Closing A Church: A Necessary Conversation

Earlier this month I wrote an article titled Disband with Dignity regarding the closure of the Columbia Church of Christ, whom I served with as the minister. Now that the article is out, I want to blog some more about the subject of deciding to close a church. With the reality that Churches of Christ are declining, there will be other congregations facing this issue. In fact, I have already talked with six other ministers wondering if it is time for the congregation they serve to close.

Church ClosedI want to say upfront this is a discernment issue. No matter the circumstances, churches are called to discernment… discerning the where and how of God’s work among the church. That is, the leaders along with the rest of the church must discern where God is leading their church as participants in the mission of God and how the church is called to serve as participants in the mission of God. This is true, I believe, just as much for a church that is outgrowing its current facility as it is for a small church struggling in decline.

Here is what is important: The question of discernment is about participating in the mission of God, not preserving the church. Having declined to about 25 members, this was the question the Columbia Church of Christ was asking and had to ask… “how is God leading each of us to participate in his mission?” This is not a question that any church should fear, no matter the outcome. God is still God and our salvation in Christ remains, no matter how and where such discernment leads.

Seeking to participate in the mission of God may lead to renewal of the current church or maybe God is leading that church to disband so that through the pruning and scattering, greater fruit is produced. Remember, in Acts 8:1, it must have seemed like a bad dream come true as the Jerusalem church was scattered abroad due to local persecution. However, one chapter later in Acts 9:31, we see that the church was now growing throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. Likewise, God may want to “close” a church so that the members are scattered where they may further participate in the spreading of the gospel (how that happens must be entrusted to God).

I will not say that every small church should consider closure as an option. There are some small churches with very vibrant gospel ministries. Yet there are some churches that are shrinking in number, are unsure of their identity (purpose and calling), have suffered from unhealthy conflict, and are living with other circumstances that call into question their long-term viability. In another post I will spend some time on what it might take for declining church to find renewal in the mission of God. But at the same time, for the churches that I am broadly describing in this paragraph, the discerning question of closure should also be considered and in another post I will share why.

For this introductory post on closing a church out, let me share with two book recommendations. The first book is Legacy Churches, written by Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond. This book written from the perspective of mainline denominations, tells some of the practical issues that churches have to deal with in closing a church and how they can still leave a legacy in doing so. The second book is Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, written by Ruth Haley Barton. This book will help either the leadership  or even the church as a whole learn how practice discernment together as a spiritual discipline that seeks the will of God.

Let me close by saying that helping close the Columbia Church of Christ has been a bittersweet experience. It is never something I dreamed of doing when I was called into ministry and preparing for ministry as a seminary student. Further more, it has been a very stressful season of life for me. I know it was for the church as well. Yet at the same time, it was a season of amazing community in which the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work. The church faithfully extended grace toward each other in the midst of a difficult season and drank deeply from the promise of hope that God has blessed us with in Christ. My hope now is that by extending this journey into a series of blog posts, it might help other churches faithfully face difficult times with grace and hope.

Mercy, Not Sacrifice

In various ways we can build walls that divide us from numerous other people. The result is a culture of us verses them, where this wrong is justified. What we are left with is an is what Miroslav Volf describes as a “glaring incongruity” where “in a world so manifestly drenched with evil everybody is innocent in their own eyes” (Exclusion and Embrace, p. 79).

Then comes along Jesus who calls us to follow him and as we do, challenges us to break down these hostile divisions. Here is a challenging story about Jesus found in Matthew 9:9-13:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Most Christians are familiar with this story and Jesus’ saying, “I want mercy and not sacrifice.” But I wonder… Have we really taken time to do just what Jesus says and “Go and learn what this saying means”?

Breaking Boundaries

Last summer after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Darren Wilson, protests erupted across America. Regardless of what happened on August 9, 2014, the incident and the ensuing demonstrations showed that there was still much racial tension between Blacks and Whites. This had to do with the perceived feeling on the part of the Black community that they are still treated unfairly by Police and the White power establishment. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, there normally is always a certain amount of truth to perception. Nevertheless, the situation created a politically hostile climate and threatened to create an “Us vs. Them” world. If you were on the side of the Darren Wilson and Law Enforcement then it seemed that you were against the Blacks. On the other hand, if you were on the side of the Blacks then it seemed as though you were against the Police and White people.

Here in Columbia, people joined in these protests. I was one of them and I took my daughter along with me. We joined with some from our community to say that “Black Lives Matter!” Believe it or not, I was told by one White person that I was being racist because I stood there peacefully demonstrating with other Black and White people. My daughter and I stayed at the demonstration for about two hours, where I engaged in several good conversations with some Black people about issues pertaining to racism and discrimination in America. At the demonstration, there were several Howard County Police officers present in order to make sure the demonstrations remained peaceful and lawful. So as my daughter and I were leaving, I walked up to the police officers and thanked them for doing a very difficult and underpaid job.

Why go and demonstrate with a community of Black people? Why stop and thank the police for doing their job? Here is why. Because I will let my Black Neighbors and my neighbors who serve as police officers become my enemy and become the “them.” It has nothing to do with my opinion of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri and what has happened in other police shootings of Black men. It has everything to do with following Jesus and refusing to allow the barriers that society would like to build up define who I will fellowship with.

Following… Jesus or the Pharisees?

It seems that if we really are following Jesus, then we cannot just religiously talk about reconciliation. We must actually attempt to practice reconciliation which involves getting up and following Jesus into the homes where he eats with those people, the “tax-collectors and sinners,” who were excluded behind a barrier that his society had built. Jesus did this without ever endorsing or approving of any sin and so can we.

Our society is full of divisions where an “Us vs. Them” reality exists at some level… Blacks and Whites, Christians and Muslims, Liberals and Conservatives, etc… Too often we align ourselves with a version of “Us” and hedge the boundary lines. That’s not the way of Jesus. So what can we do?

  • Option #1: As followers of Jesus we can actually follow Jesus among “Them” in order to show mercy rather than sacrifice. Remember, that Jesus’ practice of mercy is done among the sinners. The Kingdom of God was a space that had room for everyone, not just the righteous.
  • Option #2: We can follow the Pharisees, justifying our exclusion of “Them” in order to maintain our own purified socio-religious and political enclave. Remember, the Pharisees read their Bible’s too and they had their reasons which sounded very biblical too (perhaps they even came replete with biblical proof-texts). Yet they were wrong!

When Jesus said, “I want mercy and not sacrifice,” he really meant it and it is important that we honor his desire. But to do that, maybe instead of becoming quick to defend our religious freedom so that a pizza parlor doesn’t have to cater a gay wedding, we should instead pause and discern what it means to show mercy rather than sacrifice. Or maybe, instead of becoming quick to defend our rights by joining in an online bullying campaign because some small town restaurant owner doesn’t share our same moral-political view, maybe we should learn what it means to show mercy rather than sacrifice.

After all, Jesus did also say “Go and learn what this saying means…”

The Love of God and Marriage

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Henri J. Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved in a bookstore. I started reading through it and as I read about the love of God, I began to think about this love and marriage. Does marriage express the love of God? And if so, how so? So read on…

We are the the beloved children of God. This is a truth imprinted throughout scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. But the truth and believing the truth are two different matters. For various reasons, maybe our own sinful awareness or perhaps a traumatic childhood, we’re so prone to rejecting the truth that we are loved by God.

Unfortunately, as our rejection contradicts what Nouwen describes as that sacred voice that tells us we are Beloved, we begin a futile chase for love in various streams and substances that never satisfy. They have the appearance of fulfilling our desire for love but ultimately they fail to deliver anything but eventual misery. Whether we’re chasing the bottom of a whisky bottle, that next pornographic website, a bigger house then the one that already is stretching our financial means, endless work just to appear as someone great in the eyes of our peers, etc… it’s all the same. That’s why we must come to the knowledge that we are eternally loved by God.

Yet knowing that we are eternally loved by God, our Creator, we lose the desire to vainly seek love in created realities.

Knowing that we are eternally loved by God matters much. As Nouwen says, “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper” (p. 37). So once we come to a full awareness that God loves us and that our deepest desire for love is found only in God, then we continually seek that love in God.

However, as I think about this, I think about marriage… After all, we are creatures and so our are spouses, yet we seek love from one another. Is this vanity?

No!

In the story of Adam and Eve, the Lord says, “It is not good that the man should be along; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen 2:18, NRSV). Then God creates a woman for the man and Adam has a wife named Eve. Before going on, let me point out that the word “helper” (‘ezer) is not about hierarchy in the relationship between the man and woman. The same word is also used in Deuteronomy 33:29 where the Lord describes himself as Israel’s helper and I’m quite sure the text is not implying that Israel has a hierarchal relationship over God. What the Lord is doing is creating a helper who will bless the man as his partner and had it been that the woman was created first, then the Lord would have created man as a helper to bless them woman as her partner. Because in truth, both the man and woman need each other as partners who help each other and that is what this relationship is about… Two people, who through a mutual relationship, will help each other as partners.

Consequently in Genesis 2:18 we find an expression of God’s love for us as he gives us partners to help us along in life. In the context of marriage, it means that marriage itself is a blessing from God. While not everyone will marry in life, nor do they need to in order to have the love of God fulfilled in their life, this is important for those of us who are married. Our marriage is an expression of God’s love toward us. In marriage, God is giving us a spouse as a helper and likewise, God is giving us to our spouse as a helper too. That is, when two people are married, God is blessing them with the intention of them living as lifelong partners who help each other through life. So when we look at our spouse and our spouse looks at us, we are seeing what should be a tangible reality of God’s love.

Of course, that’s not always the case. Marriage is never a perfect blessing because it is an expression of love clothed in flesh… in the humanity of Adam. It’s a risk that God takes. It’s the same risk God takes in creating humanity in his image, who will fail to reflect his in numerous and sometimes very horrendous ways. Sometimes the expression of God’s love through the blessing of marriage  backfires horribly and for those who have experience this failure, I am deeply sorry. Nevertheless, for many of us, despite our sins and weaknesses, God is still able to express his love to us through our marriages.

Realizing that we are loved by God means that we also must learn to let that love permeate everything we think, say, and do.

Early on in marriage, after the honeymoon is over, we begin to see the short-comings and weaknesses in our marriage. Unfortunately, what we often see our the problems that our spouse’s have, while failing to recognize our own problems. Often then, the first response is to try “fixing” our spouse, by criticizing and correcting, which only adds to the problems. Stop that! It doesn’t work. There is only one person in this world that we have enough control over to affect change and that is ourselves. So my suggestion is this: INSTEAD OF TRYING TO CHANGE YOUR SPOUSE, DECIDE WHAT YOU MUST DO TODAY IN ORDER TO SHOW THE LOVE OF GOD TO YOU SPOUSE.

Now, go do that.

As a husband or wife, be a helper and be an expression of the love of God to your spouse.

Good Friday: Religious Freedom and the Crucified Christ

Every week I drive into the same local Shell gas station to buy gas because this is where the cheapest gas prices are in town. The manager is a Muslim and I think he originates from Pakistan. Then about once a month I get my hair cut at one particular barber shop because the barber not only does a good job but also offers the cheapest price for a haircut in town. The barber is a Buddhist who migrated to the United States from the nation of Laos.

I wonder how I would feel if either that gas station manager or the barber refused to do business with me because as a Christian, my religious and moral values differ in some way from their own convictions? How would you feel if either of these businesses refused service to you because they do not share your Christian religious and moral convictions… because in doing so, they feel they would be violating their own religious convictions?

Us vs. Them

As you most likely know, their is a firestorm erupting in American culture over the State of Indiana’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). You can read the bill, officially known as Senate Act 101, right here. Whatever the intention of this bill actually is, which is still not entirely clear (evidenced by the fact that Indiana legislators have already amended the law), the application of the law seems to single out LBGQT people over the issue of gay marriage. Consequently, a restaurant owner has the right to refuse catering service for a gay wedding because doing so violates the religious conviction of the restaurant owner who believes that gay marriage is morally wrong.

The firestorm has continued to spread with one restaurant owner, who professes to be a Christian, calling into a radio station to freely admit that he does discriminate against gay people. Then another restaurant owner, responding to a hypothetical question (which seems unwise), has said according to this article “If a gay couple was to come and they wanted us to bring pizzas to their wedding, we’d have to say no.”

So it seems that regardless of the RFRA intention, the issue has singled out the moral issue of homosexuality. That is, once again some Christians have found another way to elevate the moral issue of homosexuality above other moral issues and religious convictions. I wonder if those same Christians would refuse to provide catering to a wedding should they learn that the ceremony will include something such as a Wiccan prayer ritual or if the reception to follow should have alcohol where inevitably some people will become drunk? My point is simply to say that by singling out gays and gay marriage, something else appears at work beside mere religious and moral conviction. That something else is a cultural war waged by political power that continues fostering an “Us vs. Them” scenario where exclusion  − both implicitly and explicitly − is the result.

This is a Christian problem! Some Christians seem to insist upon the rest of society conforming to their beliefs and values, even if it means relying upon state political power to ensure that conformity. Those within society that do not embrace the beliefs and values of these Christians are then marked for exclusion. This was the way of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who were quite accustomed to practicing exclusion themselves. Yet the more that Christians embrace an exclusionary practice, the more Christianity drifts further and further from Jesus. Only this time this drifting is not due to the theological liberalism that characterized some mainline Protestant Denominations throughout the 20th century; this drifting comes from Christians  maintain the political privilege of a Christendom culture is coming to an end.

Good Friday and the Gospel

It seems as though the gospel is failing among us… the gospel that was and is salvation for both the Jew and Gentile (cf. Rom 1:16)

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day when Jesus was nailed to the cross for the sake of the world, to set the world free from the burden of sin and death. Jesus’ death was that inclusive moment when God destroyed the barrier that excluded Gentile from Jew, by making the two into one…

But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. – Ephesians 2:13-16

Jesus’ death was that act of grace on the part of God that said my sin and your sin will no longer separate us from God or each other. It doesn’t negate the fact that we are sinners, as we most certainly are, it just means that Jesus has atoned our sin by making peace through his death so that our sin would no longer exclude us.

We praise God for that act of grace, as we should. We gather together around the Lord’s Table to sing hymns, offer up prayers, hear from God’s word, and ultimately remember through the partaking of bread and wine, which represents the body and blood of Jesus, that we are now included. So why then should we turn around and maintain a practice of exclusion, singling out certain people for their religious, moral, and lifestyle choices? Do we think their behavior somehow taints us, indicts us as guilty? Or do we just need to keep our culture sanitized of that which offends our Christian sensibilities? Were these the concerns of Jesus  when he embraced the sinner… when he was lifted up upon the cross as a scandalous and shameful spectacle?

True Religious Freedom

Jesus died to include those whom his followers sometimes exclude. This has to change. Here’s how…

In his book Exclusion and EmbraceMiroslav Volf writes, “We would most profoundly misunderstand the Eucharist, however, if we thought of it only as a sacrament of God’s embrace of which we are simply the fortunate beneficiaries. Inscribed on the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if do not resist being made into its agents; what happens to us must be done by us” (p.129). That is to say that as we gather around the Lord’s Table to remember the very grace of God which includes us who are sinners, we must also become practitioners of this inclusionary grace. We are to be agents of this grace with our fellow believers whom we are communing with around the Lord’s Table and with our neighbors, regardless of whether or not they are believers… or whether they share our same beliefs and moral values. However, the way we live as agents of this grace will differ in each particular setting we find ourselves in.

When it comes to discerning how we should live as agents of this inclusionary grace in the market place, we should look at how Jesus, whom we follow, did this in his life. For the sake of space, let’s just recall that Jesus sat among and engaged in life with the “sinners and tax-collectors.” In doing this, Jesus was neither approving of their sin nor becoming participants in their sin and it seems that should be the case with us. Neither by eating a meal with a gay person nor by providing them with a meal, even in a gay-marriage or same-sex civil union, means approval or participation in the actual relationship. To say otherwise is believe in guilt by association and it that’s true then we are guilty of another sin just about every time we engage someone else with just a simple smile. Rather than incurring guilt participating in life with someone who is gay, what we are doing is removing the “Us vs. Them” barrier that we have built up. We are saying that even though we may not agree with their certain aspects of their life, we will not let it become a hostile barrier that stands between us because our God let his Son, Jesus the Messiah, be crucified to demolish such barriers.

As we, who profess to be Christian, remember the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, let us become conduits of the very grace we are recipients of. Let us give up the political power we use as an attempt in conforming the rest of society to the beliefs and values we choose to live by… And let us instead serve our neighbors regardless of whether we agree with their lifestyle choices. For to do is to embrace true  religious freedom!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23.

“So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” – Galatians 6:9-10.

May it be so among our neighbors whether they be Christian or not, White or Black, Strait or Gay!

My Worst Mistake As a Minister

All ministers make mistakes and I want to tell you about what I believe is the biggest mistake I have made as a minister. When I say “mistake,” I mean the sort of things we do because we didn’t know any better which are done out of naïvety as well as a lack of experience and wisdom. In other words, I’m not talking about sin per se, although my biggest mistake did come with a lot of hubris and pride. So it does involve some sins of the heart and that is why I’m so thankful for the grace of God that forgives sin and lets one learn from the mistakes of the past.

Churches and Ministers

So let’s talk about churches and ministers. Churches call upon a minister to serve with them as a pastor (that’s the typical function whether or not the minister is referred to as a “pastor”). Besides preaching and teaching, the church anticipates growing and engaging in ministry among their community and beyond because they have a minister.

Ministers know this, as I certainly did and still do. I’ve read plenty of books on all things ministry and church growth. In 2007 when I graduated from seminary with my Master of Divinity, the word missional was just beginning to appear on the horizon. The emerging church, which now seems more like just a new approach to the church growth movement, was all the rages. I had read books like The Purpose Driven ChurchBuilding A Contagious Church, and Church For The Unchurched along with many other books, articles, and even blogs. The books all detailed the strategies of some of the biggest growing churches in America.

What I came away with was the idea that I had to have the vision for where the church needs to go, how the church can grow evangelistically and engage in ministry among its community. After all, I’m the minister with the theological education who has read the literature on church ministry (note the hubris and pride!). It didn’t dawn on me, and it probably wouldn’t have mattered at the time, that most of these “high-profile” churches were planted by their current pastor, who had a blank slate to cast a vision and that the church I was called to serve was an existing congregation with an existing culture.

And so here is my biggest mistake: I came to serve in a church with my vision of how the church should be and where it should go.

That was a mistake and a big one. When a minister serves a church that has already existed for a number of years, that church already has a culture. More importantly, God has already been at work in that church. Regardless of whatever problems the church has (as many churches do), God has been at work among those Christians forming them and gifting them for participation in his mission. Failure to see this and respect this has disaster written all over it.

A Change in Leadership

What has changed for me as a minister? I still believe the minister should have a vision for what God is calling churches to become. However, ministers need to hold that vision with humility and openness because they certainly are not the only ones in a church that God has imparted a vision for the church upon. So instead of coming in to serve by casting a very top-down vision and expecting the church to jump on board with that, the minister needs to come in first listening and learning.

As a leader, not the leader but a leader, the minister needs to hold out a vision of Jesus. That is, the minister needs to share with the church how Jesus expects his followers to join him in participating in the mission of God. This is done through preaching and teaching in both formal and informal settings, such as during the Sunday worship gathering or while sipping some great Brazilian or Ugandan brew at a local coffee house. But… Just as the minister holds this vision of Jesus before the church, the minister must also be listening and learning from the church to know where God has led them thus far and how God has gifted them for ministry. Then, and only then, is the minister able to help the church begin discerning where God is trying to lead them for the future. Once the church, together with the minister and other leaders (e.g., shepherds), have spent time discerning how God has gifted them and where seems to be leading them, then the church can begin assess and implementing whatever changes seem necessary.

For example, one of the challenges many churches face is that they are saddled with too many programs that have become more of a tiresome burden. So in order to move forward in following Jesus, a church may need to let go of something in order to do something. It’s like the first disciples who had to let go of their fishing nets in order to follow Jesus and become the fishers of people Jesus was preparing them to be (cf. Matt 4:20). A church, through discernment, may sense that God is leading them to engage in acts of mercy by using their building to be one of several neighborhood churches who feed the homeless one night per week. So maybe instead of participating in a weekly traditional small-group meeting every week, the small-groups take turns once a month serving meals to the homeless instead of just gathering for some Bible-study. But the church will only know this as the minister, along with other leaders, and the church are discerning together how God has gifted them and where God is leading them.

My Last Thought

The top-down approach may work but in my experience, it causes more problems than it solves. More importantly, the top-down approach is borrowed from the world of corporate America rather than from Jesus. Jesus calls his followers to be servants like him and if a minister wants the church to learn how to follow Jesus more deeply and passionately, it begins with the minister exemplifying the servant-leader approach of Jesus to the church.

The Tulsa Workshop… In the Rearview Mirror.

My son and I traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the Tulsa Workshop last week. This was my first time attending this conference and overall it was a great experience. The theme was “Speak Life,” so here are my thoughts…

  • Traveling with Jared was a great thing to do. As his father, just listening to the different things he comes up with to talk about is priceless. But more importantly, the relationship we are building is so important and priceless too.
  • There’s a Facebook group (which shall remain nameless here) that I belong too that consists of different ministers and church leaders. It was nice getting to meet so many of these men and women, whom I interact with on Facebook, face to face.
  • The speakers and teachers such as John Alan Turner, Rick Atchley, Don McLaughlin, Robert Prater, Terry Rush, Patrick Mead, Josh Graves, Dr. Kent Brantley and Brandon Hatmaker were great but the two that spoke to me…
  • John Alan Turner spoke on failure and the grace of God, mentioning his own failed church plant. He reminded us that “God sees, knows, and wants to heal you from all the hurt and pain… Everything broken gets fixed.” As a minister who just helped close a church, I so needed to hear that word. Thanks John!
  • Dr. Kent Brantley. Really, I need not say anything. His story is compelling but also a great reminded of what following Jesus means. It’s risky and it always calls us to service of others, even at times suffering for the sake of others. Thanks Dr. Brantley for your faithful witness!
  • My son and I were shown first-class hospitality by Robert Prater, his wife Maggie, and their children. Thanks for twisting my arm and forcing me to eat BBQ!
  • Robert preaches for the Crosstown Church of Christ and took me by their church building. It’s situated in the middle of Tulsa among a neighborhood that has gone through a lot of social change over the years. So much potential for kingdom work their and Robert has the passion for that kind of work. Lord, bring gospel fruit from the gospel seeds this church is planting.
  • I took some time out to meet with the elders of a church in Oklahoma about their search for a new minister. Perhaps a move to Oklahoma is on the horizon… perhaps, but it’s too early to know for sure. In the meantime, if you know of a church looking for a minister where I might be a good fit then let me know.
  • There was one class where the speaker seemed (in my opinion) to use a lot of guilt and fear to motivate people for evangelism. I don’t understand this. Using guilt and fear might motivate people but it will only last as long as there is someone to keep heaping on the guilt and fear. And that never produces maturity. A better, more healthy way, of motivating people for evangelism seems to happen by inviting people into the compelling story of the gospel in such a way that they want to participate in it and share it.
  • Pie night at the dinner… a chocolate peanut-butter pie. Enough said there!
  • My son was asking me about what “grace” is. So we had a good conversation about grace. He understands as a young seven-year old boy does. His response, “I just want to follow the Lord, Jesus Christ.”
  • That’s what I want to do as well. Sometimes we do that well and sometimes we don’t.
  • Traveling back, we spent the night in St. Louis and then had breakfast with Bob Clark, who preaches for the Lafayette Church of Christ where my son and I stopped our travels to worship with other Christians. Mike Brown led the church in worship and Bob preached through Mark 10. As for me, I left with an overwhelming reminder that the Lord’s mercy is upon me and leading me to live as a merciful servant just like him. That’s also why I need to take time out from traveling on the road and gather with the church. To God be the glory!
  • Nearly 3,000 mils of driving latter and fifteen hours spent driving on Sunday, I am still physically exhausted. But I am glad I went.
  • To God be the glory!

Did you go to the Tulsa Workshop? If so, share some of your experiences.

Ministry and Envy

Everyone wants to be appreciated for the good they do and at some level, everyone needs to feel appreciated. That includes pastors too. Although the ultimate reward for all Christian service comes from God, its hard for anyone to keep giving their best when their best seems to go unnoticed or is continuously met with criticism.

However, in ministry the need for appreciation can also develop into an unhealthy envy. The need for appreciation morphs into the need for recognition.  This is a problem that most pastors, including myself, have struggled with from time to time.

Yesterday Rich Little wrote a blog piece titled 5 Difficult Questions Pastors Must Ask and the first question was “Do I feel competitive with my peers?” Yes, I have at times. I’m sure other ministers have and do as well. This especially seems to be the case when our pees are recognized and we’re not… or at least not the way we think we should be recognized.

You see the problem. It’s the problem of envy, a sin of the heart that is often coupled with a lot of pride and sense of entitlement.

Saul, the King of Israel, struggled with envy too. After David had won the battle against the Philistines we are told in 1 Samuel 18:7 that women throughout different towns were singing “Saul has struck down his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.” Then in the very next verse we read that this “made Saul very angry.” And if you read the rest of the story, Saul attempts to kill David several times.

Attempted murder. That’s the result of Saul’s envious heart. It might be easy to ignore this as a warning since most of us would never even contemplate committing murder. However, when our hearts are consumed with envy, we become dissatisfied and frustrated with the ministry God has called us to because we want what our peers have. Maybe that frustration gets taken out on the family at home, whether that means becoming a workaholic who neglects our family because we’re trying to chase something we think we don’t have or just turning our anger into physical and emotional abuse. Or maybe that sense of entitlement turns into other unethical practices, such as buying one’s way onto the New York Times Bestsellers book list, to provide for ourselves what we think we don’t have. Or maybe we take our dissatisfaction out on the church we serve, berating them with “bold preaching” for not being the church that our envious imagination says we should be pastoring.

The best antidote for envy is prayer! Pray with thanksgiving for the way God has gifted us for ministry and with thanksgiving for the ministry God has called us to, whether that is with a large church or small church… a church in the city or a church in the country. Pray also for the people we serve in ministry. Doing so keeps the focus where it belongs, on God and others rather than ourselves.

And if you’re reading this and you’re not a pastor, then send your pastor a card telling them how much you appreciate their ministry. Believe me, such words of encouragement are precious and your pastor will appreciate it more than you realize.