Thursday, March 29, 2012

Please Stop the Insanity!

Lest you be disappointed... this note has nothing to doing with the present physical fitness craze. So you may want to click off now.

I am writing not so much to air out the sour grapes of my own experience, but rather to expose an insanity I see in churches. By insanity, I mean... doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results. How long will this continue? How much more damage will be done before someone shouts... "Enough!"?

While there are many "insanities" in the church, the one in my cross hairs this morning is what I will call Pastor Replacement. Right or wrong, pastoral transition is a part of the church. Pastors come and pastors go for a multitude of reasons. My beef isn't with the fact that pastors leave, or even why they leave. However for clarity, I must interject, sometimes a pastor leaves because he no longer "fits." When this occurs, typically the church quickly forms a search committee and begins the covert operation of "finding God's next man for their church." And this they do with out any consideration of carefully and prayerfully analyzing who they are, what their mission is, whether they are on task, what went wrong (if anything) between them and their last pastor, etc. This I say is INSANE.

Think with me for a moment. Though the two are distinctly different entities, parrallells do exist between churches/pastors and college athletics/coaches. Occassionally a coach transitions. When this happens a new coach is sought out and eventually hired. When he or she takes the reins radical changes are often made. New systems are installed, sometimes new assistants are brought on board, and the work begin with a clear goal in mind... win games. Rare(and unsuccessful) is the school who would hire a new coach and then expect him to win with the existing systems and personnel. But this is exactally what many churches do.

Without ever once thinking the proverbial fly in the ointment could be their outdated systems and procedures, many churches seek to bring "God's man" on board to run their system, which may not be a winning (read mission accomplishing) approach. Of course this isn't discussed in the courting phase. So... the candidate is called and begins work only to learn, after some time, that the church who courted him isn't really interested in mission but is rather in love with "the way things have always been"... whether Biblical or not. Sometimes the difference can be worked through to a win/win, but more often than not, at this point (usually 1-2 years in), the battle begins... sides are formed and lines are drawn in the sand. Too often the outcome is carnage... colateral damage. And the community looks on.

It doesn't have to be this way nor should it. Before any church moves on to "whoever is next" let that church take sufficient time to examine everything... to ask hard questions of themselves. This will most likely require help from the outside... someone who isn't emotionally invested. Perhaps a consultant, or transitional pastor. It will mean they won't have a pastor on the field again for 12-18 months or maybe longer. But it will also mean the cessation of an insanity.

Note: I haven't written this to (or about) FBC Woodward from which I recently resigned. But there is probably something helpful here for them too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Struggle With The Black Dog

I'm writing from a top bunk in The Eagles Nest at an incredible and beloved place... Falls Creek... the largest Youth encampment in the world... a place where the exchange of death for life is a regular occurrence. It is also a place of renewal.

I am awake because I am pondering the question our wise Youth Minister, Mike Duncan, laid on us before calling it a day. After showing a dramatic video inactment of a timeless illustration, he asked, "What is your cage?" Great question.

I don't like to think of myself as being caged, but the reality is that I have been for now over three years. It's not that I've wanted to be caged. I didn't just say one day, "I think today would be a good day to be caged." Honestly, I hadn't thought about my condition in terms of being caged... until tonight.

My cage (the thing that has immobilized me, tormented me, bled out my joy, and provoked me to doubt everything but salvation) has been what Churchill referred to as "The Black Dog" of depression. There... I said it! Big D has been doing a number on me. If you're reading this, and now think less of a pastor whose confession is suddenly transparent, I pity you. I didn't go looking for the Black Dog, it tracked me down and, like a wolf circling its prey, pounced on me at the most opportune time.

It has been dark where I have been, but I am glad to say that I'm emerging from the darkness. I probably still have a ways to go, but I am rattling the cage! Christ in me, the hope if Glory, is my strength.

I do not know what the future holds for me or for the good people that call me pastor, but I do know Who holds our future. A because of Him, I can now see the Black Dog beginning to tuck his tail and hear his growl being replaced by a whimper.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trust and Obey

“Faith that is sure of itself is not faith; faith that is sure of God is the only faith there is.” ~Oswald Chambers

I wonder how many times we (Christians) have missed out on what God is doing because the timing seemed to be off or the circumstances seemed to be wrong? This isn’t anything new. Throughout history God has called His people to follow Him and seldom, if ever, has the “timing” and/or “circumstances” seemed favorable.

God called Noah to build an ark and told him a flood was coming… during a time in which it had NEVER rained! Noah obeyed even though it meant he would be greatly misunderstood and heavily criticized and the result was he and his family was saved.

God called Abram to leave his family and land to follow Him… without revealing to him any details. Abram followed God not knowing where, believed God not knowing how, and waited on God not knowing when. In doing so he became the father of a great nation.

God called Joshua to lead the armies of Israel against Jericho but outlined a CRAZY battle plan… march around the city a prescribed number of times and at a certain time the priests would blow on trumpets and the people would shout and the walls would fall down. They did as they were told and tasted the victory.

God sent word to Mary (read 14 year old girl who was not married and had never been with a man) telling her she had been chosen to conceive and give birth to the Son of God. Talk about inconvenient! Yet she responded with faith and the rest is HIStory

I could go on, but these great and true stories are sufficient to remind us that God’s call will very often come at a time that SEEMS inconvenient for us and may not make any sense to us. However, this shouldn’t surprise us. God consistently calls His people to do things that can only be accomplished with His power and provision, thus He alone gets ALL of the glory.

God is always on the move. And... He is leading us (Christians) outside ourselves and into a community of people whom He is seeking to save. The details are few and much of what is happening doesn’t make sense (humanly speaking). Let us not allow these minor issues to prevent us from living and moving by faith. Let us pray and seek wisdom from God and let us obey… even if it means we don’t know where, when, or how.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More Than Maintenance

The call to follow Jesus is about so much more than just being a good church member, which usually is interpreted to mean show up for meetings, give money, and serve in some capacity (give time) inside the walls of a building. Truth is… a person can do all of these things WITHOUT following Jesus anywhere! Among other things, following Jesus will result in “fishing for men” (Matthew 4:19). Yet, we are told that 95% of the people who claim Christ as Savior will NEVER share Him with even one person. If this is true, there are many people who may good at “doing church” but they are not following Jesus. And this is unfortunate, for those individuals, and for the people whom they rub shoulders with.

While it is good that we gather to worship, give tithes and offerings, and serve in maintenance rolls within the organization of the church, we must realize following Christ is a 24-7 lifestyle. Sunday service is good, but what about the other six days of each week? Studying the Bible on Sunday is fantastic… unless it ends there. Teaching a lesson on Sunday is noble… unless it ends there. Preaching a sermon on Sunday is helpful… unless it ends there. God help us to shake loose from the self imposed ties that bind us and restrict us from fully following Jesus!!

Think with me for just a moment… when was the last time you even gave serious consideration to doing what Jesus would do during your days AWAY from the church building? Who is the last person you even ATTEMPTED to present Christ to? When was the last time you actually MINISTERED to someone in Jesus’ name? Now contrast those questions with these… When was the last time you complained because things at the “church building” aren’t going the way you think they should? When was the last time you gathered in a group of 2-3 or more and voiced you disapproval over the “performance”, or lack there of, of a pastor, Sunday school teacher, or deacon? When was the last time you were offended because someone didn’t do for you, or for one of your friends, what you think he or she should have done?

Friends… my goal isn’t to offend you but to inspire you. We (all who know Christ) have been called to follow Jesus… to do as He would do, go where He would go, say what He would say, love as HE would love, and give as He would give. Following Him will require us to risk being uncomfortable, being criticized, and being misunderstood. Such was the way of Jesus and such should be the way of all who claim to know Him.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Make Sure It's Really in the BOOK!!

For most Baptist Christians, the battle cry goes something like this… “WE DO EVERYTHING by the Word of God! The New Testament is our guide for faith and practice! We live… and die… by this Book!” To which I would pose the question… “Really”?

Now before you say the word (heretic) think about my question. If you honestly spend time searching God’s Word for most of the common practices in conventional churches you will rarely find any of them. In fact, if you spend time tracing the history of most of our practices, you will soon discover that most of our religious habits are man-made choices. In fact, you’re likely to discern a pattern about the way that we “do things” in the church these days: If we do it, it’s probably not in the Bible as one of the practices of the early church.1

The truth is that MOST of what we do and call “church” has no precedent in Scripture, but has rather been brought in from culture. This in and of itself doesn’t make our practices wrong, but we must discerningly sort out those cultural influences that contribute to the integrity of Christian worship from those that detract from it.2 Our goal must be to be true to HIS plan so that we may become the people He desires us to be and that the church may be all she is called to be.

So what should we take away from this?

1. We should admit that much of what we have come to value as “the church” may not be all that important. Let’s be honest… much of what we value in our “church” is more about our comfort and care than about God’s cause and commands.

2. We should expect spiritual transformation (discipleship) to be occurring in our lives and in the lives of those we fellowship with. Being together (church) is not about membership and service to members, but rather it is about serving Christ (doing what matters to Him) together and becoming more like him in the process.

3. We should realize that most, if not all, of the excuses some church members use for not gathering/serving have very little, if any Biblical precedent. Every person who has surrendered to Christ follows Christ. The term “inactive member” is an oxymoron and cannot be found in God’s Word. If a person is walking with Christ, he/she WILL gather with a group of believers somewhere on a regular basis… whether things (without biblical precedent) go his/her way or not.

If we are going to say, “We live by the Book!” let’s make sure our walking matches are talking and that what we are saying is indeed in the Book.

1. Frank Viloa, Pagan Christianity?
2. Frank Senn, Christian Worship and Its Cultural Setting

Friday, April 23, 2010

Saturday is Coming.

Note: I do not know the original source of this article, but it speaks to me and I wanted to share it with you.

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday morning. Perhaps it’s the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it’s the unbounded joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable.A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the garage with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it:

I turned the dial up into the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning swap net. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap, with a tremendous signal and a golden voice. You know the kind; he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whomever he was talking with something about “a thousand marbles.” I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say.

“Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you’re busy with your job. I’m sure they pay you well but it’s a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. It’s too bad you missed your daughter’s dance recital,” he continued; “Let me tell you something that has helped me keep my own priorities.” And that’s when he began to explain his theory of a “thousand marbles.”

"You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years."

"Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3,900, which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now, stick with me, Tom, I’m getting to the important part.It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail,” he went on, “and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy. So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round up 1,000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside a large, clear plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear."

"Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away. I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life.There’s nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight."

Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure that if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time.It was nice to meet you Tom. I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again here on the band. This is a 75 year old man, K9NZQ, clear and going QRT, good morning!”

You could have heard a pin drop on the band when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about. I had planned to work on the antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work on the next club newsletter. Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss. “C’mon honey, I’m taking you and the kids to breakfast.”

“What brought this on?” she asked with a smile.

“Oh, nothing special, it’s just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. And hey, can we stop at a toy store while we’re out? I need to buy some marbles.”

Friend… you don’t have many marbles. So spend them well!

Monday, March 8, 2010

No-Go Showboat

I came of age in what I call the post muscle car era… the time of unleaded, limited, high priced gasoline. However, at the time my musical heroes were from the previous era… the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Songs like 409, Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down, Drag City, and No-Go Showboat, along with the fact that I had an inbred need for speed, drove me to own and drag some fast (for then) cars. It never really mattered to me how a car looked, but that she delivered when called upon did. One of the cars I best remember was a sleeper built and owned by my dad… a 1972 Duster, brown in color and devoid of chrome and the staccato sound that defined most “fast” cars of that day… a very normal looking, sounding car, until his lead foot would hit the floorboard. Some time, when you have time, ask Brenda about Ivan’s brown car… she remembers too. A no-go showboat she was not.

Well… enough about cars. Let’s think about life… a domain in which plenty of no-go showboats exist. I’m referring to people who are MORE concerned with the showroom (their appearance) than with the warehouse (who they are) and thus cannot respond when called upon to deliver what they’ve advertised. Such were the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day. In appearance they were very impressive, but beneath the carefully constructed and maintained facade they were something all together different. They were no-go showboats… noise but no performance… flash but no dash… hearers of the WORD but not doers. So, Jesus spoke to them about their hypocrisy…

You’re hopeless, you religious scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you are saints, but beneath your skin you are total frauds (The Message, Matthew 23:27-28).

These men looked good in the showroom but were busted in the warehouse. And Jesus called them out on it. Let us learn, at their expense, a valuable lesson... when we concern ourselves with the WAREHOUSE of life (who we are in Him) the SHOWROOM of life (our appearance) tends to care of itself.

No more No-Go Showboat for me…