Open Letter to the Wearied Pastor

I purposefully write this article to you on a Monday morning because that is when a wearied pastor needs it the most.   Every pastor I know has at one time slouched in his desk chair on Monday morning feeling completely exhausted both mentally and physically.  Sometimes you suffer from Monday fatigue because you had a marvelous Sunday which led you to a “good tired”.  However, there are other weeks where your fatigue is mostly emotional and spiritual.  Maybe for you attendance hasn’t been good lately,  tithing is down,  deacons meeting didn’t go as you would have preferred, you feel as though you “swung and missed” on the sermon yesterday and you have a difficult counseling appointment coming to your office this afternoon.  I have been there.

You are not alone in your weariness. Focus on the Family indicates that 90% of pastors work more than 46 hours a week.  75% of pastors report they have gone through a significant stress related crisis at least once in their ministry. 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job and 40% report a serious conflict with a church member at least once a month. (Pastors at Greater Risk, H.B.London and Neil B. Wiseman). For these and many other reasons pastoral tenures are down and the number of pastors leaving the ministry is at its highest rate in many years.  Another study found that 45.5% of pastors say they have experienced depression or “burn out” to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. (The Parsonage, April 2002).  Don’t be a statistic.

I offer to you, my wearied pastor friend,  3 scriptural reminders:

  1.  God has placed in your heart an irrevocable calling .  No matter how bad things seem or how low you feel, the calling of God on your life is not impacted or lessened during difficult days.  I was told early on in ministry that there would be rough days where I would need to hold on to my calling a little tighter than usual.  Out of the billions, God has called a few to do what you do.  It is the highest privilege known to man. In speaking of his ministry Paul says to the Corinthians, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6).  In the 4th chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul is reflecting on the purpose and passion of his call to ministry.  He compares his calling to a “light shining in his heart” which is likened to the moment God called light out of darkness in Genesis.  Paul states that his ministry calling includes the same Glory that shown on the face of Christ at the transfiguration!  In verses 7-12 Paul lists his various struggles in ministry all leading to the peak of this passage, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (16-17).  The surpassing Glory of God which empowered Paul’s calling was glorious enough to overwhelm the worst of his situations which led him to exclaim, “That is why we never give up.”  Though your body is fatigued, your mind exhausted and your spirit feels crushed, the calling in your heart is as glorious as the first light of creation and the face of Christ on Mount Hermon. On my toughest days in ministry I often go back to that day when I felt the assurance of his holy calling on my life. Ministry can get messy and complicated. There are times I have to go back to the place of my calling simply to be reminded of the powerful truth that God chose me.
  2. God placed you in his hand with an inexhaustible grip.  There is an unseen hand holding you.  On your worst days he holds your chin up, while you are in the pulpit he holds your spirit up and on your most stressful days his grip will grow even tighter.  As John writes to the 7 churches in Asia Minor he writes about his powerful vision of our victorious Lord.  In the midst of his description is a great reminder of the love that Jesus Christ has for his pastors.  “He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his Countenance was like the sun shining its strength.” Revelation 1:16.  The “seven stars” in his right hand were the seven pastors of the churches to which he was writing.  He is not seen here simply watching over the pastors or keeping them in close proximity, he is holding them in his right hand. His right hand signifies his eternal strength and the fact that he is holding these pastors in his dominant hand should give us great encouragement as his under shepherds.  When ministry gets tough I often picture myself as a child in the midst of a hurried crowd, holding a tight grip to my father’s hand.  However, the visualization becomes more scriptural when I recognize that I am not holding his hand, I am actually nestled in his hand. It is a place of protection and ownership.  It is also a sign that he is using us for his glory. It is in our dominant hand that items are used most effectively, so it is with us in the hand of Christ.   Paul gives us the same picture in Philippians 3:12b, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”   At the time of your calling Christ Jesus took hold of you.  He has you in the palm of his powerful, protecting hand.  Take a deep breath, sit back, pray and enjoy his presence. In the quietness of that moment you will sense his strong grip.
  3. God will one day place on your head an incorruptible crown. “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly–not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.” 1 Peter 5: 2-4.  Though I don’t pretend to understand or comprehend, Peter looks to a day when our Great Shepherd presents to us a crown of glory.  There are many crowns mentioned in the Scripture, but this one in particular is reserved for faithful church leaders. I know there are days when your head is spinning with tasks and other days when your head is overwhelmed with burdens.  Yet, I can guarantee there is coming a day when your head will be crowned with glory.  Is pastoral ministry worth all the stress?  Would it be easier to quit and do some thing else?  Maybe.  However, on your worst days reflect on the truth of this verse and the reality that it represents.  This is not just some story or something to make you feel better about ministry.  My wearied pastor friend, don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t lose heart.  One day in eternity the very one who you have preached about, prayed to and spoken of will take those nail scarred hands and place a crown on your head.  You have preached about his glory but one day he will share it with you in the form of an incorruptible crown.

Tear up that resignation letter and do away with those thoughts of quitting.  Your calling is grand, his grip is great and your future is crowned with an incorruptible glory.  Keep a tight grip on the Gospel plow!

5 Qualities of Effective Church Leaders

 

It seems these days I have become a professional observer.  For years as a full time pastor, I was totally engrossed with my own church.  I was aware of other great ministries and admired many great pastors, but I never had the opportunity to study them and find out what made them effective.  When I came to Samford all of that changed.  I now, through the day-to-day obligations of my job,  have the opportunity to see healthy churches and effective leaders up close.  Yes, I am a professional observer.  When I find a church that seems to be doing effective ministry, I ask a lot of questions of the leadership.  I want to know what it is that is working and the qualities possessed by the pastor and leadership that bring it all together.  Based on hours of observation and tons of conversations with the top church leaders of my denomination I have noticed a pattern.  Five distinct qualities have emerged:

  1. Passion–  I am not talking about a manipulative enthusiasm that works church members into a frizzy.  These leaders are so passionate about their faith, calling, ministries, and future opportunities.  It is an authentic passion that comes across through normal conversation and everyday activity.  They are generally positive, optimistic and excited about God’s work in the churches they serve.  When I speak with other people about these church leaders I consistently hear, “I love their passion.”  People are naturally attracted to leaders like this because they feed off the passion these leaders project.  So many of our churches do not have passion because the pastor and church leaders are simply going through the weekly grind, marking off spiritual check lists.  Passion in the pulpit, passion in prayer, passion for disciple making and a passion to see Jesus Christ do a work in their midst each week. These are a few of the marks of effective leaders.
  2. Dedicated learners– Almost all of the effective church leaders I know are voracious learners. They read copious amounts of books, frequently listen to podcasts, regularly attend seminars or workshops, visit websites and blogs and are dedicated to knowledge.   They might not always agree with the authors or follow the latest ideas, but they certainly want to hear about them.  I recently spoke with one church leader who makes it his goal to read 2 books a month.  As director of the Ministry Training Institute at Samford I am always amazed at pastors who have terminal degrees that enroll in our online courses.  They don’t register because they need more credentials, they do it because they have an intense hunger to learn.  I am convinced that when church leaders stop learning they stop growing.  If they stop growing the church they lead suffers.
  3. Fresh Vision–  These leaders are never satisfied with the mundane or content with the status quo.  They are continually striving for freshness in their preaching and leading.  Many of them have impressive pastoral tenures, yet they have managed to not grow stale or fall into a rut.  They annually hit the reboot button and cast a new exciting vision for the future of the church.  Their souls are ever before the perpetual spring of living water asking God to replenish and refresh them with a new passion and vision from heaven.  They rarely use old sermons because they have such a freshness and excitement about what God is doing among their membership.  Contentment is the enemy of freshness and vision.  You will never see these leaders in a state of contentment.
  4. Investing in Relationships–  They genuinely love being with their congregation.  There is a joy in the relationships they have established in the church.  Most of these leaders regularly meet with a small group just to have the chance to equip and invest. Being with church members is not a chore, it is a joy.  They also heavily invest in relationships with other church leaders.  Effective leaders regularly network and share ideas with other church leaders.  Nothing thrills them more than investing in another minister or mentoring a younger leader.  There is an underlying belief that Jesus Christ invested in relationships and unless they are doing the same, there is something lacking in their ministry.  However, without a doubt the number one relationship they invest in is their family.  Every effective leader I know takes off days and time away to be with kids and spouse.  They have fun vacations, movie nights, golf outings or just evening walks with their spouse.
  5. Vibrant Spiritual Walk– These effective leaders feed their church members from the overflow of a vibrant walk with Christ.  Accountability is always evident with other believers and they spend much time in quiet places with the Lord.  Every effective church leader I know inspires me through their genuine walk with Christ.  Acts 4:13 tells us how the Sanhedrin recognized the Apostles as “men who had been with Jesus.” I could say the same about these church leaders.  It is obvious that they have spent much time with Christ.  They take Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10 as a call to arms, “I want to know him and power of his resurrection.”  The vibrancy of any church is usually connected to the vibrant faith of the leaders that spend hours in communion with the Lord.

Old Wineskin Baptist Church

One day some people said to Jesus, “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?”Jesus responded, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Then Jesus gave them this illustration: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t even match the old garment. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.” Luke 5: 33-39. 

Jesus was a radical. When he came onto the scene, he made everything new. He came with a new message, a new approach, a new way of worship, new spiritual language, new illustrations and new radical methods.  The story of the gospels is the clashing of the old way and the new way.  The old way was represented by the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, the rabbinic law, the temple and the structured formality of religion and religious practice.  The new way was personified in Jesus Christ himself.  He had a new message of grace. He brought new methods in order to reach people.  He ate with the sinners, he would speak to the Lepers, he would acknowledge the faith of a Roman officer while at the same time publicly accost the religious leaders. He taught in a new way using parables and illustrations. He discouraged religious acts and encourage holy living.  He was resented by the traditionalists of his day.

In Luke 5, Jesus is being confronted by the Pharisees and teachers of religious law on the way his disciples shun the old way of doing things. The practice in question was fasting.  They demanded legalistic ritual, Jesus desired loving devotion.  He gave them an illustration to explain his view on the new way of doing things.  The old wine skins represent the legalism of the Jews and Pharisees, the new wine represents the new covenant that Jesus came to secure with man.  His new wine was the message of salvation.  He would later tell his disciples, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you, an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you.” Luke 22:20.   Notice what Jesus said was the claim of the Pharisees, “the old is better.” Most pastors have heard that phrase from well-meaning church members.

Not since the protestant reformation has the church faced a more crucial time that right now.  Speaking in his book of the condition of the church Reggie McNeal of the Leadership Network says, “The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order.  The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out or when the remaining three fourths of the older generation dies off.”  He says that 80% of money given to congregations comes from people fifty-five or older.    It is estimated that more than 350,000 SBC churches are in need of revitalization.

The church is not doing a good job of reaching younger generations. 52% of people born before 1946 report of regular church attendance.  Contrast that by the generation born between 1961-1981 which shows only 36%.  The number of households who reveal “no religious preference” continues to rise. George Barna reports that the unchurched population has grown from 24-34% in just one decade.  Dawson McCalister, national youth ministry specialist, says that 90% of kids active in high school youth ministries do not attend church by the time they are Sophomores in college.

It is my belief that too many churches are allowing the wine to be wasted through outdated methodologies and inflexible structures.  The result is predictable, we are not effectively reaching the next generation. Too many churches are putting the gospel message in worn out wine skins.  Old Wineskine Baptist Church will continue to do the same things year after year with little to no effect, merely patching are patching up old garments. V.36.

Do you attend Old Wineskin Baptist Church?  You could be an agent of change to turn your church around! A couple of thoughts on the current condition of many churches:

1. The ministry approach (methods) must be relevant to cultural changes.   By methods I am referring to the type of wine skin that is holding the wine.  Are the methods of ministry in your church merely worn out wineskins? Are they effective?  Does your church do an effective job of reaching your culture and community?  Is your church trying to win souls or does it spend most of its time keeping the saints happy? Does your church have a healthy mix of young and old?

Jesus used new methods to reach his culture.  If it took feeding five thousand he would do it.  If he needed to break up a good funeral, he would do it. If it took eating with tax collectors and prostitutes to reach them, he would do it. If it took feasting instead of fasting, going to the well instead of going to worship, he would do it.  The world Jesus entered was crying out for something new.  They had tired of the old way of doing things and were hungry for the new bread he offered.

Old Wineskin Baptist continues to use the same methods and asks the culture to come and be a part of it.  That rarely happens. Effective churches do a great job answering the question, “what will most effectively reach this new generation, this community, this culture?”

2. Our culture is desperate for the Gospel.  Many churches are not effectively sharing the message. In Luke 5,  Jesus was very descriptive about the importance of the new wine.  He knew that the people around him desperately needed a drink of that wine.  They needed to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Today’s culture is thirsty for truth. They are hearing messages like, “All religions are good,  you just need to find the one that fits you. Just try to be the best person you can be and everything will be fine.”  These philosophies are dead ends. Americans are more spiritual than ever and more disconnected from the church than ever.  The sad truth is that People are leaving the church in order to find spirituality.

America is confused on what being a Christian means. Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Resources, led a study on the beliefs of people who claimed to be “born again Christians”.  In the study he asked two questions, Do you know for certain that if you died today you would go to heaven?  And he asked, If you were to die today, what would you say to God if he asked you why should I let you into my kingdom?  5,200 people were interviewed.

Only 65% of people born before 1964 responded with the correct biblical answer.

Baby boomer generation (born before 1964) 35% gave the correct biblical response.

Baby buster generation (born before 1976) 15% gave the correct biblical response.

And sadly of the Baby Bridgers generation (born before 1994) only 4%.

These are people who claim to be Christians and don’t even have a good theology on salvation.  How much more confused are the unchurched in our culture?  People are desperate for the message of the gospel.  Yet, yearly more than 25% of SBC churches baptize zero people within the church year.

The Christian church in America is in trouble.  Where will the church be in fifty years?  In twenty years?  We had better be open to the idea that new wineskins are necessary. Our methods must change, our message must not.  What worked in the 1950’s doesn’t work today.  Stepping into Old Wineskin Baptist Church is like stepping through a time warp taking people back 50 years or more. How much wasted wine has been spilt simply because churches have refused to change the wine skin?

Are you one of those who says, “The old is better?”  Even if the old is not effective anymore?  Will your attitude hold the church back or encourage the church to move forward in reaching this generation? Are you willing to be an agent of change?  Old Wineskin Baptist will soon burst, who will be there to pick up the spilled wine?

How to Encourage your Church Staff.

 

staff

“I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2: 1-3.

That word agonized really stands out doesn’t it? The word is the Greek word Agon, which signified the feelings of a marathon runner in a contest. That was the way Paul felt toward the churches. He was in an inner conflict, a real struggle, as if he was at mile 22 of a marathon.

Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? 2 Cor. 11: 28-29

That word burden can also mean anxiety, uneasiness, constant care. Notice the emotions that it brought to Paul’s life. Weakness, anger, frustrations, or as the NET Bible puts it, ‘the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches.'” Paul is saying that his physical hardships are no more difficult than his constant concern for the people in the churches he started. Most will never understand the burden, the anxiety that Paul is speaking of. I truly believe that those who work in ministry understand his words.  Many ministers deal with the overwhelming feeling that they are not doing enough. Church members have the burden of maintaining their own walk with the Lord, a minister has the burden of maintaining hundreds. There is never a minute that goes by that ministers don’t worry about one of their sheep. There is always a marriage to help, always a sick person who needs a visit, always someone getting off the path of righteousness, there will always be conflict somewhere in the church between people. And somehow, pastors/ministers are expected to fix it all.  As pastors, we carry the burden, the anxiety because we have been called to carry these things. Our motivation is your spiritual well being, the advancement of the gospel and the overall health of the church.   Ministry is our passion, our purpose, our pleasure. Ministry is not the burden, it is God who burdens us for the sake of a lost world. The burden reminds us that our work in never accomplished. It was Jesus who stood over Jerusalem and wept seeing that they were “like sheep without a shepherd.”

Most people will go through this year without marriage trouble, hospitalization, job loss, death of a loved one or the loss of close friends. For a minister, we will sometimes help multiple people through each of these within a few weeks.

Let me give you some statistics put together by Focus on the Family:

80% of ministers believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.

50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.

40% of pastors revealed that they have thought about getting out of the ministry.

A few things you should know about your ministers:

We don’t walk on water. We have bad days, we fret over bills, we have fights with our spouse and we are not always model parents.

We see as many defeats as victories. We try to hide our defeats and celebrate the victories. However, the sad fact is that after 20 years of ministry I have had more defeats than victories. We are disappointed by people more often than we are encouraged by people.

We feel constant pressure to keep you 100% happy with your church. Like wild geese, church members are on the move. Fewer and fewer people choose a church or continue to attend because of biblical teaching or theological conviction. I recall a Sunday night conversation with one of my deacons who was speaking with one of our church families under his care. They told him they were “shopping around for another church.” I went home that Sunday night in deep sadness. It affects us and it feels very personal.  Pastors and ministers are passionate about their members and they pour their life into them, when they choose to leave the church, it is tough to overcome. Therefore, ministers fall into this trap of trying to keep everyone connected, excited and joyful over their church 100% of the time.

We serve distracted people. When your people are distracted through life commitments, they tend to put church as just another event on their calendar. Volunteers are harder to find. It is becoming more and more of a battle to even keep people attending on a regular basis.

What are some things that you can do to encourage your ministers?

  1. Pray for them. It is the prayers of your people that get you through the week. We need more prayer on Monday mornings than any other time. Monday’s are the hardest day of the week for most ministers. Ask them how you can pray for them.
  2. Love their family. Nothing is better to me than when a church member does something nice for my family.  Offer to babysit for a staff member so that they can take their spouse out for a date. 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse. The divorce rate for ministers is equal to the divorce rate of the average congregation. Take the minister’s wife on a shopping trip and buy her something nice. Give encouraging notes to their children or spouse. Celebrate family events with them by sending cards, letters or gifts. Don’t forget birthdays, anniversaries.
  3. Take something off their agenda. Statistics tell us that churchgoers expect their pastor to juggle an average of 16 major tasks at a time. Our schedules are often filled with emergencies, life crises, and unrealistic time demands. Find something that you can do to “lighten the load.”
  4. Be a friend. There are times when your ministers just would like to hang out with you. No strings attached. Don’t discuss church, don’t talk to them about crises in your life, don’t ask them about the church budget. Just take them out to eat, to a ballgame, on a hunt, etc..
  5. Have an appreciation for their time.  Most pastors have designated sermon prep time during the week.  Leave that time alone.  Don’t call after 9PM unless an emergency. Be sensitive to the fact that your pastor is probably at home trying to do homework with kids, giving baths, helping with supper and trying to be a parent.
  6. Just be an encourager. Over 50% of ministers say that they have experienced burn out or depression to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. 70% say that they have a lower self esteem now than when they started out. Commit yourself to be a constant encourager to your ministers.

Join me in celebrating the men and women who serve us in ministry.  We should not only show appreciation to our ministers one month a year.  It should be a consistent theme in our churches.

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 1 Timothy 5: 17

 

When the Shepherd Fails what are the Sheep to do?

The fallout from the public release of Ashley Madison users continues.  I have not personally viewed the list but I know those who have viewed it.  It has come to my attention that guys that I know and have served with can be found on the list.  Ed Stetzer estimates that over 400 pastors and staff members are among the website users which means over the past few weekends several churches have experienced deep betrayal, hurt and confusion.  While we want to throw stones at these men we also recognize that God’s grace and forgiveness is big enough to restore and redeem.  The shame is not that 400 ministers were caught, the shame is that 400 minister and countless more Christians neglected the most basic biblical truth found in 1 John 1:6.  “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”  We can fool our family and our church, but our actions are never hidden from the eyes of God.  He sees into the darkness and ultimately exposes our darkest secrets through the glorious splendor of his light.  Long before the “hackers” ever revealed the names, God knew each name and the hurt that would come from their ill fated decision. How thankful we are that following verse 6 comes verse 9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  If a person can willfully log into a website with the tag line, “Life is short, have an affair”, there is something seriously wrong, seriously missing within that person’s heart.  But God can restore! In light of the tragic news of NOBTS professor John Gibson’s death it is important for me to clearly state, God can restore, he will forgive and there is life after moral failure. The earthly consequences will be steep but the joy of forgiveness, restoration and grace point us to the love of Christ and the hope that never fades.  I pray for my brothers whose “secret” has been made known.  God can turn this failure into an amazing testimony of his faithfulness and transforming power.

But what of the church members, the sheep, who have had their hearts ripped out by the indiscretions of their shepherd? The minister’s family isn’t the only ones struggling through the fallout.  If Stetzer’s assumptions are true, over 400 churches are dealing with the indiscretions of their shepherd.  It is likely true that shock waves are reverberating through hundreds of churches and communities today.  Feelings of pervading sadness, betrayal and confusion are common in times like this.  What are the sheep to do when the shepherd fails?

  • Do not take part in the gossip.  As the story is retold it only becomes blurred and often the truth is lost. I know of at least one pastor whose name was found on the list not by his own doing.  A church member used the pastor’s name to log on to the site.  Thankfully, the church member confessed and the pastor’s name was cleared but the rumors and gossip mongers were already doing harm before the truth was actually revealed.
  • Your shepherd may have failed you, but the Great Shepherd will never fail you. Any church member who lifts up the shepherd over the Great Shepherd is destined to be disappointed. No man is above sin and every man will disappoint. As pastors we must not lead people to depend on us.  Every pastor must take on Paul’s mindset of ministry, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves as bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Cor. 4:5.  If a Christian falls out of church because their pastor or minister fails that person was likely not in a good place spiritually before the minister’s failure.
  • Churches are called to take care of those who are hurting.  The pastor’s family is grieving and they need faithful friends.  His wife will need someone to listen to her.  His children will need friends who will walk alongside them.  They will need some financial assistance in the coming weeks.  The pastor and spouse will need marital counseling and the church leaders can help to make that happen. Keep in mind that as devastated as you feel, the family feels it much more.   While the minister has failed, his family shouldn’t have to suffer neglect from their church.  Minister to their needs.
  • The church needs time to grieve together.  It is a mistake to just “move on”. It will feel as though a death has occurred and there will be a grieving process. Church members need a chance to express frustration and disappointment. The church is vulnerable in times like this and Satan knows it.  Spiritual warfare will be intense and the church will need to come together in prayer and unity.  Church leaders must give the church time to heal before moving ahead.
  • The leaders failure shouldn’t diminish what God accomplished through them. I remember speaking with a man several years ago who was doubting his salvation.  When I asked him what led to his doubts he shared how the man who led him to faith ultimately cheated on his wife and left the ministry.  He assumed that since the man wasn’t real the faith that was passed to him couldn’t have been real either.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  If God could use Balam’s donkey to give messages to his people, then obviously the vehicle for the message is not the most important quotient. God works through broken people every day, all the time.  It would be a mistake for the church to throw out every victory for the sake of one defeat.

There is life after the failure of a minister, both for the minister and the church.  It is a shame that so many of God’s shepherd’s have failed, but it would be a greater shame for his church to fall back in defeat because of it.

Myth Busters: Debunking the 5 Most Common Myths of Serving the Church

 

…from the whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which EVERY PART DOES ITS SHARE, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. -Ephesians 4:16

I admit that it really rubs me raw. The common excuses that I continue to hear from church members on why they can’t serve the church are likely universal in church life.  Church has been created to be, and must be, a ALL IN kind of place.  I always heard the 80-20 ratio about faithful church workers but didn’t want to believe it.  Now I am fully convinced that most of our churches have 20% of the people doing 80% of the ministries.  Of the 20% of the people who are serving, many of them are paid staff.  Finding a church member who knows their spiritual gift and is actively using it without continual grumbling is becoming a rare thing these days.  Too many Christians are using the same worn out excuses and it is time the DEBUNK the myths of church service!

Myth 1. If you have little talent, then God can’t use you to serve the church.“God can’t use me.” Oldest excuse in the book. It goes all the way back to Moses. He too argued with God about his usability. “But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” Moses asked God. “How can you expect me to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt?” God told him, “I will be with you.” Exodus 3: 11-12. What made Moses effective was not his ability. It was God’s ability. Notice God says to him, “I will be with you.” That is how you will lead the people. God didn’t say, “Because you are an incredibly gifted, talented man I will be able to use you.”God used a shepherd boy named David to slay Goliath. He used a goat herding guy with a speech impediment to go to Pharaoh. He used fishermen and tax collectors to start the church. He used a Christian persecuting, gentile hating, over zealous Jew to spread to gospel all over the world. Don’t tell me he can’t use you. When we say things like that we limit God. God is not limited by your inability, you are able because of his supernatural ability.

Myth 2. As you get older you can serve the church less. The older people sometimes say, “That is what young people are for. They have more energy. I have served my time.” Caleb would not like that excuse. Joshua 14 & 15. An 85 year old man, still believed in the promises of God and also believed that God could use him to clear a mountain for God’s glory. There is no retirement age in church ministry. You may not be able to do what you once could, but you can still do something.  As I look back over my ministry as a pastor I can honestly say that some of my most effective volunteers were senior adults.  With many of our churches made up of folks over 60 we cannot afford to have our senior saints not be involved in ministry. They have wisdom and experience that can make them more valuable and more capable than younger volunteers.

Myth 3. This church doesn’t need me, they have plenty of people who can help. If that were true then churches wouldn’t continually beg for workers. Recently I was at a church that in the past had a dynamic ministry of community support groups. I personally knew of people who came to Christ as a result.  I was shocked as I asked a member how the ministry was going.  Their response, “We don’t offer that anymore.  We couldn’t find enough volunteers.”  There is much more to do than we have man power for. In Luke 10:2 Jesus stated it best when he announced, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” We have so many who are doing more than their share, who need some help. You can take a huge load of someone just by volunteering to help them out. One of the best things you can do is to approach one of your ministers and say, “Where can I offer the most help?”  After he picks himself off the ground he will likely point you to a ministry that is in desperate need of your giftedness.

Myth 4. When I get too busy with other things I can let my service at church slide. Let’s talk about those “other things” that are making you too busy. I know how it is. I have four children. They are all involved in activities, school and social events. That is important. But when you say that you are too busy with other things, do those “other things” have kingdom value? Matthew 6:33, “he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the kingdom of God your primary concern.” “Primary Concern.” When you say things like “I am too busy with other things to serve at church.” Don’t you basically admit that the kingdom of God is not your primary concern? I know we are all busy. I don’t want to make light of that. Andy Stanley had a great comment related to that, “Too busy to serve at your local church? Every Sunday you are served by people who are likely busier than you are.” -Andy Stanley.

Myth 5. Ministers are paid to serve, members are to sit back and watch. Eph. 4: 11-12. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  Did you know that Paul says one of the most critical components of church growth is for the ministers to equip and the people to serve? It is right there in black and white. Ministers encourage, Ministers build you up, Ministers equip, but every church member is called to serve. God has not called you to be a cheerleader for your ministerial staff, cheering them on from the sidelines while they battle with exhaustion and emotional burnout.  GET IN THE GAME! Enter the ministry!  The paid staff isn’t the only people in your church with spiritual gifts.  It takes all of us to reach the world.

The Greatest Sign of a Healthy Church may not be Baptism Numbers

How many baptisms has your church had this year?  Pastors hear this question all the time.  It is a figure that gets prominent attention when the annual church profiles are released each year.  Pastors get bigger churches when this figure is up, they are more respected by peers and can even win denominational awards.  Yet, this is likely not the most important statistic.  It is important, don’t get me wrong.  Baptismal numbers are more than numbers, they represent someone whose life has been changed.  However, it could be that the greatest sign of a healthy church isn’t baptisms.  Go back to Matthew 28: 18-20 and reread the Great Commission. This statement from Jesus has become the utmost purpose for the Christian church for good reason.  It was his final edict to his followers before ascension.  Yet a closer look at the statement redefines traditionally held beliefs about the focus of this commission. We have used this as a rallying cry for evangelism and boosting baptismal numbers in our churches, but the intent of his statement wasn’t for the church to simply go and baptize new believers.  The commission isn’t for converts, but for disciples.  He clearly says, “Go and make disciples…”  Yes it begins with belief and baptism but Jesus is calling for a clear well defined process and not only an event.  The church is called to make disciples, not simply converts.  He even explains the disciple making process as “teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you.”

A church may have 50 baptisms in a year, but more importantly than the baptisms is the process of disciple making that should be intentional in every New Testament church. It has been my experience that many churches don’t have a well planned process for disciple making.  Baptisms are seen as the goal, the end rather than the beginning of the journey for this new believer. A church may have 50 baptisms, but without a disciple making plan many of these new believers will simply become a baptismal statistic and never reach their full potential.  It is the highest privilege of a church to walk alongside the new believer, encouraging them, teaching them, training them and equipping them to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Every church should be a factory that produces world changing followers of Christ, valiant disciples that will in turn “give away” their new found faith to someone else. Great churches don’t just produce lofty statistics, they are building great disciples.  I will often see church profiles that have large numbers of baptisms yet little change in attendance figures. This is a sure sign of a church without a well defined plan for disciple making.

I want to suggest to church leaders that they train their church members to be disciple makers and mentors for new believers.  Each person who is brought into our baptistry ought to be matched with a mature believer who will walk alongside them until they are ready to do the same for someone else.  This creates accountability and assimilation into the body of Christ.  Church leaders must be intentional in the process and stick with it.  It is my belief that God will not judge our effectiveness not only by our baptisms, but more importantly by the quality of disciples that we are producing.