A Church Connection Very Few Talk About

Recently I was listening to a podcast, and I heard something that I have never heard in all my years of ministry.  The speaker makes his living as a Church consultant, and he shared an insight he had gained in thirty plus years of helping Churches. 

He encouraged pastors to look at people’s giving to their Church.  He said the people who will complain the most and leave the quickest are those who give the least or nothing at all.  In fact, he said he could almost predict who would not be a part of a particular Church in the future based on the amount of money they gave to it now. 

He then went on to mention something Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (New International Version, 2011).  Usually, we apply this passage to the general kingdom of God.  People who invest financially in the kingdom of God in all its forms will have a greater sense of connection to God’s work in the world than those who do not.  It is also valid on the local level.  If you give to the local Church you attend, then you have a greater sense of connection there too.  Simply put, people who do not give to the work of the local Church will be the first to leave that setting for another location. 

As a pastor, I have felt this in my soul for years.  I have never done the research, and honestly, I have never looked at anyone’s giving statement.  I had a hunch that people who left never had a deep connection, and I could not put my finger on precisely what happened.  For the first time, I think I have an answer.

This man’s concept was straightforward:  follow the money.  Wherever people invest their money, their heart gets attached.  If they are not connected to the Church I lead, it might very well be because of their money. 

In one way, I am a little relieved.  I always worried that I was something I was doing wrong.  Perhaps the problem is not with me, but with those who leave.  Maybe it is time for all of us to do an honest evaluation of our finances.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be. 

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A Preacher’s Secret

You might not know this, but there is a tension among preachers about how many personal illustrations to use in sermons. Should we tell about our personal lives or keep it private? The sermon is a place to talk about Jesus and faith and not our issues.

I decided years ago that I would share stories about my life if I do not look like a hero all the time. I do not want to give the impression that I have figured out the spiritual life perfectly. I want people to know that we are on the same journey. I am struggling to grow in my faith and am learning to trust God more every day. This is true of every preacher and not just me, no matter what impression the preacher tries to give you.

  1. We are still growing in our knowledge of the Bible. Most preachers, I know, are continually learning. They read, listen, and attend in an effort to increase their understanding of the Bible and the things of God.
  2. We are still surrendering our life to Jesus. Just because I am in full-time Christian service that does not mean I am perfect. There are spaces in my life that I am still giving over to God. The moment I conquer one area in my heart, then I find a new space I need to surrender.
  3. We are still trying to grow in our love of people. Even the most outgoing preacher who loves to be with people is still confused by the behavior some of the time. I was recently talking to another minister, and we said, “You have to lose the shock factor.” As you deal with people, you can no longer be shocked anything. These issues force me to love people who I don’t understand. They push me to enjoy every person no matter what their approach to life.

Preachers are people who love Jesus and want to serve him, that does not mean we have it all together. We are trying to grow, and sometimes we fail. The other part of this secret is that we want you to join us on this journey. Honestly, there is little desire for you to come to Church just to listen to us. Our passion is to find people that will join us on the journey of faith while trying to grow in him.

Do Everything Without Complaining

My first preaching ministry was a complete joy. The people were kind and loving, and I wept the day I had to leave, but I was getting married, and I needed to make a change. Then I went into my next ministry, expecting the same warmth and kindness. This was the first time I had personally experienced the downside of ministry. The people were mean and critical. Having completed college, I lasted all of nine months before I decided to leave.

The third place I served in ministry was in Northern Indiana. It was a little country Church located four miles outside of town. It had a rich history and had been walking through a difficult season when I arrived. I was young and dumb and didn’t know anything about ministry, so I tried everything. Surprisingly some things began to work. The number of people attending worship began to multiply. We had guests, and there was a level of excitement with every Sunday. It was a time of genuine spiritual growth. New people attending for the first time, baptisms happened regularly, and we not only met the budget, but there was enough money left to renovate the building.

At this point, something happened that I had never experienced before. People started complaining. I mean they started showing up at board meetings, stopping by my office, staying after Church, and leaving wonderful anonymous notes filled with complaints. There were a few topics that I heard repeatedly. They didn’t like the new music; they thought I should wear a suit; they didn’t like the changes and a long list of why the Church was fine before I arrived.

One couple, in particular, seemed to hate me. Their names were Pete and Betty Pearl. They were always angry, and every silver lining had a cloud behind it. They gained the trust of an elder and his wife, along with one of the oldest couples in the congregation. Suddenly every Sunday morning was an opportunity to attack me and complain about something. I began to dread Sunday mornings and spent most of my time dealing with these three families.

It was during this time I talked with my new friend Jeff. He had started attending on my first Sunday and loved the Church. I led him to the Lord and was watching him grow in faith. One afternoon I broke down. The weight of the ministry was killing me. I told him about the complaints and how I did not know if I could last much longer. Then he said words that changed my perspective. He said, “You know, there are people in this world who are not happy unless they are unhappy.” Next, he detailed stories of angry family members, co-workers, and classmates.

He was right; some people seek attention through negative means. Their complaints were not about me directly; they were the result of them wanting more attention. When the Church was small, they were a big fish in a small pond. The received all the pastor’s attention, and now they were not, and they resorted to a negative plea for someone to notice them.

I have since discovered this to be a regular practice for many people. Those who can’t hear well, often sit in the last row and then complain about the volume. People who have physical issues will set in the worst seats in the building and then complain about the facilities. Issues that could be avoided now become the source of complaints.

Since those days, I have tried to listen carefully to any criticism. Is this really an issue that needs to be addressed, or is it a person who thinks they need more attention?

Here is the clincher: If I give people special attention after their complaint, they quickly become conditioned to complain more so that their name always part of the discussion. I know this because once I stopped listening to complaints, the number of them dropped dramatically.

I am not a psychologist and cannot thoroughly explain all the dynamics of these situations. I am convinced they are real. Possibly today you needed to hear this bit of wisdom I have gained, and it will help you deal with people. The other possibility is that you need to stop complaining and seek attention in constructive rather than destructive ways.

Forgotten Blessings

I was complaining to someone about something in my life (the details are vague on purpose). Their response caught me off guard. They said, “I wish I had that to be unhappy about.” Their words hung in the air and fell on my shoulders with a heavy weight. I paused for a moment, and my issue suddenly flipped into a reason to be thankful.

I had never thought about my life from someone else’s perspective, especially that person. Some people would be happy to have some of the struggles in my life. They would love to have a spouse or a house or a job or one of the numerous things that I take for granted.

My challenge lately is to be thankful for the things that I complain about to other people. How would your perspective change if you saw every negative situation as the result of a blessing in your life? Perhaps we would develop an attitude of gratitude and complain less.

Some people would love to have your problems. Take a look around and listen carefully to your conversations this week, and notice all the blessings you might be taking for granted.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I have read over the past few weeks. I hope you enjoy them too.

Longer Than – A wonderful post about marriage and men. Good writing.

These 3 words changed the way I parent—and made me kinder to myself, too – A great article for mothers and all parents.

A Man’s Perspective on Leggings – You might not agree, but worth considering.

SHOULD CHRISTIANS OBEY THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW? – I find his categories helpful.

3 Words for Church Members on Using Social Media – This sounds very much like the advice I give to people repeatedly.

Old Books, New Books, and Trends That Fade Away

No Strings Attached

It seems like everyone is trying to cash in on something. If you do something reasonably well, then there must be some way to make some money off it, correct? You like to work out, then surely you can make a little extra as a part-time trainer. You like to take pictures, then why not make some money on the side. After all, there is nothing wrong with using your gifts and abilities to make extra money to help your family.

This kind of thinking is prevalent everywhere, and it has even infiltrated the Church. Frequently I get an email or see an advertisement on social media from someone who wants to help our Church or specifically me as a pastor. Click on the link, and you are then told about how much it will cost you to get this help. If someone does give away free material, then they want your contact information so that they can bombard you with other products and services they are selling. There always seems to be strings attached to everything that is offered.

What if, and I know this is going to seem like I am against free enterprise, but what if you offered stuff for free? What if you helped someone out of the goodness of your heart? What if you gave away your services in the name of Jesus? What if you did not attach any strings to the material you were offering? Would you be willing to help the kingdom of God even if no one did anything for you in return?

Sure, some people would take advantage of you. There are always those who abuse the system. You would need some safeguards and procedures to make things go smoothly. But what if …

I believe serving people in the name of Jesus is at the heart of God’s kingdom. It will not make you rich, and you might not be able to give up your day job. Serving without compensation will not help you take that vacation you want or buy that item you are sure you need. It might even require blood, sweat, and tears without seeing any cash in your pocket. I believe it will further the kingdom of God on earth. The greatest gift anyone can offer is their time. Whenever we give it freely, people will see that there is something different about Christians. Perhaps now more than ever.

God Made You Unique

You are a one of a kind masterpiece. There is no one quite like you. God gave you unique fingerprints, eyes, ears, footprints, and DNA. The Bible says that he “knit you together” in your mothers’ womb. Once you were born, you continued in your development. You had a unique family, made decisions only you could make, and lived through experiences that no one else can repeat. You have passions, abilities, personality, and giftedness that no other person on this planet has an equal measure. You truly are one of a kind.

And yet, the goal of every believer is to become like Jesus. The word I use most often is “Christlikeness,” which means you are to live like Christ in everything. “What would Jesus do” is a question that guides your decisions and actions. Your life is found in him and is to be lived for him.

How do you bring these two concepts into harmony? It is quite simple. God wants you to be like Jesus, as only you can be. He wants you to use your unique life for his glory. He formed you so that you could use your gifts, talents, and abilities for his kingdom.

Most days, I do not feel like I fit in with everyone else. I don’t see or hear things the same way as other people. It is easy to think that I am a misfit and somehow have less value than others. The opposite is true. You are not like anyone else, and your life has infinite worth because you have something to offer that no one else can replace.

God created each one of us to fit together like a giant kingdom puzzle, and your piece is essential to complete his work.