Friday, January 30, 2015

Sharing your faith... with Christians

Typically we think of those outside the Body of Christ when we talk about sharing our faith - but Christians need to hear "the reason for your hope" too.  Why?

1.  Because Life is Hard - there are believers in every congregation who are on the brink.  Their circumstances are causing them to wrestle with their faith.  Each Christian will have those moments when he wonders, "Where is God in this?"  Parents who helplessly watch their child fight for life... the wife whose husband of 20 years rips their family apart chasing after an invading interest... young people whose professors are ripping apart all things metaphysical... life is hard.  Sometimes our faith is strong and comforting.  Sometimes our faith is like moth-eaten, stale fabric that has spent too many winters in the back of an overcrowded closet.

Broken people need you to share your faith with them.  Many of those "victims of life" are one disaster away from checking out.  Be a lifeline... an encourager.

2.  Because it is commanded - Think of the injunction, "Bear one another's burdens."  Solomon told us that a fitting word is like "apples of gold in settings of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).  All of us can remember a time when God led someone to us who said just the right thing to change our perspective or lift our spirits.  People need that.  Saved people need to know they are loved.  Too many pastors get so caught up pursuing new people that they forget those who have been 'in the trenches' with them. Discouragement is common among us because so much of what we do is attacked or seems fruitless or because we battle a sin nature that is often selfish.  That's why something so beautiful as "encouragement" has to be commanded - because we are so prone to think only of ourselves.

3.  Because it will bless you - Though we shouldn't strive FOR blessing but to BE a blessing, it truly is refreshing to be a part of making a difference in someone's life.  Though helping others can be exhausting at times - I know of no greater work... no richer blessing than being another man's Barnabas.  Think of what it meant to Onesiphorus to hear Paul say, "He has often refreshed me." When long dead and gone, the encourager's legacy lives on.

Jesus blessed others.  Though He often confronted those whose lives were empty religious shells, He had a magnetism that drew crowds everywhere He went.  Why?? Because He loved the unlovable, restored the fallen, and encouraged the weak.  Be like Him!  Look for ways to bring light to another's darkness.  Yes, even believers need to hear WHY they should trust the Lord.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Quiet Time - You need one

Since preachers write studies and sermons each week, we are tempted to forgo a daily devotional life. "It isn't like we aren't in the Word..." but it is important that we find nourishment too - beyond the typical wrestling with a text for others.  We NEED the discipline of a daily quiet time.  What's more, we need the intimacy of it.

Don't fall into the trap of reading the Bible as a textbook.  At the risk of sounding hokey, allow the Word to wash over you.  Invite God to change your thinking.  Ask Him to use His Word to shape you into the image of Christ.  Even ask Him to help you LOVE His Word.

What are the benefits?  A brilliant restfulness in the knowledge of God, His Will, and purposes.  As you confide in God (through prayer) you will find it less important to confide in man.  Your heart will change as God slowly and yet methodically transforms your mind.  You will better minister God's truth to others too - for the insight we need for life is only found in the wisdom of God. Peace... patience... mercy and grace all grow in the heart where the seed of God's Word is sown.

Set a time.  Do it.  And watch your heart change!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Second and satisfied

As I enjoyed the fellowship of another Free Will Baptist pastor, the subject of church staff, particularly associate pastors, came up.  We talked about how uncomfortable it is when someone you hired to help you subtly undermines you.  I told my friend, "It would be nice if a prominent associate in our ranks would write a book called 'Second and satisfied... how to flourish in the role of the associate."

Some of us unnecessarily view the role of the associate pastor as a stepping stone to the pastorate. When I graduated Bible College, I chose this path to the pastorate because I wanted to learn, hands-on, from a veteran.  There's nothing wrong with that.  But sometimes the associate gets caught in the cross-hairs of church dysfunction - where lay-leaders begin to promote or prefer the "new guy" (the associate) over the "old guy" (the senior pastor.)  Maybe, as in my case, the associate has definite opinions about the pastorate and doesn't shy away from making unfair comparisons or criticisms of the man they have pledged to serve.  Some men refuse to hire an associate because they have been "burned" by naive, fledgling leaders.

How can we adequately train men to be good associates?  What are the principles they must embrace to gain the necessary experience all the while offering valuable aid to the man and church that has employed them?  Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, the associate must understand his role.  You are there at the behest of someone else.  You owe the senior pastor your outspoken support and cooperation.  IF you cannot do that, IF he proves to be a man unworthy of your support, L-E-A-V-E.  You do not want to harm him or the church.  You are there to sharpen your ax, to add tools to your toolbox... not to destroy or disparage another man's work.

Exercise wisdom - those who stroke your fur now often have an agenda that is ungodly.  If they are using subtle tactics to undermine the pastor, you better know you are only a pawn to be sacrificed when you no longer serve their purposes.

Ask for a clearly defined job-description.  Life is much easier if the pastor is clear in his expectations. Often you are being hired as the "cure-all" to their problems.  Churches and pastors make the mistake of thinking that the "home-run-hire" will jump-start a dead or dying work.  I know one pastor who changes associates like some might change pants.  When the church doesn't grow, he fires his associate to keep himself off the hot-seat.  Every 18 months he makes a change.  Job-descriptions help you AND the church develop realistic expectations. (It would be wise to consider a pastor's track-record with associates BEFORE you sign the dotted line)

Every chance you get - lift up, stand behind, and encourage the senior pastor.  Pray for him.  Never give him a reason to suspect your motives.  Ask questions.  Look for ways to shoulder the leadership-burden.  Enjoy being second.  Some of the strongest churches in our denomination are led by staffs with great chemistry and loyalty.  Your life will be much more fulfilling if you cultivate a spirit of contentment wherever you are.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rogue Leaders

Rogue leaders... no matter how "cool" it may sound, being rogue is anything BUT cool.  Chafed by convention, these self-willed men behave as if they are above accountability... that God speaks to them and uses them in ways no one else could understand, and therefore, dare not question. What are some of the common characteristics of rogue leaders?

1.  The Rogue Leader surrounds himself with "Yes men."  Though scripture says there is "safety in a multitude of counselors," the rogue leader has fallen into the trap of Rehoboam - wanting advisers who always agree with him - who never challenge or question. Constructive criticism is always perceived as a personal attack.  Those who differ with them are quickly marginalized and ostracized. 

2.  The Rogue Leader is driven by ego rather than integrity.  He listens to the wrong people. Those who stroke him are those he values.

3.  The Rogue Leader uses the well-crafted apology as if it were a magic-wand.  He would rather ask for forgiveness than permission.  When enough people see his wrong, he expects grace without repentance.  When people seem slow to trust his new-found change of heart, he quickly resorts to personal attacks or invites them to leave.

4.  The Rogue Leader uses people for his own selfish gain - and when they no longer satisfy his needs, he discards them.

I know a rogue leader. Sadly, he has gifts and abilities God would bless and use,  but because he is so self-willed, he is blind to the carnage in his wake.  As I watch him destroy people, I must remember how I too have been that man.  I thank God for showing me my rogue ways and pray everyday I will never be that man again.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Basic Organizational tid-bits for a young pastor

When new to the ministry, it is hard to think with "intentionality."  It takes time to think clearly when you are doing your best to survive the daily demands of the pastorate.  Here are a few things you will be glad you got right from an organizational perspective:

1) Catalog your messages - Keep good notes on your sermons, illustrations, and speaking opportunities.  Later in your ministry you will appreciate and benefit from the groundwork you have laid in previous messages.  Date and file every sermon, notate where you have preached it, evaluate each sermon when you are finished (a brief note at the end of your sermon with any observations that will be helpful the next time you use it.)

2) Record statistics - Keep good stats on all your services.  You will be able - at a glance - to analyze the direction of the church, what areas need improvement, what changes need to be made. You will be able to determine patterns in attendance that might encourage you after a low day.  You will be able to see what days work best for special campaigns or pushes.  You will get a feel for the natural ebb and flow of your church.  Notate every salvation, baptism, church membership, funeral, wedding, baby dedication, special project, etc.  This info is easy to keep and might give you further opportunity to minister to a specific person or need.  (For instance, you might see that one of your members is approaching the anniversary of the death of a spouse or child and you can be sensitive to them and encourage them.)

3) Keep a calendar - it doesn't matter if it is electronic or manual, you need to keep track of appointments, visits, mileage, meetings, upcoming member-surgeries, etc.  Instead of letting your schedule happen to you, you must take charge of it.  A disciplined schedule will beat back those "overwhelmed" feelings that sometimes paralyze pastors.  Spend less time on time killers like social media and secular forums where you are tempted to be someone you are not. Keep your priorities straight and protect what is important.

Trust me when I say, the earlier you begin these things, the happier you will be!