I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a pastor’s kid. I watch it from a close proximity but am still not sure what it is like. Some days my children do well with it and other days it is a struggle. They have the challenges of any normal teenager or pre-teen boy. Their life if different because they live in this fishbowl of Church leadership. Everyone knows their name, they see their actions and they hear the rumors about everything they do. I am sure it must be hard to live under the watchful eye of everyone while still trying to be a normal young man. I think my boys have handled it with grace and dignity, at least as far as I know:-)
While I know their life is not perfect I have noticed a few things that have been a blessing to our wacky life.
1. Accountability is not an option. When you live in a fishbowl you know everyone is watching. While this is a difficulty to some it is also a strange blessing. My boys know that their life and choices affect more people than just themselves. How would life be different if every young person understood the impact of their choices?
2. Ministry is expected. In the early days my boys got up with me at 5:00 am to help set up for our new Church in Iowa. Today they still help with setting up or tearing down for various events, they help with worship and are a part of almost everything going on at Church. They know they following Jesus means serving Him and not sitting in a chair doing nothing.
3. All people are valuable. My boys have been able to spend time with everyone from little kids to senior adults. They have spent time with those people who have special needs and those who are just … well … special. They have sat in with people of all ages, all types and all backgrounds. I love watching my boys interact with any age group at any time.
4. The enormous need for grace. My boys have seen some people at their best but they have also seen them at their worst. They have heard my horror stories of failures and disgrace. In those situations they have heard me speak of grace, pray for grace and celebrate grace. I hope it is burned in their mind that all of us need the grace of God offered through the cross. All of us.
I don’t know if any of this helps you with your parenting or grand parenting but these are the lessons in my life. I know my boys are not perfect and I do not expect them to be. I know their life can be hard and not much fun, but I am okay with that. My hope and prayer for my kids – and for your kids – is that they grow up to Christ following adults who will spend eternity with me in heaven.
My wife did not ask me to write this, in fact she will be mad at me because I did. But I accept that fact as I write these words because they need to be said. I was looking at my calendar and next month is Pastor Appreciation month. It is a month I feel incredibly awkward about personally. I kind of feel like weird uncle Larry who gets invited to the party not because anybody wants him there but because he is family and we have to invite him. I also feel strange about it because I get paid to be a pastor. God has blessed me richly with a weekly paycheck to do what I do. So I want to turn the tables for a minute and focus on the greatest volunteer I know in the Church – the Pastor’s wife.
From the outside it looks to be the most incredibly intense volunteer position in the Church. She is an intricate part of my ministry just by being married to me. She didn’t ask for this position, she didn’t apply for the job, she just inherited it by choosing to marry me. As a result of that one poor choice she wrapped herself up in the ministry of the Church deeper than anyone I have ever encountered. She loves and teaches other people’s kids. She tells me I had a good sermon, even when I know it was awful. She learned to play guitar just to help my ministry as a worship leader. She makes sure my children are involved in ministry. She encourages other people every chance she gets. She invites numerous people to Church. She spends her free time listening to me talk about Church and ministry. Her vacations have have often included church conferences or visiting a large Church “to see what they are doing.” She has shared her husband on a thousand nights with strangers whose lives are falling apart. She has never missed a Sunday because she was sick. She has followed me across the country in 6 different ministries. She volunteers hundreds of hours that no one ever sees. She leads, organizes, copies and cleans. I literally could spend page after page telling you of all the wonderful things she does.
On the flip side, for me it appears to be the most inglorious and thankless job on the planet. I have seen her endure things no one else has ever had to endure. I have watched her service go unnoticed and unappreciated for years. I have heard people criticize her without caring how she felt. I have seen her heart get ripped out as people devalued her friendship. I have wept for her as her dreams go unrealized. I have seen the hurt of a thousand disappointments. I have held her when she felt all alone though surrounded by people. Once again I could tell you pages of stories about the pain, heartache and misery she has endured just by being a Pastor’s wife.
I write all of this because I do not need your appreciation. I am called by God into this thing called ministry and Churches have been wonderful enough to pay me. My wife is a volunteer and she did not ask for her position but I thank God daily that I have her by my side. I appreciate and love her and I cannot thank God enough for her. I am sure that every minister feels the same.
Last Saturday I had two polar opposite experiences. I went to a conference at Ozark Christian College where I graduated in 1995. I haven’t been back to the campus since 2000. There have been a number of changes in the last 14 years. The chapel has had dramatic overhaul of the stage, carpet, seating and entryway. The I walked over to the building that used to be the book store and administration building. Now it is a really nice student center and a brand new bookstore. I could spend a lot of time writing about all the positive changes I saw on the campus and I only saw a few buildings.
After the conference my wife and I drove back toward Adrian and we took a little detour to where we lived right after we were married. In 1995 the two of us made our home in a little community where I had my first “full-time” preaching ministry. The Church put us up in an older house that a lady in the Church owned but she was now living in a nursing home. We arrived in the town and drove by the old Church building that looked about the same. Then we made a left and a right and there sat the old home. I am not exaggerating when I say that it has turned into a dump. The house has not been painted in 20 years, many of the windows were boarded up and there was junk all over the lawn. One window was crammed full of stuff like stuffed animals so someone must be living there. It appears no improvements have been made since the days we lived in it. As a result, it was now a house that should be condemned.
On one hand I saw a place that was changing and improving every year. On the other hand I saw a place that was unchanged and was deteriorating with every year. It was the fitting end to a day when I had visited the college for a conference on making changes in the local Church. We either change for the better or we deteriorate for the worse. Nothing stays the same – not colleges, houses, Churches or even people. My hope for my ministry is that I would be an influence for positive change wherever I go. I hope in 20 years I will not revisit a Church I have led and see a dump instead of place of discipleship.
I was watching an old episode of Law and Order on the TV the other night. The police were dealing with a radical extremist who happened to believe he was following God. What was interesting to me is that he was following the God of different religion and when questioned about it he said we are “One nation under God.” Now in my brain I take those words and I interpret them to mean “the God of the Bible.” This person did not hear it the same way.
All this had me thinking about a sermon I heard years ago from a great preacher. He talked about the generic God of America. He spoke of how we often refer to God in many different settings without making anyone upset. If someone believes differently they can just substitute in the name of their Deity for the word God. In this sermon he noted how different it is to say “I believe in God” and “I believe Jesus is God.” But at the heart of Christianity that is what we believe. We can nod in agreement with “In God We Trust” but we would get a much different reaction if we said “In Jesus We Trust.”
If you don’t believe me take a couple of weeks and test it out. Say to your family, friends and coworkers something about God and see how they react. Then the next week make similar statements about Jesus and see if their reaction is different. You might be shocked at the different reactions.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in God. I simply believe that He came to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. My God did not speak generically into the word He came personally so that we could know and understand Him. Personally, I think it is important for Christians to be clear about what we believe. Lots of people have some type of faith in a generic god but I have faith in Jesus as my God and my Savior. There is a world of difference.
Last Saturday I attended a conference at Ozark Christian College (my Alma Matter) about leading a Church through change. While the conference itself was good I began writing lessons and ideas in the margin of my notes. I ended up with several random lessons that I have no idea what to do with so I thought I would share them here. Maybe one will resonate with you …maybe not.
1. I am not a modern pastor. I looked around at several of the younger to middle-aged pastors and realized I do not fit in. Most of them had their head shaved, wore thick rimmed glasses, had a thin build and a button up shirt to show it off. They carry Mac computers and use cool looking smart phones. I looked in the mirror and realized that the fact I am balding is as close to them I as get. I believe part of life is figuring out who you are, but also who you are not. I am not cool or hip or whatever word people use these days.
2. I miss Church pews. The auditorium at Ozark is now filled with theater type seats. They are nice enough to sit in but I noticed one huge flaw. When the chapel (or Church) had pews you could create a buffer zone around you. Do you know what I am talking about? I would place my Bible to my left and other papers to my right and people knew not to get to close. In chairs, people sit right next to you because that is how they are designed. I need my space. I miss you church pew.
3. The wisdom of outside voices. When you are involved in any situation you tend to become focused on a few ideas and miss other ideas. That is why a counselor or consultant are so vital. We need someone outside of our situation to speak truth to us. This is also the hardest to hear because they do not know the rest of the story. What would people say you should change if they watched your life for a few days?
4. Great speaking doesn’t need PowerPoint. Our speaker for the conference was Jeff Walling. He is an extremely gifted speaker. He tried to use a PowerPoint presentation with his message to enhance it. It was a distraction. While I appreciate technology I want to stand up and say, “It is not always necessary.” I would rather have no technology than technology that is poorly done.
5. The idea of change is easy to accept, a transition is hard. Okay, this one came right from the conference. He actually said this statement or something like it numerous times. He spoke of the dream of leaving Egypt for Israel was a great idea, but getting to the Promise Land was something else. This is true of change in the church but it is also true of all change. A wedding is easy and a marriage is hard. A birth is exciting and raising a child is stressful. Wanting to quit a bad habit is powerful and actually quitting is extremely difficult. Wanting a better life or church or marriage or anything is a great step but making it happen is a long difficult process of change.
That is it for now. I hope something in there touched your heart or mind. I know I was challenged and encouraged on Saturday and now comes the tough part of doing:-)
I have been thinking a great deal about preaching and teaching lately. You have probably noticed this in my last weeks blog posts. Well, I am going to add one more to the list of posts on this topic. This idea hit me while praying before my last sermon. Literally every time I speak I take the time to pray in private before I take the stage. I will not tell you all of that prayer, but I am going to tell you one thing that I say repeatedly.
When I was in my first year of full-time preaching ministry I expressed to a preacher who was a bit older than me my feelings of inadequacy when I preach. You see I know my sins intimately. I know my moments where my faith lapses and I do some ungodly action every week. I know my shortcomings, my failures, the holes in my faith, the questions that haunt my soul and my feelings of faithlessness. Surprisingly he identified with my feelings and thoughts. He struggled with the same things. His life was sometimes lived contrary to his preaching. First, this was a shock to me. I thought he had it altogether. Second, he explained to about the funnel.
He said, “I view my life like a dirty old funnel.” He explained to me that a funnel has only one purpose. It is used to transfer an important item, like gas, to a place where it is needed. A funnel can be greasy on the outside, stained with the oils of use, but that does not make it useless. In fact, the value has nothing to do with how it looks as long as it serves its function. Then he took out a piece of paper and drew a funnel on it and he told me that he pictured it like this. God is full of goodness and truth and my job in preaching is to take those enormous ideas and funnel them into the lives of people. It doesn’t matter if I am stained as long as I get the message from God and get it to the people. He illustrated his point with several Bible characters like Abraham who lied about his wife, Moses who got angry, David who committed adultery and Paul who was a murderer.
His talk made sense to me. I am not the point of preaching, I am simply a dirty funnel God uses to convey his message. So every time I speak I literally pray the words, “God use me like that dirty funnel.” I have been saying that prayer for almost 20 years now and I am amazed each week that God continues to use me in spite of myself. It is amazing what God can do when we open up our life to Him no matter where we have been or what we have done. Be the funnel.
My children to do not understand why the song “Good Night Elizabeth” by the Counting Crows is my favorite song. According to iTunes I have listened to it about 300 times in the last few years. Now, before you run out and listen to it you need to know a few things. First, the Counting Crows are a band who was popular in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Their songs are usually non-sense with references to other songs they had written and various cultural events of the time. Then in each song they give you one line or one verse of deep meaning. The second verse of this song says,
We couldn’t all be cowboys
So some of us are clowns
Some of us are dancers on the midway
We roam from town to town
I hope that everybody can find a little flame
Me, I say my prayers, then I just light myself on fire
And I walk out on the wire once again.
This one verse touches my soul because it describes my life perfectly. Every week I say my prayers. Then I light myself on fire figuratively speaking and walk out onto the stage. Maybe this verse touches me because I heard a statement in Bible college from a professor who said about his preaching, “Each week I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” The reality is still there that every time I preach I put all of my emotions, my ideas and my beliefs on display.
Some weeks it is a small campfire on the stage and some days I light a bonfire in my soul. Yesterday was one of those days. I had practiced my sermon repeatedly in private with no real emotion. Once I started preaching, my passion for this topic took over. I noticed my voice getting louder and louder. I felt my heart race faster and faster. Then when I was done I felt this enormous crash.
I went and sat in my office thinking, “I hope I didn’t scare the visitors today.” Then I thought, “I hope that people didn’t think I was mad at them.” Finally, “Why did you I get so excited anyway?”
My conclusion is simple. This is a topic I am very passionate about. I see way too many Christian who just added Church to their list of things to do and have not transformed their thinking about life. My passion for this topic and my passion for people to experience all that God has in store for them collided in a loud forceful sermon.
I am still not sure how the sermon was received, especially by our guests. [I am not looking for a pat on the back or a kind comment here.] I am simply hoping that the one thing everyone sees clearly is that I have a deep passion to see people’s lives transformed by Jesus. In case you missed it, next week I will light myself on fire and walk out on the wire once again.
I believe God has blessed me with the gift of public speaking. I hope I am not completely off base when I say that. Twice in my life I have had church leaders say they had the gift of public speaking and then proceeded to speak and convince me otherwise. So I know two things with certainty – One, a sermon that connects is a gift from God. Two, we can overestimate our own ability.
With that said, if you think I have the gift of speaking then I want to take you behind the curtain and show you what the wizard is really up to. Each week is almost the same with only limited variations.
Mondays I come to the office and I try to avoid writing my sermon. I usually try to do any physical or busy work on Monday.
Tuesday is just the opposite. I take a title, text and topic that was selected months before and I dive in with both feet. Usually 4-6 hours of sermon work is done on Tuesday.
Wednesday is when I completely type in my sermon. Might take one to three hours. Wednesday afternoon I hope to make the first edit of the sermon before I go home.
Thursday I edit the sermon one or two more times on the computer. Often I preach through the sermon completely in the auditorium with no one listening.
Friday I stay away from the sermon and take a day off without thinking about it.
Saturday before I go to bed, I read through the sermon and make any final edits. Then I preach through the sermon in my garage. Usually that night I toss and turn and replay every word in my head.
Sunday morning I rise early and then preach through the sermon one more time before heading to the Church. If time permits I will stand in my office and say all the major movements out loud as a final test of my memory.
So by Sunday morning I hope to have written the sermon and edited it three times and preached through it three times.
Why do I tell you all this? Because while I do believe I have the gift of public speaking I also know it takes a lot of hard work to make each week happen. A gift from God is not something that we just do naturally without thought or work. It is a responsibility we are given to be developed to the best of our ability. Being gifted is only a part of the battle.
So how has God gifted you? What are you doing with that gift?
It is easier to tear down than to build.
It is easier to hate than love
It is easier to criticize than create.
It is easier to watch than to do.
It is easier to gossip than teach.
It is easier to complain than encourage.
It is easier to speak than serve.
It is easier to blame than forgive.
It is easier to follow my heart than to follow Jesus.
Oh Lord, Let us be a people who are willing to the difficult things.
A couple of years ago I watched the video of Ian and Larissa Murphy and their incredible story of love and sacrifice. You may have seen it and been touched by their story too. If you have not seen it, you are in for a real heart warming story.
This week I ran across an update on the two of them and a recap video of their lives. I encourage you to take 9 minutes and watch this video in its entirety. You will be glad you did.
You can also read an interview to accompany the video at Selma Wilsons blog post HERE