorites, personally, were the Home-Based Business Workouts and the Giving Guide Workout--but that has a lot to do with my own situation and passions in life. Whatever your situation, whatever your passion, in just one-hour a week, The 60-Minute Money Workout should thoroughly transform how you view and use your money and immeasurably improve your life.
(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”)
This church began in 1911 as Evanston Baptist Church (Evanston is another part of the city). By 1961, many members had moved to the suburbs, so the church went, too, locating on ten acres on Kenwood Road--which at that time would have been considered way out on the very urbs of the suburbs.
The distinctive trapezoidal shape of the sanctuary is striking from the outside and the inside.
The likewise striking stained glass window that dominates the east wall can be seen by worshipers on the way out, positioned as it is on the back wall as worshipers face the platform.
The rest of the church facility sprawls around on two stories with an elevator. It includes a chapel, an education wing, a large banquet or assembly hall, offices, and more.
One of my favorite features of the church property, common in Catholic and Episcopal church campuses but fairly rare in evangelical church construction, is a garden for prayer and meditation, named for Reverend J. S. Matthews, the church's pastor for 47 years, from 1921-1968.
When I start counseling a depressed person, I'm looking for answers to five questions at an early stage in the conversation. I don't ask them in a checklist or condemning manner, but I try to probe sympathetically to get a sense of where they are at.
1. Do you accept you have a problem?
Don't assume that just because a person has come for counseling, that he accepts he has a problem. Family pressure rather than personal choice may have put him there. It is very common for a depressed person to be in denial about the existence, the nature, or the extent of the problem. Sometimes this denial is wilful pride, but sometimes it is because depression can creep over a person so slowly that they do not realize that it has happened. And, of course, part of depression is an inability to see oneself in a true and realistic light.
2. Are you willing to explore all the possible dimensions of this problem?
Once a person has accepted that he has a problem, I want to know how open they are to looking at the problem from a number of angles. Some people will only want to look at the spiritual dimension, and are looking for bible verses; others only want to talk about the physical dimension, and are looking for a pill; still others are only interested in looking back to find all the people and events that have contributed to their problems. But, unless a person is willing to explore all the possible dimensions of depression - physical, spiritual, mental, social, etc., - most counseling effort will be frustratingly handicapped.
3. Do you want to be made whole?
This was the question Jesus asked of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:6). At first glance it may seem like a silly question. Surely every sick person wants to be made whole! Surely everyone with problems wants them solved! However, Christ’s challenging question seems to imply that this man had settled into the role of "victim" and no longer wanted to get better. Sometimes a depressed person can also adopt this mindset. Perhaps they are frightened of all the responsibilities of life that might come upon them should they be viewed as well again. Perhaps they would miss the attention and sympathy that being ill often generates. So, we gently ask, "Do you really want to be made whole?" And that leads us to the next question.
4. Are you willing to do what you can to contribute to the healing process
Doctors and pastors are often faced with the frustrating situation of people who need their help, yet are not taking the steps required to benefit from this help: practical suggestions are not followed through, Scripture is not read, necessary medication is not taken, friendships are shunned, etc. Depressed people often need to be encouraged out of passivity and into taking some responsibility.
5. Do you trust me when I tell you that you have good hope of recovery?
As hope is such an important part of recovering from depression, I'd like to ask "Do you have hope of getting better?" However, as depression usually involves a general sense of hopelessness, initially I ask them to trust me that there is hope, rather than have that hope themselves. I encourage them with statistics (the vast majority of depressed people do eventually recover), and with stories of other people I've seen get better. After a few meetings I usually see people beginning to adopt the hope themselves, and that is such an accelerator of healing.
Again, I want to emphasize that this questioning is to be done in a caring and compassionate way. And I'm not saying, "Unless you get the right answers right away, you might as well not even start." However, I've found that these questions usually reveal enough to indicate how fruitful any future counseling will be.
Tomorrow will be the first time we've ever done a "prequel" to a series. We're going to worship a lot through music in the celebrations, and then I'll take a few minutes to introduce the theme of the series and get us all on the same page for the season of Lent. It'll be fun. I hope.
Then the messages in the Snapshots series will be:
March 20 "The Guy in the Shawl"
March 27 "The Guy in the Desert"
April 3 "The Guy in the Painting"
April 10 "The Guy in the Synagogue"
April 17 "The Guy with the Whip"
April 24 "The Guy in the Garden"
You'll really want to be there for all six "Snapshots." I truly think they're gonna rock our world.
Oh, and don't forget: we "spring forward" tonight! Daylight Savings Time starts this weekend. Which is good, because I've been stressing about all the daylight we've been wasting.
Preachers, what if someone charted how often people laugh, clap (or say "amen," if you prefer), or marvel in our messages?
Preachers, what if we more intentionally used repetition, song and poetry, and the other techniques (more intuitive than intentional) of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Preachers, what if we mapped our sermons like she does?
Preaching for a response involves far more than the last 3-5 minutes of a sermon. It can and should be a function of how the whole thing is constructed.
That's why I was disappointed in his book, The Principle of the Path. Put simply, the book's theme is that "Your direction, not your intention, determines your destination." Nothing particularly mind-blowing there, and the author admits as much early in the book. But I was still expecting it to take me somewhere I haven't been and teach me something I didn't know.
Maybe I expected too much. Maybe I just wasn't in the right place as I was reading it. Maybe I'm not the audience Stanley is aiming for.
I think--and I hope--that last "maybe" is closest to the mark. I could envision recommending this book to someone who simply doesn't understand that their poor decisions are not going to take them where they want to go. I could even imagine stocking copies of the book to hand out to people in a pastoral or counseling ministry, people who are at a loss to see the connection between their thought processes, their lack of self-discipline, their choice of friends, etc., and their repeated arrival at unintended and disappointing destinations. For many readers, I have no doubt that the readability and simple, straightforward wisdom of this book would be extremely helpful.
But I had hoped for more.
(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”)
Schaller shows that the very large church is more accessible and capable of reaching young people, single people, the unchurched, and seekers than smaller churches are. He then poses a question: If the need for very large churches is so great, why are there so few? Why don’t more churches (a) allow the senior pastor to become less accessible, (b) allow the staff to have more power than the board, (c) allow a small body of executive staff to have more decision-making power than the larger staff or congregation, or (d) allow directors more power to hire competent workers and release generalists? His main answer is that the key to the very large church culture is trust. In smaller churches, suspicious people are much happier…The larger the church gets, however, the more and more the congregation has to trust the staff, and especially the senior pastor…ultimately a very large church runs on trust.I've seen this firsthand, and I've watched, saddened, as churches with huge potential for growth (and for reaching young people, single people, the unchurched, and seekers) are crippled by suspicious and untrusting people IN the church.
You can read the whole article, "Leadership and Church Size Dynamics," here.
It was the Summer of 1972, and my mother was dying. And I knew it. Nor was I particularly happy about it. I remember very little about that week at camp (with my cousin Ed), but I remember this: sometime that week, I knelt at the altar in an outdoor amphitheater somewhere there on the grounds, and wrestled with God, eventually reaching a point of complete surrender.
I searched online for a photo of that amphitheater, which became a sacred place for me. I struck out. I think maybe it was in the spot which, in the photo above, is now occupied by a big pond at the bottom of the frame (which I think is actually a fish hatchery, believe it or not). But I could be wrong.
In any case, I don't think I've been back to the camp since. But one night in 1972, it was a holy place to me, my own personal Peniel.
One of my favorite bloggers, Austin Fleming, on his blog, A Concord Pastor Comments, posted these fine words of advice for Lent this past week. Not only are they great words, but I thought it interesting because I had already come to a similar decision for my observance of Lent this year.
I know that for many folks it’s your favorite baseball team that determines the arrival of spring: the beginning of spring training; speculating on this year’s pennant possibilities; and the opening home game.
But in my field of dreams, spring comes when Lent arrives - and Ash Wednesday falls this year on March 9 - just a few days away!
Actually, the word Lent finds its roots in the Old English word lencten which refers to the lengthening of days in the spring. But I realize that not everybody looks forward to Lent - especially those who see Lent only as a season of shadows and sacrifice, of “giving things up. “
To help us understand Lent in terms of the springtime all of us longing for, I invite you to think of Lent in terms of taking a vacation!
Imagine taking a 40 day vacation from some of the things that weigh you down, wear you out and deplete your spirit…
• Imagine taking a vacation from the over-eating and over-drinking that many of us do. Holding back on consuming too much food and drink, and experiencing instead what it means to be hungry, what it means to want to be filled with something good, something healthy, something nourishing for the heart and soul… It’s hard to know our hearts’ real hungers on a full stomach… And imagine the money you might save on a vacation from consuming - and how you might offer that money to reach out and serve those in need…-
• Imagine taking a vacation from the couch or the chair in front of some screen (TV, computer, smart phone, Wii, Xbox). Imagine taking a daily vacation from the machines that mesmerize and manage our time and instead spending that time with real, live people, at home or in the neighborhood or out with friends… Imagine a vacation that moves us from relating to machines to relating with human beings, our brothers and sisters in Christ…
• Imagine taking a vacation from your schedule, your planner. Imagine setting aside an hour or a half hour every day to do some of the things you really like to do, the things that nourish you, the things that bring you peace, the things that feed your soul and spirit…
• Imagine taking a vacation from the sounds, the voices, the music, the media, the background noise that is everywhere around us, often plugged into our ears… Imagine a vacation with moments of quiet, even silence… imagine sitting still for a while every day, or walking in a quiet place… imagine in the quiet that you might speak to God in prayer… imagine that perhaps in the quiet, you might hear God’s voice in your heart…
• Imagine taking a vacation from wasted time and foolish pursuits and laziness and finding time to do some of the spiritual things you want to do but never seem to get around to… Imagine planning and having the time to participate in parish prayer and activities in Lent and in Holy Week… Imagine a vacation that draws you closer to prayer with the Church…
• Imagine taking a vacation from all the busyness that keeps you from reaching out to others. Imagine making and having the time to call or write someone you should have been in touch with months, even years ago… Imagine making the time to get together with the people who bring out and nourish the best in you… Imagine going to the supermarket and shopping only for groceries to bring to church on the weekend for the baskets for the parish food pantry… Imagine having the time on your Lenten vacation to explore ways you might work with the parish in our outreach to those in need… Imagine having the time on this vacation to be more aware of and attend more carefully and personally to those in need in your family, at school, at work and in your neighborhood…
• Imagine taking a vacation from whatever are your bad habits, from over-indulgence, from gossiping, from self-concern, from jealousy and envy, from junk entertainment, from grudges long held and resentments carefully kept, from silence used to punish and manipulate others…
• Imagine taking a vacation from making your own circle of activity the center of the universe and finding, making the time to see God as the center of your life, your family, your friends, your work, your week…
• And imagine that on this vacation you find time to grow in your love of God, to reach out to those in need, to pray more often, to live a better Christian life, to get to confession, to be more faithful in coming to Mass, to delight in those around you, to lose some bad habits, to become aware of those realities we can only come to know when we take a vacation from all the things that so easily run our lives…
• Imagine taking a spring time vacation that refreshes your heart, cleanses your soul, opens you to God’s grace, brings peace to your relationships and wisdom to your choices… Imagine taking a vacation of forty days at the end of which you find yourself more the person God made you to be and more the person you want to be… Imagine taking a six week vacation that leads to a celebration of Easter, a celebration of leaving behind what gets you down, wears you out and depletes your energy and finding in its place new life and peace in the light of Christ who came that you might have joy - and have it to the full!
What will it be, then? We can look ahead to Lent as an extension of wintry burdens or as a spring vacation meant to refresh, revive and ready us for Easter. The choice is ours!
But I'm sick of hearing it, frankly.
I've written elsewhere on this blog (here) about the false dichotomy I think people subscribe to when they talk about "balancing family and ministry." Fie. Fie on that. I think it's not only a false dichotomy, but an inherently dangerous one.
Here's another: grace and truth.
We generally use it to refer to some sort of middle ground between giving people too much grace (i.e., being too "lenient" with them, as if we were their judges in the first place) and hitting people over the head with the truth (i.e., being too hard on them, as if it's our job to measure out how much truth a person can take in the first place).
I don't buy it.
Because I thank grace IS truth.
When John the Gospel writer referred to Jesus as the one "who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14, NIV), I don't think he was saying Jesus struck that balance perfectly. I think he was saying there was no longer any balance to strike, that grace and truth unite in Jesus, that in him "Mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psalm 85:10, KJV). They are not separate things, but the same thing, a unity not a dichotomy, in Christ.
When I show grace, I am exercising truth. Grace is truth. I think that's a big part of what Jesus showed us.
- Determine not to look at people as problems to fix.
- Do not look at people as resources to use.
- Doing either of [these] is dehumanizing.
This church isn’t very friendly. Have you noticed that? We might need to change to a new church, because we’re having a really hard time connecting at this one. We’ve been coming here for six months, sitting in service, not talking to anyone, then immediately sprinting out of the building and going home. And no one has connected with us. Rude!
We haven’t met anyone in small group either. We didn’t sign up for one, but still, it would be nice if a small group kind of magically happened in our living room, on a night that was convenient for us and someone brought banana pudding. Not box banana pudding, but like the kind your grandmother used to make. Is that so much to ask for?
Probably, considering that this church doesn’t really seem to reach out to people who have spent six months attending Sunday morning service and not participating in any other activities.
No one even called us and asked why we weren’t at the fall festival. Sure, we’ve never given them our number, but google it. And then help us connect.
I thought this church was going to be different. I thought it wouldn’t be like the last three churches we attended. Remember those three? Always saying, “Please stay for lunch and learn about the church. Please let us know if you have any questions. Please come to our first time visitor’s luncheon.” So annoying.
What’s that you say? Where are we serving at the church? Serving is a great way to get connected and plug into a place that is ultimately a two way street of people loving and giving and growing together? Even something as simple as handing out bulletins can jump start new relationships with new people? Ugh, that sounds like a lot of work. Quit judging us.
And start connecting us.
We’re having a hard time connecting at this church.
I've had more than a few odd experiences in my thirty-plus years of public ministry. The bride who showed up for an outdoor wedding in a pinned-up lace tablecloth as her gown. The odd crunching sound as a funeral director closed a casket (was the casket a size too small?). The Christian kids' show host who called the kids in the studio her little "sugar boogers."
But perhaps the strangest was the young man who insisted on meeting with me at Kofenya coffee shop in Oxford, Ohio (which I think was the meeting that gave rise to my general rule that I would never again meet with someone without knowing the purpose of our meeting). A few minutes into the conversation, he told me he had a prophecy to share with me.
I don't remember what his prophecy was, though. In fact, he may never have gotten around to it, because I started asking him questions and soon discovered that he was David.
Not metaphorically. Not symbolically. As I probed and prodded, he revealed that he was THE shepherd-king of Israel, David son of Jesse, the forebear of Jesus the Messiah, who slew Goliath and sinned with Bathsheba.
My skin started to crawl. I did my best to reason with him, to ask searching questions, to ask why he thought this, etc., to try to lead him to recognize the theological and biblical difficulties inherent in his claim. He would have none of it.
Finally, I just leveled with him. I remember saying something like, "I believe I can say to you, in Jesus' name, that you are NOT King David. But I can also tell you that whoever you are, you are loved with the same love as God ever loved David." I think I also urged him (as David did with Nathan) to make himself accountable to someone older and farther along in the faith than he. It did no good. He was incensed that I would speak to him that way, and fail to be impressed by his claim. He told me that I was disobeying God and standing in the way of prophecy, or something like that. We parted abruptly. And I was creeped out. And very, very sad.
I think that ranks as probably the strangest "pastor" experience I've ever had. I don't know if I'll ever forget it. It disturbed me for many days and drove me to heartfelt prayer for him. But to my knowledge, I never saw him again.
What about you? Any strange pastor tales to tell?
It's a good thing because it is a refreshing, creative, impossible-to-categorize story of Matt's search for the real Jesus, rather than the imaginary Jesus (or Jesuses) of his own creation.
It's a bad thing because it's kind of too bad more writers and publishers don't take flights of fancy (and profundity) like this.
It's a good thing because it was so enjoyable and absorbing, I actually cancelled some of my plans for the day so I could keep reading, and finished it in less than twenty-four hours.
It's a bad thing because I'm self-employed, and I don't get paid to read.
But it's a good thing because Imaginary Jesus exposes as frauds some of the many Jesuses-of-our-own-creation and makes the reader hungry to find the REAL Jesus.
It's a bad thing because, in the process, he steps on some toes. Toes that need stepping on, sure, but it still hurts.
It's a good thing because it's often laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally moving and profound.
It's bad, though, because....well, I didn't write it. I hate that.
It's good, though, because...well, you should read it. You really should.