Just Keep Plugging Away

Very few things in life are achieved with one big event. Most things are the result of committing yourself to the day after day grind of hard work. I once read an article about a band entitled something like “Twelve Years of Work to Become an Overnight Success.” Success is usually the result of years of hard work that goes unnoticed by most people.

This is true in every area of your life including your spiritual life. People who have a deep faith with great understanding and love have achieved that through a lifetime of daily practice. People who make a great impact are those who show up everyday and every week. There really are no easy steps to spiritual growth. There is only the commitment to small sections of time set aside to do learn, pray, serve and grow.

This is also true in Churches. Great Churches are often the result of years of molding the leadership, the preacher and the people. Kingdom growth is rarely the result of one big event or one skilled person. It usually comes after years of routine programs bathed in prayer and thoughtfulness. They are usually lead by people who have failed more times than they have succeeded. Years of work and experience are the key ingredient to most of the vibrant Churches I have encountered.

Every Monday there is this temptation to give up. I know there is for me anyway. Last week didn’t go like I had hoped. There were no big breakthroughs. No one radically changed their life for all to see. It was just another ordinary week with seemingly little results. Each week I have to remind myself that it is okay to feel this way.

The key word for most of us to experience growth in our lives is this one word: Persistence.

More Unsolicited Advice

I wanted to continue my thoughts from yesterday. I have been thinking of all the things I want to tell the graduating seniors my son included. Yesterday I gave 1-10. Here are 10 more.

11. Prepare for Problems – Have extra cash in your wallet, a flashlight in your vehicle, napkins in your glove box, stain stick in your laundry area, candles at your residence and a blanket in your trunk.

12. Read Your Bible Regularly – Small investments of time will add up over the years. By the time you are a senior citizen you should know almost all of what it says. I regret not starting sooner.

13. Use Technology to Connect Not Separate – Put your phone down and talk to people. If you must be on your phone, then text, email, Facebook, Facetime, play games with friends. Technology is not the enemy, your use of it is the problem.

14. Family is Special – Stay connected to them. Your grandparents won’t be here long. Your brothers will support you when no one else will. Mom & dad love you. Your inside jokes will make your life better and bring you joy. Their love and support will hold you in dark hours.

15. Serve at Church – A volunteer Church leader is worth more than gold and diamonds. Make your pastor happy by being a strong leader when no one else will do it. It will seem thankless for many years, but one day people will call you blessed.

16. Find a Hobby You Enjoy and Do It – This will bring you joy, help you to relax, give you something to talk about and it will connect you to people with a similar interest. Do this even if no one close to you understands it or supports it. In fact, that might make it more enjoyable.

17. Invest in People Over Pets – Pets are fine but they cost money and time. Never choose an animal over a person. I have strong feelings about this. (Know that saying this will get you in trouble)

18. Keep Encouraging Notes – It doesn’t matter if you save the email, copy the text, or hold onto the card. Whenever anyone encourages you, hold those words. Throw away or delete all criticism. Let ugly words go and hold the good ones. For years I did this backward and it made me miserable.

19. Enjoy Time Off – I once worked myself to death. It nearly destroyed my marriage and my relationship with my children. Then I left that job and no one really cared. I had killed myself for nothing. Don’t make that mistake. Work hard and rest well. Enjoy this life God has given you.

20. Pray Regularly – It doesn’t need to be long and drawn out. Thank God for food, family, friends, and all blessings you receive. Ask God for health, guidance and healing. Seek Him for direction with jobs, relationships and big expenditures. Develop a solid prayer life and it will keep you focused on the important things.

I know these two list have been a lot of material. I am also sure that I have missed some good advice. Comment about what I should add.

Unsolicited Advice

Tonight I am going to speak to a group of teenagers at a High School Baccalaureate service. I just finished my sermon and it is a short little devotional about the plans God has for us. While writing this sermon I thought of all the things I wanted to tell these teenagers. There is a lot of advice I would like to give them, but I am not sure they would care. In case they ever do, I thought I would share a little unsolicited advice.

1. The World is Small, Go See It – Growing up I thought the world was big and it scared me. Now I travel without a second thought. If you want to go somewhere, you can drive If not, there is a ticket that will take you there. Seeing the world will change your perspective on people and places more than you will understand.

2. Spend You Money On Experiences Not Things – You will never regret not owning that pair of shoes, but you will regret not going with your friends that one weekend. When you are older you will enjoy talking about all you have done far more than all you have owned.

3. Enjoy Your Youth – Run, jump, swim, stay up late, sleep in, eat some junk food, play, nap and generally relax. A day will come when none of that will be possible. You will miss it all.

4. Keep Your Mouth Shut – You do not know as much as you think you do. Listen and learn.

5. Buy Used – You do need some stuff. Avoid paying retail costs on anything. Garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets, discount racks and clearance items work just as well and save you a lot of money.

6. Give Generously – I keep extra cash hidden in my wallet for emergencies, usually they are not my emergencies. Give to needs as they come, especially to family and friends. Don’t expect repayment or you will be disappointed. Also give to Church, mission, a good organization you support, children’s programs and anything they truly helps people. Tip well too.

7. Avoid Debt – I put everything on a credit card for bonus points and free gifts, but I pay it off every month. Pay cash if you need to. Try not to borrow much except for your mortgage. The borrower is a slave to the lender.

8. Pay a Tax Professional – It just makes life easier. You do not have to keep up with all the laws and they will know deductions you never knew existed. This will pay for itself 10 times over.

9. Marry a Christian – I do not know if anyone who has ever regretted this decision. I know dozens of people who didn’t and regret it everyday.

10. Follow God’s Instruction – This will not be easy, but it is always best. This will help you avoid guilt and regret. The things the world offers you will leave you feeling cold and alone eventually. The people who spare themselves no pleasure are very seldom happy.

What advice would you add to my list?

Why I Strongly Support Children’s Church

Every week our Church asks parents to do something for one hour that I think can be the most valuable time of their week. We ask parents to sit in worship while their children go to children’s Church. I started this practice 20 years ago and I am a strong supporter of it to this day. Let me give you a few reasons.

1. It Eliminates Distractions – A small child of any age is a distraction. They distract parents from worship and the sermon. They distract everyone around them. People often argue with me about this and say, “They don’t bother me.” First, let me say that is not true. I watch you. You are distracted. Second, I will let you know that it distracts the preacher. If you do not believe this then you have never done any public speaking. One of our goals is to help people to focus on God for one hour.

2. It Helps the Children – We gear everything in Children’s Church for … children. In our regular worship I speak to adults. I talk about sin, temptation, cheating, and punishment. I talk about marriage and parenting and other adult topics that children will not understand yet. In our children’s area they get songs, lessons, crafts and even play time that is on their level. People tell me their children can handle the sermon. I tell them it is rare. Most children learn to sit still and be quiet because Church is not really for them. No wonder when they get older they say, “Church is not for me.”

3. It Reinforces Faith – One of the biggest push backs I have to Children’s Church is that people want their children to see other adults in worship. I tell them that is not what their children need. Children need to see and hear adults teaching them! They need to hear the words that their parents say being reinforced by other adults. They need to hear someone say the same things their parents say. Watching is not the same as learning.

4. Children Bring Parents – In today’s world children have a greater influence than parents. If a child says they want to do something then parents frequently bend over backwards to give it to them. This is true in all areas of life, including Church. If a child goes one time to a Church and they enjoy themselves they will want to go back. Soon the children are bringing the parents every week. The flip side is also true. If children are bored and unconnected then parents will have to drag their children to Church. One or two weeks of that and the whole family quits coming.

These are just a few of the reasons I strongly support Children’s Church. Now, it has to be a quality program for the kids to enjoy and learn. A ministry is only as strong as its volunteers. So let me encourage everyone to get involved in the children’s area of your Church. It might be the most important thing you do in your Church.

Monday Morning Blues

Everyone hates Mondays. I think this is especially true for preachers.

Every Monday I struggle with the work I do. From talking to preachers I find that most of us struggle with this exact same issues.

The sermon didn’t go as well as I wanted.
I second guess the choices I made in speaking.
The people didn’t show up like I hoped.
Attendance was down … again.
That family quit. I am not sure what is wrong.
I said the wrong thing and I think I offended someone.
Some of our volunteers didn’t show up.
Other people just didn’t volunteer.
The music didn’t go smoothly.
Their was a big distraction during the program.
People were sleeping.
It was too nice outside. It was too bad outside.
I hate holiday weekends.
Should I call or email that person?
What am I doing wrong?
It would be so much easier to just punch a clock for work.
I have to do better next week.
Maybe I will become a teacher. I like public speaking and I could have the summer off.
Better yet, I am going to start a professional speaking business.
God, should I quit?

I wish this line of thinking were not true, but for most preachers it is their Monday reality and it usually starts on Sunday evening. Now, before you start sending me encouraging notes or comments hoping for me to stay in ministry I need to tell you the other side of my Monday.

While every Sunday afternoon and Monday is an emotional roller coaster of disappointment and job security questions there is an upside. I find that I am continually amazed by God. Somehow He takes our flawed programs and my less than perfect words and touches people’s lives. He uses the morning to encourage, to strengthen and challenge people. Almost every week God shows up and does something that I wasn’t expecting. People grow in their faith, connections are made to other believers and God’s word is heard above my own.

I still hate going to the office on Monday for some of the same reasons as everyone else. But I do look forward to how God used Sunday to impact the world. Some weeks it feels like it was all a waste, but I have come to believe that God never wastes a Sunday.

Weekend Reading

There is a chance of rain this weekend. So if you get stuck inside here are some good articles to read.

4 Methods To Organize Your Prayer Life

The Number One False God in America

From Blueprint to Building in Your Bible – A helpful article comparing the Old and New Testament.

Should churches use air conditioning?

THE MODERN MAN AND HIS FANTASY WORLD

Something Rotten in the Local Church

10 Church Growth Strategies That Cost Zero Dollars

Transformation tourism

Never a Doubt

Most preachers that I know hate performing weddings and find more joy in performing funerals. Please let me clarify. One minister friend told me that at funerals he can minister to the family in their time of loss. He can pray with the family and speak words of comfort and hope. He further went on to tell me that at weddings people can be demanding and difficult to handle. I know a great number of preachers feel that same way.

I am the exact opposite. I have performed well over a hundred weddings during my time in ministry. Most of them have been a great experience for me. On the other hand, I have only performed a dozen of so funerals. Almost all of them have been hard on me. I think the reason is because almost of them have been for people I did not know.

Through the years someone randomly called the Church I served and asked me to perform a funeral for a person who knew someone, who knew someone who once attended our Church. Having no knowledge of the person always leaves me at the mercy of the family. They have to tell me about this person on every level. They tell me about family, friends, and hobbies without any struggle. Then comes the biggest question of all, “Can you tell me about their faith?”

With this one question the room usually grows deadly silent. People look at each other and then they stare at the floor. They stutter and offer half-hearted answers. Often they tell some story from years and years ago. Sometimes they have a story about a nice conversation with a hospital chaplain or hospice nurse. The bottom line is that they have no idea about what this person really believed. Usually their thoughts about eternity are based on weak threads of questionable dialog.

As a result of my odd experiences with funerals I have been able to reach one concrete conclusion about my life. I want to live my life in such a way that no one has to guess about my beliefs. I want there to be no doubt about where I am going to spend eternity. I want my family to be confident about who I am, what I believe and how I lived. I want my loved ones to know my favorite scriptures and songs that were important to me. I want them to speak with confidence about my journey with Jesus.

I hope the same is true for you when I am asked to do your funeral.

RePost: 15 Ways to Get to Know Church Members

I usually don’t just repost other people’s material. I usually wait and do a bunch of articles on a Friday as links, but I thought this info by Chuck Lawless was great.

It was really written for Church leaders but it has a wider application. Several are technologically related. Also, I think #10 works well on special days. #14 is not going to happen right now. The rest is very easy and would work. Enjoy –

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Do you struggle knowing members of your church family? Maybe one or two of these ideas will be helpful to you:

1. Friend them on Facebook. You may not always like what you learn, but you’ll know a lot more about some church members.

2. Go to their workplace. Men especially like to talk about their jobs, and you’ll understand better what they face each week.

3. Meet with them via Skype or FaceTime. Use technology to meet folks in their home, workplace, or university. You control the time, and your members remain in their comfort zone.

4. Follow them on Twitter. Again, what you learn may stress you out, but that’s part of shepherding people.

5. Learn to ask a lot of questions. Regardless of the setting, lead people to tell you about themselves. You can learn a lot about a person in five minutes of Q & A if you refuse to talk about yourself.

6. Have conversations prior to the service. Intentionally hang out with your people before the service begins. Those few minutes with you might make somebody’s week.

7. Create your own pictorial directory. Ask your members to send you an electronic picture of their family. Then, work on recognizing faces and names.

8. Pray for each family at least once per quarter. If you contact them to get prayer requests before you pray, you’ll know your people at a more intimate level.

9. Regularly attend small groups. Perhaps you already attend a particular group. That’s great, but you might also consider attending more than one group throughout the year.

10. Ask everyone to wear nametags. Readers disliked this idea when I first proposed it, but I stand by it. You’ll know people better when they help you know their names.

11. Teach the membership class. In what is often a smaller setting, get to know members when they first join. They want that time with church leaders.

12. Support children and student ministries. If you want to meet families – or learn about broken families – hang out where the children and students are.

13. Schedule a regular breakfast or lunch. That’s intentionality: planning time with a different member or family at least once a month.

14. Include video introductions on your church website. Let your families (all of them, including the long-term members) introduce themselves to one another and to the community.

15. Never do ministry alone. If you never do ministry by yourself, you wisely protect yourself from temptation while also getting to know somebody.

What other ideas would you add? What’s worked for you?

Jesus Care for People

I suppose I listen to sermons a little differently as a preacher. I listen for things that are not only true but also repeatable. As a result I remember a lot of statements made by preachers through the years. One of those comments that stuck with me through the years was a preacher’s description of how Jesus cared for people. This preacher whose name I don’t remember said that Jesus did three things to connect with people.

1. A Look – The first thing Jesus did was the most simple yet profound. In this world we have a tendency to overlook people and this was especially true in Jesus day. People who had physical problems or no family were left to beg for money from other people. They would position themselves in prominent places and plea for any gifts that people would give. I imagine that most people who had money would just ignore them after a while. They would avoid eye contact and begin to treat them as invisible people. Jesus stops and looks directly at them acknowledging their existence and worth. I think eye contact is as valuable today as it was back then.

2. A Word – Jesus not only looked at people he also spoke with them. He asks them questions and treats them as real people. In their culture only the opinions of the rich and influential mattered. Jesus stops and talks to everyone. He values people by speaking with them. When we stop and ask people about themselves it creates a sense of care and concern that runs deeper than mere words. Speak to people and listen to them.

3. A Touch – Jesus takes a cripple by the hand and lifts him up to walk. He takes a leper, who may have not felt physical touch for years, and he touched them. Obviously this has appropriate limits, but it still has value today. A handshake is a great start but it also includes a pat on the back and a hug when we are feeling down.

Too often we think of showing care for people as a time-consuming and draining task. Usually the things that matter the most are the little actions of kindness. Jesus frequently went on to heal people from whatever ailment dominated their life. I still believe that Jesus can heal people’s souls today but only if we first show the care of our Savior.

Ministry is a Mess

One of my Monday morning rituals is to walk around the Church dealing with the mess of Sunday. There will be cups setting in various places usually half full of coffee that was left by someone planning on drinking the rest. Trash will be found in every corner of the building. Dirt will be on the carpet. Frequently the trash cans are full and need emptied. Bibles need restocked on the table in the entryway along with mints and gift bags for our guests. Numerous items simply need picked up and put away. I am usually busy for at least an hour just doing a surface level cleaning of the Church.

That may not sound like a great way to start your Monday and I will admit that I don’t love all of it, especially clogged toilets leftover from the day before. I also find myself celebrating this time each week. This simple walk around the Church reminds me that we are doing ministry. People were here on Sunday. They drank coffee and got carried away in conversation. They had fellowship while eating something a generous person had prepared. People took home Bibles and gift bags. People came on Sunday morning and connected with one another and with God.

Doing ministry will leave a mess. A Church of our brotherhood in Seward Alaska closed its doors. I was talking to a minister who had been a part of the formation of the Church and helped it through its life. He was there from its conception to its death. He told me in a private conversation about how the building would sell fast because it was in great condition. The building had almost new carpet even after several years of ministry. Then he paused and said, “It really makes me sad. We had all these dreams of ministry and nothing ever happened.”

I know the other side of this story. Some people will complain. They will say that new people need to pick up after themselves. They should know better. People will complain about the dirt, the trash and the fact that the carpet is being ruined.

Personally, I praise God for the mess. To me it means that rough people who often have no Church background are coming. They are bringing their messy lives to Church and receiving the ministry of our Church. It means children are filling our building for a lesson and then running around while parents talk. I thank God that our building is full each Sunday with people who want to know more about him. Sure it would be nice to have less of a mess each week but NOT if that means fewer people.