Monday, February 23, 2015

How To Treat The Shepherd

While I was in Maine with a church plant, I had a man (who was attending my church, but not a member) who called me one day, and he told me that he always dedicates the first lobster he catches each year to the Lord, and did I want it? Duh. He brought it over, and it was HUGE, 3lbs! It was just under the legal limit where if they get any bigger, you have to throw them back. It tasted really good too!

The names have been left out to protect the innocent, and me. Only those in the Sunday School class know this . I was in a church this month, and I caught the last part of the Sunday School. The lesson was from Nehemiah, and was pertaining to the reestablishing of worship, specifically the care of the Levites and the giving of fruit, wine, grain, and money to help take care of their needs.  It was interesting, and true to the text, and the teacher did a good job. It was Lifeway material (so many of you studied it, and may have entertained the question), and the writer asked the question: “including, but not limited to money, what does a church do to take care of pastors?” What a great question! Having been a pastor for 11 years, I thought of the ways that churches went above and beyond for me and my family. I also thought of the times that we really felt forsaken. So I was excited to hear this class’s answer.

I sat in a meeting of ministry leaders and pastor once, and I listened to how many of them felt alone in their ministries. Having been hurt by others or by churches caused them to be very guarded, and afraid to be fully vulnerable and trusting. There was a longing for it, but it wasn’t being met. I thought, maybe we are doing something wrong? Maybe we have the wrong mindset when it comes to pastors and churches? Maybe this is the reason that we tend to have short tenures in the pastorate? Do we make the divide to great between pastors and congregants?

So what did the class say? They were silent. Didn’t say a word. “Ok, moving right along…” Wow. Do churches not give much thought to what they can do to take care of their pastor other than paying him? October is pastor appreciation month, but not all churches do anything special. But why not do something all year? Having seen the pastor side of that question, as well as having seen a lot of turnover in the first 15 months of my ministry here, I raised my hand and led them back to answer the question. This is a question that I wish every church member in our association would be required to answer on paper.

I think I am going to preach on this, but let me give some suggestions today. 1) Money is good, it says you love him; but, if this is all you or your church does, he is only a hireling. He is hired to preach, to visit, to marry, to bury, to be at the hospital, to be at the beck and call of others.  2) How about his time off. Make sure he takes it. Some preachers will work themselves to a fault. If they lose their family for you church, you have not taken care of him. 3) Speaking of his family. What do you do for them? Are their expectations upon his wife or children that wouldn’t be on another church family? Give them more vacation time than a business would; the church is not a business. It is a loving family, so let’s all be one. 4) One of the best things that you can do for him and his family is to let them just be a part of the church. Let him just be a church member. Visit his family. Befriend him. The divide between the pastor and member is far too wide. Shepherds had a close relationship with their sheep.

These are general suggestions, you have to ask yourself, what does our pastor need; not just, what is it that we have to give to just do enough. Each situation is different. “A new command I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you should also love another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” –Jesus, and I think He would apply it to pastors too.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Trusting a God We Cannot Control

Control. It's something that we all like to have. Maybe not in a bad context but just with many aspects of my life. For example, when I am driving, I feel like I am in control. When I am not, I feel like I am lacking it. I really don't like it when people feel that they are in danger when I am driving with my knees, and even though I am still in complete control, they snatch the wheel! They are going to kill us all! Do ever do that to me! My wheel, don't touch it. If we die, it's on me.

I started a new book this week, and it asked a piercing question as this man felt himself in a terrible situation, even though he was convinced that God had led him there. He said that he did not know that the plane that he was on taking him to his place was "the plane ride to hell." He talked about the despair he felt, deeper than any he had ever felt or even comprehended that a person could feel. He was at a crisis of faith, and the question he asked was this:

Would I choose to trust this God who I could not control? Would I be willing to walk with this God whose ways are so different (from mine). Would I, once again, lean on this God who makes impossible demands and promises only His presence?

Piercing question. A question that we all face in the midst trouble, change, heartache, waiting, hurt, and mission. Will we? Will I? Will you? We can walk down the path of worry (Matthew 6:33), fear (2 Timothy 1:7), doubt (Proverbs 3:5-6), and unbelief (Luke 8:50). Or that of trust, believe, and receive; "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).

A God that you could control would not be much of a God. He is sovereign and is under the bonds of nothing but Himself. We must embrace that with joy! Will you?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Leading to Death

The last piece I wrote was about a well-thought-out, courageous move for a pastor and his church in leading itself to great self-sacrifice for a greater kingdom work. Today, I write of self-centered cowards who slaughter the innocent for convenience with little thought to the gravity nor the consequences of such an action. I usually write about this a couple of times a year on this blog, and as little as I blog, you must think that half my posts are about this topic. You can see my last couple of posts pleading for your help in defending the defenseless here, Sanctity of Life MonthMake No Exceptions, and Preserving Life. However, as I have mentioned before, I work for the Pregnancy Care Center of Tiftarea, and so the topic comes up for me daily. And I realize that most people who don't work in a PRC/PCC may not think about it everyday, we all should think about it more. Churches should speak of it more. Pastors should speak of it more. We should be well-informed, and well-prepared to speak for those that have no voice.

Today is the day that the Supreme Court ruled to sign the death certificate for 57 million babies, and scar their mothers for life. Today I spoke for another Pregnancy Center in Douglas, GA at a program that they had for remembrance, repentance, and renewed determination to do all that we can do for the unborn and their mothers--for we defend them both. One of the other speakers wept before she even got to the microphone. She spoke of the friends in college who had abortion after abortion. She spoke of the stand she took, but she also spoke of the ministry that she had to them when they returned broken and bleeding (inside and sometimes outside). The worst thing that she spoke of, something that I had never thought about, were the dreams that these friends would have about their guilt and their longing for their children. She told of hearing them wake up screaming in the night...over and over. She told of the time that she spent with them as they cried all night, wailing over their baby. She said the abortion doctors didn't tell them. Powerful testimony, eye-opening, and my prayer was that we would all weep like that when we discuss it.

For those in South Georgia that would like to support us, this is the time of year that we begin preparing for our annual fundraising banquet. I'll give more information later, but you can come on your own, host a table (bring some friends), sponsor a table, give to underwrite, or volunteer. All the websites and pages aren't set up yet, but I will get them out soon.

Thanks for reading, pray for the children in the womb and their mothers, and those trying to help.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Leading To Die

Fifty-nine years ago Jim Elliot and his four missionary brethren were speared to death on the Curaray River in Ecuador. Great blog post was posted this morning about it. His courageous view on giving his very blood for the kingdom of Christ through the evangelism of a vicious people group was demonstrated there. He wrote about his willingness, and he courageously received it. Great example for us. And to follow his example was that of his wife courageously going back and reaching the same people that killed her husband. Life springs forth from death. Eternal life springs forth from temporary death.

Last week I saw a great example of a church that exhibited the same willingness to give its life and die for the future life of others. This church was in an area of our town that had transitioned from a middle class, Caucasian neighborhood to a predominately impoverished African American and Hispanic area. Rather that taking a typical "white flight" and moving to the suburbs, they truly desired to reach their neighborhood, and continued to evangelize and attempt to make disciples, but with little success. So after much loss and much prayer, they decided to die. They weren't giving up, quitting, or being forced out; they were choosing to relinquish their resources in view of a higher calling, greater purpose, and the leading of God.

They decided that God was leading them to disperse as their current gathering, and put all their assets and resources toward a new congregation that will be able to reach the neighborhood. With great foresight and kingdom commitment, they decided to pass the baton to another group that could continue baptizing and discipling in that location. They wanted to give a jumpstart to a group that could advance against the gates of hell and the darkness in that community.

So I sat in the service last week, and mourned with them as they thought about the last forty-two years, and how there would be no worship gathering that night. I rejoiced with them for the 135 people that had been baptized there in that amount of time, and the $250,000 given through their small congregation. I saw the tears in their eyes, and I saw the courage as well, as they wanted "thy will be done," and "make disciples of all peoples," to come to pass in their community. I saw a pastor courageously stepping out into unknown territory, and by the will and Spirit of God, leading his flock to die for a greater flock that would come and graze in that pasture. They were looking forward to a church more like the community, that could reach the community.

I was proud of them, and I trust that they will be proud when the new congregation is up and winning people to Christ.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ferguson

I have not posted on the Ferguson, MO incident because I don't know what to say. I am the chaplain of the Sheriff's Office, and I am also working with black leaders in our community to plant a church in an black neighborhood. I have been building those relationships over the last couple of years, and cherish them. I have received considerable insight into that community from these godly men.

When I was a pastor, I was intolerant of racism to the point that a racist remark was made to me one day, and I was so taken aback that I didn't know what to say or do. At that point I felt like action had to be taken. So I found another older, wiser man from that same Sunday School class as the man who made the remark, and I asked him how I should handle it. And I will never forget what he said. He said, "Jason, you can do what you want, but know that we are all (every man) racist; it's only a matter of degree."

He was right. After all the responses to the Ferguson incident from August until now, all are tainted with a degree of bias. I read statistics this morning about percentages of men, women, blacks, whites, hispanics, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, different age brackets, and different months over the last six, and their perspectives on whether or not Islam influences its adherents to violence more than other religions. By the numbers it was clear, there was bias.

With that caveat, Ed Stezter's latest piece for Christianity today has links to about every response from thoughtful evangelical Christians. If you have time to read them, you will find opinions of how we (the church) should react from lots of perspectives, that draw many different, even opposite, conclusions. I have my bias, you have yours, and all of these writers have theirs, but in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom. Before you act (or react), listen, think, pray.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Making Disciples

Jesus made the final command for which we are responsible very simple: make disciples. At a conference I went to recently, there was a break out session on "Creating a Disciple-Making Culture in Rural Churches." I took a lot of notes because it was really good info. I hope that I can help my churches put it into practice.

Why? Well, as I mentioned, Jesus told us to and this is the mission of the church, the vehicle by which to make much of Jesus Christ among the nations. If we don't make disciples, we are disobedient, or best case, we are failing at getting it right. So the question that I have been entertaining in my mind is how you measure or determine with you are producing disciples? How do you qualify or quantify people following Jesus better and more?

We have always been good at counting Sunday School or worship attendance, but attendance to public worship is not necessarily a good indicator of spiritual growth. We've counting baptisms, and we hope that more people begin a walk of faith by obedience to baptism (which is also associated with the Great Commission), but we know that baptisms don't necessarily turn out good followers of Jesus. We can talk about who read their lesson or had their "quiet time" (which by the way, is never mentioned in scripture), and that is our opinion of a really spiritual Christian is, but is it? But subconsciously, and unintentionally, could it be a mechanical, legalistic, checklist of "things on my list of impress God and others" list? AND if we don't know if we are doing a good job at it, how do we plan better, assess it, and make changes (shhhhhh) to get it done?

We don't think about it much in these terms, but not necessarily program-wise, but just as a matter of life, we must if we are doing what Jesus said to do? Even pastors, as I guide the conversation to discipling, if they agree with our mission to make disciples ("yes" is always the reply), and then what's their plan to accomplish it, and how do they know if they are doing it? How do they know if Bill is walking more like Jesus today than one year ago? Studies show that 90% of believers think they are growing, and pastors think 20% of their congregations are growing. "Pastor, how do you plan to do it? How do you know when it's been done?"

I also learned at this conference that I shouldn't give all the answers you. So not that I have them all for this difficult matter, but I've been chewing on it for a while, and have some thoughts. But you need to figure out the answers. Are you making disciples? Are they being made at your local assembly?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Practicing what you preach

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. - Heb 4:12

As a Director of Missions for an association of churches, I am constantly bouncing around from church to church. And there are weekends like this one that I preached to the congregation twice, which I don't normally do. I was reminded again about the importance of teaching/preaching the word of God to my own personal sanctification.

My belief that a preacher/teacher who is ministering to others by breaking the word before them, and he is doing it with proper motivation, will think about his applications of the truth found in the word to the immediate lives of those to whom he will be preaching, and he will ask the questions of himself, particularly: "am I doing these things?" The thing that Jesus was most critical of what hypocrisy, and the pinnacle of hypocrisy is to preach Christ, morality, love, grace, forgiveness, and their practical implications know that you are not practicing them.

Sanctification through the preaching of the word, glad I will be doing more in the next few months; lots of appts. Don't know how much good it will do for my hearers, but it will break me, and help me to know Him and be exposed to His holiness, which will ideally purify the gold from the dross.