The Thing You Hate About Church May Be the Very Reason You Need to Go

Last week I saw a man who quit attending our Church worship programs a few years ago. He was unhappy about something that someone said. His feelings were hurt, and in many ways, he was correct in his attitude. The other person was wrong and he, along with his family, decided to stop attending. People tried to talk them out of it, but it was to no avail. Unfortunately, they not only quit our Church, but they left the Church altogether.

His story is just one of the hundreds that I have known over the years. Every place I have served has similar stories. Someone got upset about something, and they quit. Many times, they were right and justified in their thoughts. I completely understood their frustration.

In almost every case that I have experienced this type of interaction, I have come to a similar conclusion. The very reason you want to quit the Church is the very reason you need to go. I believe God put us together with other believers in the Church to help us all grow and mature spiritually. Usually, that growth comes in ways that are uncomfortable.

The man I mentioned above, I think God might be teaching him to be less judgmental, arrogant and self-righteous. God connected him to someone who is going to teach him those characteristics along with grace, patience, and love. I run this thinking through every encounter I have experienced in Church. The person who quits because someone was a bully. They need to confront that person with courage in love and learn to live in harmony with difficult people. The person who quits coming because they don’t like the decision the leadership made, may need to learn submission, obedience and possibly become a leader themselves. The person who quits because of the music might need to redefine worship in a way that is not self-centered. I could go on and on. The person who stops attending because of whatever reason might have something they need to learn from the situation.

I know this is hard to hear. You might even think, well, that is easy for you to say as a preacher. Actually, it is more difficult for me than you can imagine. This is a lesson I have learned from experience. God has sent people to the Churches I have led who have taught me to be more grace-filled, kind, patient, less angry, non-judgmental, and a dozen other things.

So what if this weekend there will be a moment when you will think, “I don’t want to go to worship because of ….” What if you flipped that over and asked God to teach you through these thoughts? Maybe the reason you do not want to be here is precisely what you need to grow in the Lord.

Jesus and the Work of Serving

The apostle John, that disciple whom Jesus loved, tells a story about Jesus that is meant to catch our attention, but I am afraid it has lost its power to us. John chapter thirteen tells about Jesus in the upper room on the night before he was betrayed. Before the group has a meal together Jesus enters with a towel and a basin, and he washes the disciple’s feet. He takes their disgustingly dirty feet and moves his hands over them with soap and water. Historians tell us this was the job for the lowest member of the household. That could be the youngest child, or if they had slaves, the lowliest of slaves. Jesus takes the most distasteful job and does for his disciples in love.

Through the years we have lost the meaning in this story. Two things have changed our perspective. First is the invention of the shoe. No longer do people walk around in bare feet or open sandals except in the summer in warmer climates. The second thing is that we have replaced animals with vehicles for transportation. The streets are not filled with the dung of the donkeys and horses used to move goods and people. The roads are sanitized and our feet our clean. Nowadays when a Church holds a foot washing ceremony, it is usually a symbolic act of a leader to demonstrate how he serves others.

I was thinking of this story the other day when I stopped by the Church building after a couple of our ladies had just cleaned. The dirty floors were mopped. The filthy toilets had been scrubbed. The nasty trash cans had been emptied. We had volunteers who did the equivalent of washing the disciple’s feet. They did the most objectionable work without recognition

The reason this simple act caught my attention was that the evening before there was an interaction on a social media group that I follow. A fellow pastor had asked how other Churches with attendance under 200 people handled the cleaning of the Church building. The majority of responses replied that they had to pay someone to clean their building. The number one reason listed was most people had a difficult time finding volunteers to do this lowly work. The whole exchange made my heart hurt.

The invitation to serve people in the name of Jesus is not a call to fame and recognition. It is quite the opposite. To follow Jesus is to pick up a towel and a basin of water. It means cleaning dirty toilets, picking up trash and emptying cans full of it, tending to floors and changing diapers. Jesus shows us that the world is not changed from the top down. It is altered when people do the most menial tasks in his name. His kingdom is advanced when people abandon their pride and serve in ways that no one else will undertake.

Most of us want to equate doing the Lord’s work with some big project that attracts the attention of people. It rarely comes to us that way. The work of Jesus is to do the small actions that other people avoid. The good news is that we all have those jobs right in front of us every day. Today you have the opportunity to live like Jesus, but you will have to get your hands dirty.

When the Enthusiasm Fades

One of the most difficult things to watch in ministry is someone losing their enthusiasm. It happens all the time in one way or another. A person goes to a conference, and they vow to change their life on the final night only to return home and back to the normal routine with little follow through. It happens when teenagers go to a big week like Christ in Youth (CIY) or camp. They get all fired up for God and return home where their excitement fizzles into fond memories of that time they felt close to God. Often people come up to me after a worship program and tell me how the sermon touched their lives, and they are committed to change, only to see them fail in this quest for personal transformation. The most painful is to watch people accept Jesus and be baptized than to observe them quit the Church in less than six months. Through the years I have watched numerous believers have a week or a month of exciting, life-changing faith only to see them slide back into a life of mediocrity and distance from God.

Does any of this sound like your journey of faith? Has it been a long walk with some high points of emotion along the way? If this sounds like your story let me encourage you by saying you are not alone. There are people who have experienced this since the beginning of faith.

Also, I want to challenge you to focus on a daily routine. The people who have a healthy and vibrant faith month after month and year after year are not those who jump from one spiritual high to the next. They are the people who develop a regular routine of spiritual behavior. They set aside time every day to read their Bible, to pray, to reflect or meditate, develop deep Christian relationships, to serve others and to worship. Honestly, they do the same old boring routine that sounds so monotonous to most of us. Yet, real transformation happens in those repeated actions that last beyond big moments.

One powerful example comes from weight loss. Seeing someone lose a huge amount of weight is exciting. The hard truth is that most people who lose weight they will eventually regain it along with 20 percent more. The problem is they are only focused for a time, and they have no daily habits that sustain long-term weight loss. They bounce up and down like a yo-yo with no sense of balance.

Think of healthy spiritual growth like healthy physical living. You need a commitment to doing the same things over and over. Your planned regular actions lead to maximum results. The same thing that is true physically is also true spiritually.

So my question for today for those who want to grow in their faith is simply, “What is your plan of action to maintain a regular habit of growth.” The kingdom of God is not for those who have moments of excitement but no follow through; it is for those whose routine is designed for long-term growth.

Five Thoughts on Raising Four Boys

This is not necessarily a post about Christian living, rather thoughts my thoughts as a father trying of four boys in ages from 16 to 20. I have no experience with girls. I cannot tell you the first thing about the differences between boys and girls. I have however seen significant differences between families who have one male child and those of us with more. I once picked up a book about raising boys and put it down when I read that the author had just one son. While he meant well, there was no way that he understood my life. It possible you have no idea, so I thought I would share a few observations for you to ponder.

1. There is never enough food and drinks. One of my boys once told me that he did not think he could physically make it four hours between meals. They eat and eat and follow that with snacks. For many years, if it were not a value meal, the boys would never have had fast food. Other people would tell us how cheap it was to go out to eat and we would laugh.

2. Injuries happen all the time. There has not been a sport where one of the boys did not get hurt. Right now, one of them has an injury that we are told will take two years to heal completely. No big deal that is our life. We have had broken bones, concussions, tears, stitches, surgeries along with innumerable aches and pains. We no longer overreact to the bumps and bruises of life.

3. Sports are less important. When our oldest was working his way through the various sports at school, it seemed like the most important thing in life. Now as they have all moved through the system, we have developed a different perspective. Sports are fun, but they are short-lived adventures that are forgotten with time. I now encourage the boys to enjoy the moment, to smile and laugh, to make friends with the kids on your team while being kind to the other team. Honestly, not one person will care in your college or adult life what accomplishments you had in junior high or high school.

4. Little things stay little. At first, our family celebrated every milestone as if it were the biggest deal in the world. You won a prize, then let’s have a party. You made the honor roll, then we better announce it to the world. Over time we realized that people love to celebrate everything, and it is exhausting to try to keep up. We have boxes and boxes of printed certificates of accomplishment from our boys that get filed and never looked at again. We do not celebrate anything unless it is huge. Otherwise, we end up celebrating all the time.

5. Brotherly love. My boys have all had friends in their life. They enjoy the company of others, but when you look closely, their brothers are their best friends. One of the reasons I stopped fighting them playing video games is because they always play together. With online features, the younger ones will spend part of their weekend playing with their brothers in college. They celebrate each other, the look for each other and they are good friends to one another.

Through the years my wife and I have shared numerous smiles as we have watched people with one boy. Their perspective on life is so much different from ours. Part of that comes from our faith and the other from the size of our family. If you spent a week in my shoes, you would see that life is different when you have four boys that you are trying to raise into mature men of God.

The Sermon Series That Has Me Asking Questions

The last four weeks I have been speaking about the topic of money. This was not a series designed to raise money for some big project or capital campaign. It was merely an overview of how a Christian should view their money and a few general tips on how to handle it.

What happened over the last four weeks was fascinating to me. In August, September, and October our Church reached new heights since I became its leader. We averaged 218 people combined in our two worship programs. The Church was full and exciting every week as new people joined us and the auditorium filled up. Then came November and the new sermon series called “Right on the Money.”

Over the last four weeks, our weekly attendance dropped like a rock from a tall building. We went from 218 people average attendance to 185 people per week. The programs felt empty, morale was low, and there was a general apathy that swept over the Church. I do understand there were issues with health, deer hunting season, the weather and the Thanksgiving holiday. These factors also led to lower attendance, but having tracked it for four years, I have never seen a drop like this. The only thing that was different about this month was that I was preaching on money.

This had led me to a few conclusions as I reflect on the series –

1. People, even Christian people, do not like to talk about money. This is precisely why we should talk about it. Whenever we hate a topic, that generally means it is something we are struggling within our soul.

2. People think they have money figured out. Why would anyone want to hear about how to handle their money biblically? I mean, doesn’t everyone know what the Bible says already? I have heard it before, and I plan on staying home. This seems to have been the general attitude, and yet it seems so far from the truth. Most people have no idea what the Bible really says about this one topic.

3. We are tired of people asking us to give. I know this one from experience. There is not a week goes by that someone, usually with a good cause, requests for financial support. As a result, we avoid any contact where we think we will be asked again.

4. Handling our money is a bigger spiritual issue than we care to admit. People frequently think of “growing spiritually” as serving in a ministry, learning more about their bible or feeling some new emotion. Frequently, growth means handling our regular issues, like money, in a more Godly way.

5. Talking about forgiveness and heaven are enjoyable – money, not so much. I like hearing that I can let go of my failures and spend eternity with Jesus. A sermon series on second chances and eternal life can pack the house. Sermons on money are not fun. Who wants to hear that they should not be materialistic? Who wants to give away their hard-earned money? Not me, I would rather stay home and watch the ballgame or whatever else is on TV.

These are some of the thoughts that keep running through my head as I think about this past month. My sermon series plan only puts finances on the agenda once every two years. Maybe I need to speak on it more regularly to help people grow in their faith. Perhaps I should do it less to keep the people coming. People may say they enjoyed the series or try to explain away what happened, but the facts don’t lie. This series was not well received, and I am not sure what to do about it. I know God will use it for his glory, but I am asking lots of questions and trying to learn from this past month.

A Pastor Counts His Blessings

Last Sunday our congregation sang a tune that is formally called, “When Upon Life’s Billows” but is usually called “Count Your Blessings.” The chorus encourages each one of us as believers to think through all the things for which they are thankful. It goes so far as to say, “Name them one by one.” Today I want to share my list of things for which this pastor is thankful to God.

1.The grace of God for everyone, including me.
2. My family is all walking in faith.
3. My Church is my second family.
4. The people who are also walking with Jesus
5. Volunteers who serve alongside me at our Church, especially my wife.
6. Church leadership who love and support me.
7. Our worship team who lead people in their praise of God with their talents.
8. A building in which we can meet freely.
9. Our children’s minister who serves at ACC
10. That God continues to use me for his purpose.
11. Having the Bible in my language in printed and electronic format.
12. Books, books and more books to help my faith.
13. The internet that allows me to work anywhere.
14. Ladies in our Church who like to cook food to give away.
15. The youth that comes on Sunday nights to be in our youth group.
16. The people who have poured their life into me in one way or another.
17. People in the congregation who are nice to me.
18. Local pastors who I have fellowship within Jesus.
19. Technology that allows me to listen to sermons and worship music at any time.
20. You. You know what you did … and I appreciate it.

What should I add to my list? Better yet, what is on your list?

Being Thankful

A few years ago, I read a statement that stuck itself in my brain and won’t seem to leave me. The author and article I have forgotten, but the words remain, “Giving thanks IN a situation is different from giving thanks FOR a situation.”

We all know that life can get ugly sometimes. Pain comes, and heartache fills the hours. There are moments of shame and regret. The people we love are hurting, and there appears to be no cure. Some seasons are full of pain in all its forms.

During those seasons I am not allowed to become grumpy and bitter. As a believer, I am instructed to live with thanksgiving in every situation. That does not mean I am thankful for the struggle, but I can still be grateful in the struggle.

When my wife and I are fighting, I am thankful for a relationship worth fighting over.
When my children are driving me crazy, I am thankful for my family.
When the pain comes from the loss of my dad, I am thankful for a father that loved me.
When I am not sure about how I am going to pay the mortgage, I am thankful for my house.
When I am tired from a full schedule, I am thankful for all I am able to do.
When my work at the Church seems fruitless, I am thankful for what God is doing in me.
When my back aches from a long day of physical labor, I am thankful for the ability to work.
When the people I love seem distant, I am thankful for a God who is always near.
When I feel the regret of sin, I am thankful for grace.

Whatever situation we find ourselves in at the moment, I believe we can still be thankful. We may not be happy about the struggles, but I find God’s goodness is still present in those times.

This week, for some of you, thanksgiving might not seem possible, but I am here to tell you that it is there if you are willing to look close enough.