Time is the New Currency (Even in Church)

Because we are living in a world that values busyness, money is no longer our most valuable possession. Time is the new currency. Honestly, money has become secondary for many people in the United States.

One illustration: Imagine your student comes home and they have two options for you as a parent. You can give $50 to a school project or two hours of your time. Which do you choose? Personally, I would give the $50, because I do not have two extra hours that I want to spend at the school.

Restaurants of all kinds are booming because we would rather pay than spend the time fixing a meal. In my area, mowing in the summer is becoming a big money-maker because of this concept. Cleaning businesses are growing as people don’t have time to clean their home. I could run this through dozens of businesses who are thriving because people would rather buy than use their time.

This idea is impacting you as an individual believer and the Church as a whole. Here are ten of the effects I see this is having on ministry.

1. Attendance Changes. People are attending Church less frequently not entirely because of a lack of commitment to Jesus and his people. It is because they have a few other good projects that are getting their time.

2. Volunteer Changes. The Church no longer has one person serve ten hours in volunteer ministry. Instead, there are now ten people who serve one hour.

3. Staff Changes. People are becoming more dependent on paid staff. Small Churches used to have one preacher and a handful of really committed volunteers. Now even small Churches have multiple paid staff to keep things running.

4. Discipleship Changes. I am finding it nearly impossible to get a small group of people to commit to a 6-8-week discipleship group of any kind. Anyone who signs up is now going to miss at least one or two of those weeks. Many ask if they can buy or download material to stay up with the group.

5. Preaching Changes. The Church must preach and teach about the stewardship of time more than money. Money is still significant, but not as much as time. I am currently planning a sermon series for next year on busyness.

6. Church Business Changes. It used to be that you could get a group of people together and have a work day. Those days are gone. Now our board is acting like a contractor to hire a company to do the work around the Church building.

7. Giving Changes. We now have people who use online banking and our online giving through the website. Several people attend infrequently but give regularly. They want to be a part of the Church, and they are using their money to try to do it.

8. Leadership Changes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find people willing to give up the time to lead the Church. The gifted leaders are already leading numerous other community organizations. They simply do not have the time required to help move the Church forward.

9. Attitude Changes. People view the time they donate to the Church differently. It is another part of their duty as a good person. It is seen less as a chance to connect with people for a lifetime together in Jesus as them fulfilling another requirement on their time.

10. Future Changes. I am continually reading about how Churches are trying to adjust their ministry to meet the current view of time. How do we help people to see time with God as a priority? How do we get people connected to other believers? How do we help people grow spiritually? If this trend keeps going, the Church of the future will have very few methods that look like the past.

I understand that all these changes will change again in the future. A recession, a war or some other big societal change will come, and everything will shift again. For now, I am trying to adjust the sails of the Church I lead to catch the current winds of change. Not all of this is bad, most is just different, but if we do not prepare ourselves as a Church, we will lose our children and grandchildren to the changing times.

Five Unwritten Rules for My Church Leadership

Through my years as a pastor of congregations, I have developed a list of rules that govern my actions. I have never written any of these down until now; they are just simple principles that guide my ministry. You might find them helpful in your ministry or to better understand how I work.

1. Never listen to anonymous input. Repeatedly I receive comments made on the connection cards that are dropped in the offering. They have ranged on topics from the style of music to the clothes I wear. When I see there is no name, I immediately throw it in the trash. If this person cannot confront me personally or sign their name, then it is worthless to me.

2. I don’t listen to comments that include “people are saying.” I have heard this more times than I can count. It always seems to be in the negative form. Something like, “Well, pastor a lot of people are saying they do not like the music lately.” Really? Who? Give me names? I want to talk to these people. And why have they not come to me personally like the Bible instructs? Usually, this is a veiled way for the person to share their feelings and they use plural pronouns to make themselves feel like the majority.

3. Watch actions over words. I have heard dozens of people tell me about how they can do this and that for the Church. They stress how they would make a quality leader if given a chance. They talk a good game. Honestly, I do not care what you did growing up, or at your last Church, I care about what you are doing now. Yes, you may have once been a great servant, but what have you done for the Lord lately. I want to see action not just hear about it.

4. Don’t assume anything. We all know the old joke about assuming. That is because there is an element of truth in the joke. I am not going to believe you will show up and help unless you tell me explicitly. I am also going to try to not assume you hate me just because you didn’t show up. It is easy in ministry to assume the best or worst in people. I try to function on facts rather than assumptions.

5. Move with the movers. I heard John Maxwell say this about 25 years ago. It is still a great piece of advice. I cannot spend all my time with people who have fond memories of the past. I cannot fill my head with the words of people who know how to talk a good game. If the Church is going to go forward, I must connect with the people who are moving forward. The majority of my time is spent with people who are growing, serving and inviting. Yes, I can make sure everyone is pastored, but my biggest investment of time is with people who “get it.”

I am sure I have other rules that guide me, but I only remember them as the situation dictates. These five rules have all been applied in my ministry in the last few months. Hopefully, these will help you in some way as you live and serve the Lord.

Three Thoughts for Parents of Graduating Seniors

Last night I was a part of the Baccalaureate program for graduating high school seniors. This is an attempt of our Ministerial Alliance to touch the heart of these students with some Christian thoughts before they head out into the world.

Last night, another pastor and I decided to both speak for 10-12 minutes on similar but different topics. I addressed the adults, and he spoke to the students. Today I would like to share what I said and hopefully, encourage a few more parents than just those who attended last night.

I focused my attention on the parable of the Prodigal son. It is found in Luke chapter 15, and I know it is not really a story about parenting. The primary emphasis of the story is about God and his love for his people. Personally, I do not think it is a massive violation of interpretation to take this story of God and see him as the ultimate parent portrayed in the story.

From God, we can learn three things about being a parent of graduating seniors.

1. Be Willing to Let Them Go. A man had two sons, and one wants his share of the estate. Unbelievably, the father grants his requests and gives him his share. Soon the son sets off to a distant land, and the father does not try to stop him. The parent in this story gives willingly without limitations or restrictions. I believe parents must be willing to let their children go out into the world without reservation. In an age of helicopter parents, this advice has never seemed more relevant.

2. Be Willing to Let Them Fail. This boy makes a mess of his life. He loses everything and ends up broke and hungry. The initial reaction can be something like, “His parents should never have let him go out on his own.” It was in this place of failure that the son learned a valuable lesson about life at home and the value of a dollar. His most significant mistake was also his highest point of learning.

3. Be Willing to Offer Unconditional Love. The boy messes up and heads for home ready to be a servant in his father’s house. Unexpectedly, the father runs to him and embraces him like a son. The mistakes are forgotten, and grace overflows into the situation. Just as God loves us unconditionally, so we ought to love our children.

Most parents have spent the last 18 years giving their children roots; now it is time to provide them with wings. Their success in life is based not just on how well we have done in the past but also how we handle this transition into the future.

The Difficult Task of Finishing

Every year I watch people get excited about some new project or ministry. They develop a plan of some sort, then gather the needed support, and off they go. Convinced they are going to change the world into a better place they venture out in the name of Jesus doing good work.

New beginnings are exciting. You can usually gather support quickly for a bold new work. People will admire your vision and your big heart. Others will applaud and tell you how proud they are of your work. Some will even sign up to help whenever they can. Leaders will pat you on the back. Good feelings will fill the air mixed with excitement as you can sense something significant is happening.

Also, every year I watch new ideas die. The plans were only to get started and not how to maintain. The support shifted as new ideas were presented. The world didn’t change; in fact, it seemed to change us as we encountered obstacles and bureaucracy we didn’t know existed. People stopped applauding, and the excitement waned as the work became a daily grind.

I can think of fifty people or more with great ideas. About half of them have the foresight to get things off the ground. Possibly two or three have the fortitude to see their work to completion.

Jesus asks a couple of interesting questions. Does someone build a tower unless he has the ability to finish it? Does someone go to war without first counting his soldiers to see if he can win? (see Luke 14:25-33)

The interesting part of these questions is the context in which they are given. Jesus is telling his followers the hardships they are going to encounter as his disciples. If they are going to follow him, it is going to cost their whole lives. It will affect everything including their family relationships. Jesus words are to people who want to follow him in faith. Do you have the strength of spirit to be a disciple through all of life’s difficulties?

All of us have watched people fail in ministry and business because they could not do the daily work needed to bring a task to completion. Unfortunately, we can also name several people who quit their faith because the did not have the strength to finish either.

I am reminded of this truth every Wednesday. This is the day I am grinding my way through life. The joy of beginning and ending are both far away. Today I do work that is not fun or exciting. I make it through today only by routine and commitment.

One of the things no one told me when I decided to follow Jesus is how much of it would feel like Wednesday. Days like this remind me just to keep doing the right thing. The race is not to the swift or the strong, but to those who work steadily to achieve their goal.

What God has Joined Together

My wife and I fought. A loud, shouting fight. We did not cuss at each other, but we got loud and expressed our mutual opinions emphatically. I know the neighbors heard and I sure it might have started a rumor or two. I don’t deny it. It happened.

In fact, if you want me to be brutally honest, it happens every few months. We argue. We fight and fuss. We reach a conclusion. We make up. We move on. I don’t think there is anything wrong or unbiblical about disagreeing with one another. We are two unique individuals trying to become one in Jesus as a married couple.

One day I was reading the Bible and came across a familiar passage. In Matthew chapter 19 Jesus is asked about divorce. Jesus gives a response to the questions, “Is it lawful to divorce for any and every reason?” His answer gives us a big view of marriage.

Matthew 19:4-6 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ (5) and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (6) So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus lines out the fundamental theology of marriage. God created men and women, and then he told them to come together as couples. This union included leaving your father and mother and becoming one flesh. Then comes the statement about divorce. They are no longer two, but one so let no one separate them. Jesus is against divorce and recognizes that when it happens, hearts are torn apart, and emotional damage is done.

This one time I finally noticed something that had alluded me for years. In the middle of verse 6, Jesus says, “What God has joined together.” Wait, what? I thought marriage was about signing government paperwork. I thought getting married was making parents happy and a demonstration of a lifelong commitment. I thought marriage was about pleasing God by having a union before him. That is not what the passage says. Jesus proclaims that marriage is about two individuals being joined together by God. When a couple has a wedding day, God is the one doing the real work. He is taking two and joining them together as one.

And because of that verse, I fight with my wife.

1. Because Divorce is Not an Option For Us. The Lord does not want us to be separated, and we are sticking to that decision.

2. Because God is the Center of Our Marriage. My wife and I have dedicated our lives to Jesus, and we are going to follow him together, even if it is not easy.

3. Because Some Things are Worth Fighting For. Couples that don’t fight are the ones in trouble. They have given up on working together.

Let me be clear; I am not writing this to make anyone who has been divorced feel like a failure. I think most couples will admit that the separation has been hard on them, but God is full of grace.

I am saying that God brought my wife and me together and no matter how difficult some days seem. We are husband and wife … end of story. If we are going to live together that way, there will be disagreements and struggles. Conflict is not the sign of a bad marriage; it is the sign of a committed couple working through their differences.

Thoughts that Stretch Us

There are three types of information that stretch me to grow as a believer and as a person.

1. Totally New Information. There is so much to learn in life, especially a life of faith.

2. Old Information Taught in a New Way. This is one of the genius methods of Jesus. The parables take many of the ideas found in the Old Testament and present them in a new way. Many times, the truth has slipped past us because of familiarity, a unique presentation can shake us and wake us up to new ideas.

3. Information from a Different Perspective. Sometimes I want to hear people who believe that exact opposite as I do. I want to hear how they view the world and how it makes sense to them. People like this push me to think through alternative ideas and thought processes.

Why do I tell you this?

I write this because it is easy for someone to slip into the trap of reading and listening to only material with which I agree. We read books we know we will like, by authors of similar thinking. We talk to people who have the same mindset as us. We listen to lectures and teachers who say things we already know.

My Monday encouragement is to stretch yourself. Talk to a person with which you do not agree. Listen carefully and ask questions. Read an article you know you will hate. Get a book that is not on your typical reading list. Expose yourself to information that will help develop your thinking.

To truly grow in your faith, you are going to have to move beyond what brought you here. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells of a seed and a soil that represent people and the gospel. One of them hears the word of God and receives it with joy, but because it does not have deep roots when difficulties come it dies. We must always be stretching our faith to its limits so that our roots will burrow deep in the soil.

Revive Us Again

It is one of my favorite old hymns. The title of the song is actually “We Praise Thee, O God,” but is better known as “Revive Us Again.” I have sung those words since I was a child. They received a special meaning for me when my mother told me that it was the only song my grandfather would ever sing.

Revival is a needed part of religion. There is this tendency for us to slide into complacency. Recently a couple started missing from Church. Our leadership contacted them to make sure everything was okay. They responded that all was fine, they missed a Sunday or two for illness, then they got busy playing catch-up and suddenly three months had passed. Without noticing they drifted away from faith without something to give it a quick recharge.

Churches used to hold annual revival meetings. A preacher was brought into the Church from somewhere far away, and he challenged and encouraged the congregation for a week or two. Usually, a new excitement was generated, and that light would carry the people through another year.

Over the years, revivals lost their appeal, and people looked to regain their spark at conferences and retreats. Once a year people will gather as a nation or region to hear someone preach a few messages to spark their spiritual life. Lately, even these have been losing their appeal, and only a handful generate much of a crowd.

Despite all our pushback, there is still a need for us to experience revival. Maybe it is a good thing that we moved away from an annual revival of any form because we need it more than once a year. It is something all of us regularly need in our faith.

So what is there in your life that is able to “revive you again?”

I would encourage you to find something that will reignite your passion for Jesus. Maybe it is a conference, or perhaps it a quiet retreat alone. Maybe it is a good book that can stretch your faith, or perhaps it is music that can soothe your soul. Each week I lead a worship program to help people in their walk of faith, sometimes I slip away to a Saturday night program at another Church so worship without interruption. It revives me and keeps me connected to Jesus in a deep and meaningful way.

What does it for you? You need to discover what revives you or you will slowly drift in your faith. That slide is always away from Jesus and not toward him.

My prayer for you this weekend is that God will “Revive Us Again.” I also hope you will find something that revives you so that you can make it a lifetime following Jesus.

A Call to Action

Very few people need more advice. Since the creation of the internet, there has been no shortage of suggestions on how to live. A Google search will reveal hundreds of ideas, opinions and “life hacks” to help you in every way. Some are grounded in solid biblical teaching, and others are based on experience. There is a massive amount of information available, and a lot of it is good stuff.

You do not need more advice. What you probably need is action. Doing what you know you need to do is difficult.

1. Actions flow from a specific plan. You do not drift your way into a better life. No one accidentally gets up early and starts exercising. I have never met anyone who just happened to start reading their bible one day and grew in their faith. The people I know who have a deep spiritual life have a set time they get up, a place they read and a way they pray. They have a specific plan of action that produces results. You can apply this to your physical body, your spiritual life, your marriage or just about any area that needs improvement.

2. Actions take the strength of will. Unfortunately, no one can give this to you. Many times, this is born out of desperation. When life hits rock bottom, it is easy to see that we need to change. The motivation level is high when everything is falling apart. The good news is that you do not have to wait that long to start to change. The bad news is that it will require you to find a self-motivation to do what is necessary.

3. Actions require patience. One trip to the gym has no results other than making you tired and sore. One day of reading your Bible will usually not result in life change. One trip to a counselor or one visit with the pastor will not heal your marriage. Health and holiness are only achieved by doing the same thing day after day and week after week.

4. Actions might require a coach. My boys and I were watching a special about Kevin Durant. He is one of the best players in basketball and yet he has a personal coach. In the offseason, he pays a man to push him to be a better player. The point was clear, no matter what level of expertise you think you have achieved there is always room for improvement, but you may need someone else to help you. This is true in every arena of life. You might need a mentor or a friend to help you see your weaknesses. You might need a pastor or teacher to help you grow. If you are serious about improving as a person, you will need help.

Some blogs I write are to challenge people in their thinking. Some are written to encourage people on their Christian walk. Today, my words are a call to action. Your life may be stuck in one place, and it is time to stop complaining or contemplating. Today is the time to get busy.

Five Things a Pastor Wonders About

Do you ever think about what goes on inside your pastor’s head? Probably not, but just in case it ever crosses your mind, let me share what I am continually thinking.

1. I wonder why you are not at Church. When someone misses a Sunday, my mind starts reeling. Are you doing okay? I hope nothing is wrong with you physically. I pray your marriage and children are alright? Maybe you are they mad about something. Will you quit the Church soon? Did I say or do something to offend you? I wonder how long it will be before you return, or if you ever will.

2. I wonder how I can help you grow spiritually. What program can I provide that will really help you to improve? Is there anything I should put on my blog? Perhaps there is a sermon series that will move and motivate you. I know many of you know so little of God, how can I help you understand more. Those who know so much, how can I get you to use your knowledge for the sake of the kingdom of God.

3. I wonder what you are not telling me (or anyone). What sins are you hiding? What is hidden inside of your soul that is tearing you apart? What is really going on inside your home? Is your marriage falling apart, and is there anything I can do to stop it? Are you flirting with addiction and no one knows? What can I do to help you bring your hurt into the light?

4. I wonder how to reach our youth with the gospel. Our young people are moving further from God. Their schedules are getting packed, and anything spiritual is moving quickly down the list of priorities. We used to be able to pack youth group and youth events, and now no one seems to care. Our young people are slipping away from faith. Is there anything I can do to stop it?

5. I wonder if anything I do is making a difference. I am trying to move the kingdom of God forward on earth and yet I seem not to make it very far. It feels like I am trying to empty the ocean with a coffee mug. I work diligently but seem to make no difference. Lord, I pray I make a difference in the life of just one person this week.

I went into ministry so that I could make a difference in this world for God. Every day I push myself to be a better person, parent, and pastor. I want my life to make an impact on the people around me. I want them to know God better today. I wonder about it. Honestly, I worry about it.

If I am making a difference in your life, I am happy about that fact, but I am not content. In the movie Hacksaw Ridge (based on a true story) Desmond Doss is helping people off the battlefield and into safety. Every time he saves one person he turns and says, “Just one more. Lord, let me help just one more.” That is my life, minus the blood and guts.

The Scars of Jesus

After the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, he goes to his disciples to show that he is truly alive. They are doubtful that such an event could take place. Usually, we point to Thomas as the one who doubted the resurrection, and yet all the disciples had a similar experience. John 20:20 says that the first ten who saw Jesus looked at his hands and his side. They visually confirmed that this was Jesus through his scars.

A week later when Jesus appears again, this time with Thomas present, Jesus encourages him to put his hands on those same scars. Thomas touches those marks left on the body of Jesus, and proclaims, “my Lord and my God.”

Why is the Easter Jesus scarred? Why doesn’t his resurrected body come complete with smooth skin and the removal of old blemishes?

I realize the most basic explanation is that Jesus keeps his scars as a form of identification. The disciples would only believe it was Jesus if he has the scars to prove it.

Then I read the book of Revelation. Recorded in chapter four and five is this great worship scene in heaven. A scroll needs to be opened, and no one can do it until a lamb comes out and its appearance is like one “who had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). It is a picture of Jesus and his eternal power established through the cross and resurrection. Even in this eternal moment, Jesus still appears to have visible scars.

I often wonder if there were not some beautiful meaning hiding in those scars. What if Jesus wants us to know that there is a way through the pain of this life? He teaches us that the hurt we feel in this body is not going to defeat us if we trust him. Being a believer in Jesus is not about sidestepping all the pain of this life. In fact, many times it invites more struggle and hurt. Yet, through the difficulties we are overcomers. One day we will look at our scars and be reminded of all the times evil tried to knock us down. When we cried with pain, God was present with us. He showed us a way through the ugliness of this life and turned our wounds into tattoos of God’s faithfulness.

Jesus is scarred. So hang in there, the hurt you are feeling today is not the end of the story.