Weekend Reading

This is a little late to post for the weekend, but I still want to share. Here are some of the best articles I read this past couple of weeks. A few are about Pastors and may help you to understand my leadership and the life of Pastors everywhere. Enjoy.

10 Phrases I’d Like to Hear More Often in Church

11 Reasons Church Membership Matters More than Ever

7 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2018

5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Pastor

How to discourage your minister in the New Year?

9 Things You Need to Know About Your Pastor

10 Ways to Love Your Pastor Better in 2018

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I Hate Committees

There is one word that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It is the word committee. I understand that my issue with the word might be a matter of semantics, and it also might be the result of personal experience.

Early in my ministry, I was thrown into a monthly board meeting. It was not a pleasant experience as we met each month to discuss with great detail topics that needed only a few minutes to decide. The three months it took to agree on the purchase and installation of a sump pump for our crawl space was brutal.

The other interesting part of our meetings was that significant decisions were always assigned to some committee. That meant that a small group of people would spend their time meeting and research a topic. They would type up their finding and present it to the board. These small clusters usually consisted of the most interested party on a subject. The lady with two small children was assigned to the nursery committee, and she was happy about it. Sometimes the opposite happened. The person with the least interest was given the opportunity to lead a committee only because no one else would do it. The church was always full of various committees meeting all over the place.

These small groups of two to five people met for an assigned period in an attempt to keep things moving. They were usually given little authority to make decisions and quite often they were not taken very seriously by all those involved.

One day I was discussing my hatred of the board and committee system with a friend at college. A man, whom I did not know, was ahead of us in the line at the bookstore. He was listening to my complaining, and he turned to us and said, “Sounds like you need to move to ministries.” I assume I gave him a dirty look and he walked out of my life forever.

For the next few days, I couldn’t shake the thought. Who was that man? Why was he listening to my conversation? What in the world did he mean about ministry?

My service at that church ended after several failed attempts to make changes, and I moved to new church hundreds of miles away. There I embarked on a transition away from committees to ministries. It made a huge difference in my life and in the church.

The fourth definition of ministry in Webster’s Dictionary is “a person or thing through which something is accomplished.” The word has the religious connotations of being a minister and the actions that lead to accomplishment. It was the perfect description of what needed to happen in the church.

The word committee conjures up images for me of a few people sitting at a table talking and accomplishing very little. They are about information and not execution. Ministry is an active word. It means that you have a God-given responsibly to complete a task for the kingdom of heaven. The church moves forward when people see their service as a ministry for God.

That man in the bookstore that day will never know how much he contributed to my life with that one statement. I captured my hatred for committees but my love of serving the Lord. My hope and dream is that everyone in the church will serve in some form of ministry. I pray that everyone will give of their time and energy to accomplish something great for the kingdom of God.

His Love Endures Forever

In the New International Version of the Bible the phrase “his love endures forever” occurs 182 times. Many of those are in Psalm 136, that repeats the phrase as a refrain. It is a simple statement that is underlined by its usage and, yet it is easy to read right past it.

This week I heard it used as a lyric in the chorus of a song and it touched me in a new way. The idea that God loves us is nothing new to most of us who call on the name of the Lord. What struck me was the word “endure.”

What does it mean when something endures? For one, that means that it is long-lasting. Something that has endured has stood the test of time. There is another side to that equation that is worth noting. When something endures through time that means it had to push back against the forces that sought to destroy it. To endure is to remain strong through all the moments of hurt, pain, and destruction. Enduring is a strong word that lives on through difficulty.

The statement that God’s love endures is a declaration that goes far beyond merely saying that he loves us. It means that God has put up with all our junk and he still loves us. He sees our sins, mistakes, and failures and he remains true. Even when we work against him, his love endures.

That understanding makes the last work even more critical. His love endures forever. There is no point in which he says, “Enough is enough, I am done with you.” God sees our sins, feels our rebellion and hears our words against him and yet his love remains day after day.

Some days I just need to be reminded that God’s love for me remains even after my mistakes. He has not given up on me, even when I am disappointed in myself.

His love endures. His love remains forever.

Taking Ownership of the Church

Over the last three months, our Church has seen numerous guests at our worship program. Some of them have returned and are slowly moving toward joining us every Sunday to worship. We love all of the new people, but I am more excited when they move from this concept of it being a place they attend to a group of people to which they belong. At some point I want them to move from being a guest to calling it their home Church.

I have noticed two changes in the life of people that shows a shift in their thinking.

1. Issues are no longer someone else’s problem. Imagine you are walking out the Church, and you see a piece of trash laying on the ground. What goes through your head? If the first thought is, “Someone needs to clean up their facility.” Then you are still a guest. If your first thought is, “I need to pick that up to keep things looking nice.” Then you have become a part of the Church. Obviously, that is just one example, but you understand the point. Taking ownership in the Church comes when I say, “I need to help fix issues” instead of just pointing them out and waiting for someone else to handle it.

2. Involvement is not seen as an inconvenience. When you connected to a group of people, you are willing to serve with them in some capacity. Once again, imagine you are visiting the community theater. One of the volunteers approaches you and asks you to help pick up the trash. You might look at them in disbelief and offer a few moments of half-hearted service just to make yourself not look bad, but that is about it. Now imagine the same group asks you to help plan next years event and be a part of the whole production. When you agree, your overall view changes. Now you show up early, stay late and even pick up trash because it is your production.

At some point, everyone who attends a Church has a decision to make. Will you remain an outsider to this community? Will you keep your guest status intact as you visit each week? Or will you become a part of the group? Will you take some ownership of the Church?

If you do feel like are genuinely a part of this group, it will be seen in your attitude and actions.

Personal Reflections on a Year Without Dad

One year ago, I walked out of our worship program into a back room of the Church and called my mom. She answered and quietly said, “He’s gone.”

It was not an unexpected moment. Dad had battled cancer, heart issues, diabetes, a massive heart attack, a stroke and then another stroke. His health had been declining, and on Christmas Eve he had what appeared to be another stroke that finally brought the end.

That was a year ago. One long and emotional year. I honestly thought about entitling this post as “big boys do cry.” I have spent a significant amount of time reflecting and drawing some conclusions about the whole experience that I thought I would share.

1. Even when expected, the end is still difficult. The last time I saw dad he was so thin and weak. I knew the end was near. It still hurt to say goodbye finally. It still hurts.

2. No one truly understands your pain. My father and I had a unique relationship. I honestly do not think I can explain it to you without hundreds of hours to talk. I can now clearly see that each person handles the struggle of loss differently based off of their own relationship.

3. I wish I could remember my last conversation with him. The first stroke took away much of his speech, and I spent the last year and a half talking to him and not with him. I wish I could remember clearly the details of those precious moments. Enjoy every second you have with the people you love.

4. I never know when triggers will come. I am surprised at the moments I get emotional about dad. Sometimes it comes when I see a picture. One day I broke down when I heard a song. It has frequently happened when I write about his life. I wish I could control my emotions, but I never know when they are going to hit me.

5. I appreciate the prayers of people. It has always felt awkward to pray for those who have lost loved ones, but I understand it better now. There are days I know I have been empowered merely through the prayers of people. God gives me what I need to make it through each day; this is especially true when people pray for me.

6. I am not alone. I have loved hearing other people tell me the stories of their parents (and spouses) over the last year. I know that everyone struggles with the loss of the people they love.

7. I am thankful for eternity. I cannot imagine trying to live through loss without the hope of heaven. I know what my father believed, and I am confident in his faith in Jesus Christ. I live with the comfort that I will see him again. The message of Jesus makes the most sense in light of death.

8. I am blessed with a great family. My wife and children have held onto me through my emotions and struggles. I am so blessed to be surrounded by people who love and support me.

9. I am building a better relationship with my mother. I have always loved mom, but that love has grown in new and exciting ways over the past year. I have talked more to her about her. I have listened closer. I have tried to help her through this year while leaning on her at the same time.

10. My faith has not diminished. I am not angry or confused about losing my dad. God gave him to me for over 40 years, and I was blessed beyond measure. Because of this experience, my faith in Jesus and the meaning of faith has increased. God has used this to teach me how to be a better father, son, and husband as I live out my faith with my family.

I won’t lie. I miss my dad. I think about him almost every day. I wish he could have been there to see my son graduate. I wish he could have seen my youngest kill his first deer. I wish he could have gone for a ride with my boy when he got his license. I wish he could talk with all of them and share his wit and wisdom. I wish he could have been a part of this past year in every way.

I can’t believe it has been a year, but it has. The pain has diminished a little, but it is there to remind me what I lost. I know I am not alone in these feelings. My heart goes out to anyone struggling with loss. May your faith strengthen you, your friends and family comfort you and may the peace of God the passes all understanding fill your heart today.

The Sermon from Inception to Conclusion

Every week I restart the routine of preparing what I will say on Sunday. It is a long and involved process from its inception to its conclusion.

1. A Seed of an Idea. Months and sometimes years before a sermon is written entirely a simple idea catches me. I continually ask God to open my eyes to possible sermon ideas. Many times, they come while I am reading my Bible or spending time in prayer. Sometimes they happen during a conversation or while watching a movie. The concept gets placed in a “Sermon Idea” folder on my computer.

2. The Plan for a Year. Every year in late June and July I spend time reading and praying and putting together a sermon plan for the next 18 months. I think through holidays and various highs and lows in attendance. A plan is born for the next 18 months. The first six months of those were decided the year before, but I make any final adjustments.

3. A Month of Thinking. When I approach a new series, I create a new set of files on my computer. I type all ideas for each sermon into the computer. I might find a great idea while researching another sermon, so I type that into the appropriate place.

4. A Week of Writing. Each week I open the file for that particular sermon and start working. Sometimes I have a great deal started, and other weeks it is empty. I spend 3-4 hours on Monday chasing ideas, reading scripture, and general searching on a topic. I hope to have a rough idea of where I am going by the end of Monday. Tuesday is all devoted to sermon prep, and I hope to complete the first draft. Wed. is review and altering my original content. Then I search the internet to see what other people have said on the same topic. Thursday is for review and finishing. All week I pray for what I am writing.

5. The Spark of Connection. During the writing of a sermon, I keep looking for one simple idea to help the congregation know God better. I want them to hear something to encourage or challenge them. This week an idea became clear as I was writing that will be the final point of the sermon this Sunday.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice. I usually preach through the sermon during the week sometime. Then I will review it again on Saturday night before bed. I get up early on Sunday and preach through it in my office before worship.

7. Preaching. Finally, the moment comes to speak the words. Most of what I say is one hundred percent planned, but I do have a few ideas that hit me at the moment. Adjustments are made as I see people engaging or being lost. I have literal skipped whole prepared sections because people were sleeping. I have also added a page of material because the people were on the edge of the seat.

8. The Listener and the Holy Spirit. Somewhere after the words leave my mouth and fall on the listener’s ears, the Holy Spirit does something special. He will take my words and touches the heart of the person listening if their heart is open. I am always amazed at the way God takes my thoughts and uses them for good in the life of another person. He convicts, encourages, challenges and helps people understand in ways I never imagined.

9. The Heart of the Listener. I always pray that my words make it past the ears of the person listening and into their heart. I hope one line or one idea will not let them go. It infects their soul and moves them closer to God.

10. The Life of the Listener. The final stop of this journey is in the actions of the people who hear the sermon. It is great when people say, “nice sermon” to me, but it is better when they live it out. When someone changes their life because of something they heard, it is the greatest work of the sermon.

This Sunday I kick off a new sermon series entitled “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Children’s Church” with the sermon “Worship Should be Active.” This sermon and series have been months in the planning and preparation. The time is nearly here to speak what God has been laying on my heart. I hope you will be here to listen as I explain what the Bible teaches. I am praying it will help you in your walk with God as you live for him. My part is almost done, and your piece is almost upon us. I hope you are ready as I know I am. Hope to see you in worship on Sunday as God has something to say to you through me that might just help your life.

Searching for Life Change

She told me that it was “a life-changing experience.”

Over the months that followed, I noticed an insignificant amount of change. No adjustments were made in her schedule. No new ventures for God were started. Church attendance and participation didn’t increase. Nothing visible changed in her life. I am not saying there wasn’t some internal course modification made, but there were very few alterations made that were noticeable to the general public.

He told me that it was “a life-changing experience.”

How could someone avoid the presence of God in their life after what he had been through? Once again, I watched with eager anticipation to see how his life would change for God. Over the following months, there were several emotional retellings of what happened. Each one with a tagline of it being “a life-changing experience.” Words were many, but the changes were few. The old routine dominated his actions, and no I noticed no real difference in him.

This story has replayed itself over and over in my ministry. I have watched people go to Church camp, a CIY retreat, a mission trip, a conference, a special program and a dozen other things with the label on them as life-changing events. On the other side, I have watched people go through divorce, death, disease, and disaster and expected them to make changes after such traumatic encounters, only to see no real difference. I wish I could say there was some guaranteed way to help people change their lives for God and for the better, but most of my stories are of failure and unfulfilled promises.

I have found that real life change usually doesn’t happen after a big dramatic experience. Life change is the result of one decision followed by a hundred smaller choices.

The first part is the trickiest. Changes for the better start at unexpected times. One day you look in the mirror, and you don’t like what you see. Your children say something that catches you off guard, and it stings your soul. You read an article, hear a sermon, or just have a conversation that convicts you. Out of these moments, you find yourself in the deep spiritual reflection that leads to a decision. There must be a flash of light across your soul that burns deeply enough for you to see your need for change.

Once you know you need to change, then there needs to be a hundred little decisions to follow. You adjust your schedule an hour differently. You bite your tongue and change your words. You give without complaining. Everything in your life is questioned to see if it aligns with your big decision.

The people I have seen make the most significant life changes rarely have “a life-changing experience.” Instead, they are people who quietly alter one action at a time year after year.

As we start a new year most resolutions will be lost no matter how many times we tell people we had a life-changing experience. Change comes through decisions, not experiences.