Bold in the Pulpit, Cold in the Marketplace?

May it never be!

This morning, our team met the Hungary missionaries at the University of Gyor to plant some seeds and make some relationships with the incoming students. Our goal was to connect them with the missionaries who would help them understand English better through studying the Word at their house church/small group on Sunday morning and Tuesday nights.  So, with two of our men running a flight simulator and the rest of us milling about among the students, we had a great time helping advance the Kingdom one step at a time in Hungary.

On our way, we prayerwalked.  My prayer partner, Dee, and I prayed aloud for various issues and items that God brought before us: the students, the team, etc.  God led me to pray for boldness.  I don’t remember exactly what I prayed, but my prayer in essence was, “Lord, help me not to only be bold in the pulpit and at times when I’m expected to be bold, but Lord, help me be bold in-between those times as well.”  Dee was floored, for in her prayer, she shared how she read during her devotion times through Ephesians 6, and came to the part where Paul prayed “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am already an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19-20). 

So, twice the term ‘boldly’ occurs in such a short amount of time.  Then God led me to pray that prayer.  But that’s exactly what was needed in talking to these students today.  Who knows how many will start coming to the missionaries’ times of study, but all we can do is plant seeds by engaging them in their thinking, helping them to consider the things of the Lord, and pray they would come to Christ, connect with His church, and commit to Kingdom work.

A funny connecting point today. I noticed that a young first year student was wearing a very familiar hat today.
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If you’ll notice, that’s a Colorado Rockies hat. Imagine seeing that! Pray for Viktor, please!

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God Is Not Bound By Language or Culture

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This morning, I had the privilege of a lifetime: not only did I have the privilege of preaching the Word, I had the privilege of preaching the Word to a Hungarian house church. The time leading up to the preaching did not give me the sense of awe and amazement, for that came as I began. My interpreter Agi, sitting to my left in the picture above, had to take a complex language of English and translate it into a more complex language in Hungarian.

I preached from the English-Hungarian translation Good News for Modern Man. No, it’s not the tightest, most literal translation around from Greek to English, but this Bible contained actual Hungarian, so it was of use. (By the way, thank you Larry and Melinda Ewing, IMB missionaries not only for asking me to preach, but also for giving me a copy of this Bible. I will treasure it to my grave.)

I met with Agi a few minutes before the service times to come up with a game plan. She had been tasked with this numerous times, but I hadn’t preached with an interpreter since 1996 at a Chinese church in Trinidad & Tobago. We agreed that I would preach a sentence then she would interpret. At least one could understand English and Hungarian equally well, but most only spoke either Hungarian or English, but not both.

All of us were excited and encouraged to see 37 come to this house church–the most they had ever had. The living room was crowded and hot, with fans a blowing (no A/C in their flat), and folks had to sit in their hallway. What a nice problem to have! It goes to show how important these relationships are, especially when our crew from ARBC comes as they have for the last 13 years. The first team that went in 2002 or 2003, they had six come for their first meeting. Today they had 37, a number of whom are not yet believers.

As I preached, I saw blank faces, waiting eagerly for Agi to tell them what I had just said. That’s an interesting thing, waiting for a reaction that long. But I did see some who were encouraged, and also some who were shifting in their seats. See? The Word has power and authority that is not bound by language or culture.

I taught on the topic of “Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake” from 1 Peter 3:8-18. My aim was to show them how to endure suffering through three key concepts:

Pursue unity through the body of Christ (3:8-12)
Put your eyes on the person of Christ (3:13-17)
Put your mind on the work of Christ (3:18).

Every single person in that room: unbeliever, believer, missionary, Colorado team! The unbeliever needed to realize the cost of following Jesus but also the reward of Jesus! The believer needed reinforcing as they sought to invite others to house church and study. The missionaries (Larry and Melinda) needed reminding of this on a number of fronts. And our Colorado team? We needed to remember that as we begin our ministry at the university tomorrow, and as we see to advance God’s kingdom through ARBC where we live.

And the beauty and rigor of the Word began to move. Seeds were planted. Hearts were stirred. Believers were strengthened and comforted. New believers gained perspective. Unbelievers soul-searched. I was humbled and ground to a fine powder at see God move and His Son exalted in a country eight time zones away from home.

I intend to never allow my heart to believe that God’s Word isn’t powerful enough to change hearts, lives, and churches. For this Word must reverberate through the entire life of our church, from Sunday School, to Connect Groups and SNAPs, to our Business Meetings where all teams stand up and share something that God has done and how they intend to glorify God in their work.

Yes, Lord Jesus!

You Can’t Lead If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going

This evening, we met two of our IMB missionaries to Hungary for dinner.  We had a delightful time eating at a local Hungarian restaurant called Captain Drake’s.  What did I have, you ask? A bacon cheeseburger.  Yes, that’s right.  After all, while everyone else was having their Hungarian cuisine, I felt it my responsibility to examine how well the Hungarians prepared American cuisine.  So there.

We talked for a while in the main square in Gyor before heading back to our hostel– Hotel Famulus, a dorm in reality, but home for our time here in Gyor.  So, as I’m prone to do, I lead us out.  One problem.

I did not remember how to get back to the Hotel Fabulous.  So, the laypeople who set up this trip, the Petersons, wanted to see how well I did in finding our way back.  I didn’t do so well.  We came to the first intersection, and nothing looked familiar–so I deferred to the ones who knew the way.

Really nothing too terribly profound here: you can’t lead if you don’t kow where you’re going.  Just because I was out in front did not mean I knew the way.  But here’s the thing: if I’m really the ‘front’ guy, I’d better know the way.  Otherwise, someone else will come in to try to fill in that leadership gap. Plus, more importantly, I’m only the leader in title, not in reality.  And this serves as the problem in many churches–leaders are only leaders in title, but aren’t really leading because they really do not know where they are going.

And friends, there are few things that bring more joy to a leader that a leader who has convictions from the Word, galvanized by the Holy Spirit, and set aflame by the church of God to go in a direction that reflects the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)–both of which really deal with the same thing:  loving Christ’s and His authority, and loving your neighbor as yourself in making them disciples of Christ. 

Do you, dear leader, know where you’re going?  Christ will show the way.

Ten Commandments of Short-Term Missions Trips

With our church heading on a short-term missions trip to Hungary beginning tomorrow, I came across Trevin Wax’s post on the “Ten Commandments for Short-Term Missions Trips.”  So helpful!

  1. Thou shalt always remember that the primary function of a short-term team is to learn, and not to help.
  2. Thou shalt always defer to the long-term missionaries, even when thou dost not agree with them.
  3. Thou shalt surely leave all they agendas at home before thou arrivest on the mission field.
  4. Thou shalt be prepared to spend large amounts of time doing nothing, for thus verily is the way of the mission field.
  5. Thou shalt be careful to obey in all details, the security rules and advice of the project which thou visitest.
  6. Thou shalt be both attentive and accurate in the communication with the mission base before they visit.
  7. Thou shalt be careful to pay for all the expenses of thy visit.
  8. Thou shalt take great care in thy giving and spending, lest thou appearest to be filthy rich.
  9. Thou shalt be careful to respect the doctrinal and theological views of the project which thou visitest.
  10. Thou shalt surely keep thy word in regards to follow-up activities.

(from Paul Cull, leader of Projeto Casa Esperanza in Brazil)

Navigating an Established Church Through Change

2014-11-11 07.58.09Change  in a church or any organization is scary–and not just for those of the older persuasion.  I mean, that’s the stereotype: the senior adults of a church usually take umbrage with change.  Not so!  Change is scary for many in the church.  The unknown is all that’s known during the process.  The younger generations wonder if the change will really help the cause of Christ, and become anxiety-filled in wondering if this process will really move things forward or find resistance to such a degree that it’s not worth it.

Our church called me as Lead Pastor (I know, the title is ‘senior’ pastor, but, hey, I’m 43–I’m not a ‘senior’ anything yet) and for the first 18 months, I kept my word and didn’t change much.  I spent time loving and getting to know our people as best as possible (not perfectly, but that was my ambition), and preached the unvarnished Word of God being led by His Spirit in using this earthen vessel (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Yet,

Here’s my plan:

Christ and community:  Do the changes help us better connect with Christ  and connect with the community around us?

Head and heart:  Do the changes connect with us personally in our head (yes, we need these changes) and our heart (are we emotionally and spiritually ready to make these changes, or do our spirits resist these? If so, why?  What challenges arise?  What threat do they pose?  Is the end result in our hearts worth the process of losing some of what we have now?)

Approachable and applicable:  Are the changes achievable (to use another ‘a’)?  Are they something that we can do?  Are there short-term, easier changes we can make now to gain momentum for changes in the future?  Are these changes for changes’ sake, or do they apply to a true obstacle or issue the church is facing?

Navigable:  Are we as church leaders ready to communicate where we shall navigate?  Are we as church leaders ready to help you navigate through the calm and/or stormy waters in this sea of change–or are we as leaders wanting to stay docked in a safe harbor?  When we do (notice the word ‘when’) pull out of the safety of the harbor, will we as church leaders recognize the needed pace by which to navigate?  And will we all be willing to be led by the Spirit and have ears to hear what he is saying to the church (Revelation 2-3)?

Gradual with gravity:  Pace.  That’s the word.  Will we recognize the necessary pace, finding the tension between being gradual (not glacial) and conveying the gravity of needed change?

Edifying and engaging:  Are we willing to grow on the inside (edify–which means to build up) to go on the outside (engaging)?  We’ve come full circle to Christ (growing in Him) and culture (going for Him, in His name).

Whatever change takes place, may we do so by

(1)  Engaging His Word
(2)  Engaging Him in prayer
(3)  Engaging His people.
(4)  Engaging the lost.

What think ye?  How does change in your church affect you?

Beware the Black Hole of Burnout–And What to Do About It


(Note: This was an experiment of a live broadcast via the Periscope app. So, my apologies for the rough edges around it all. Thanks to the 21 who tuned in!)

Every church has very faithful, loving, servant-minded members who enjoy working for their church and their Master.  They prove themselves faithful.  They see areas of ministry that need attention, and they roll up their sleeves to address that issue.  But soon, something ominous comes over the horizon:

Burnout.

The tank is empty.  Frustration ensues as to why others fail to step up. Their family life and personal life are swallowed up by meetings and activities.  Devotional life? That’s almost laughable if it weren’t so dreadful.  Soon, resentment sets in.  Despair takes over. Disengagement begins–not just of the ministries in which they are involved, but sadly of the church as a whole. Many just disengage completely from their church family in which they’ve poured so much of their heart and soul, then move on to find a place where they may begin again.

At the church where I serve, we have many who are deeply involved in the life of the church.  Some are so faithful and have so much energy and passion for the church, they jump in in numerous places.  While a minority thrive on such activity, most (even pastors) have trouble sustaining this pace.  They are pulled into the black hole of burnout!

So What Do We Do About This?

First, give your people permission to set boundaries!  Help them find an area where they enjoy serving, and so they may serve Jesus with all their heart!

Now, here’s the hard part.  If you tell them to set boundaries, then that means they’ll have to use a word that may not be in their vocabulary.

No.

They need permission to say no to some things in order to say yes to the best things. If they’re stretched, then that means they’re doing lots of things in a mediocre fashion because (1) it’s so much, and (2) it’s outside of their gifting.

Secondly, lead your people to move from inquirer to multiplier.  Every person needs to serve in some area of ministry for the church.  The goal should be for the church that no member should serve on two teams at any given point.  I confess, that’s happening at the church where I serve. I fall into the trap that many pastors of small-to-medium sized churches fall into: humming along, thankful for those who are serving, and not being intentional or at least observant as to how many of our members are stretched beyond measure with teams and meetings and activities.  Do you hear the sucking of the black hole?  So do many leaders and many who are on the verge of burnout.

Our goal must stand strong in working to get every member ministering in some fashion, even if it doesn’t fall into the parameters set up by the team structure in place. Help them discover their spiritual gifts! Help them to recognize proper boundaries. Help them to realize that the Spirit is here to replenish, for we cannot do any of this alone.

Encouragement for Age-Impaired Pastors

When I took my first full-time pastorate, I was 31 years old.    During my first couple of years there, I heard a number of different comments about my age.  One came from a woman who stayed for a year, then left the church.  I saw her at a hospital visit when her father was having surgery—and she confessed, “I left because I couldn’t handle being preached to by a child.”

O-K.

Ouch!

Others were milder:  “I have grandchildren older than you!”  Or, “I have been married longer than you’ve been alive.”  But they all had the same basic theme: you are really young to be our pastor.

Some churches like the thought of having a young pastor because they believe a young pastor will bring young people in to revitalize an older congregation.  Search teams enjoy a pastor who is “35 years old with 20 years’ experience.”  Other churches bring on younger pastors because they believe a younger pastor may require a lesser salary than one with more experience.

I write this to encourage younger pastors.  Granted, I’m not aged—I’m only 41.  But having been in ministry 20 years with constant reminders even today of how young I am or look.  If this is you, don’t let it discourage you.

First Timothy 4:12-16 says:

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them,so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Even at a young age (Timothy was likely in his mid 30s when he took over the church at Ephesus):

  1. Set an example in your life.
  2. Stick to the Scriptures (reading it and preaching it)
  3. Use the gift God gave you and your fellow pastors confirmed in you.
  4. Stay personally and doctrinally sound.

In other words, regardless of how others see you, keep your eyes on Christ and the calling He bestowed on you, and all will see your progress and will not take your age into consideration.  And when someone brings up your age (as either a mere observation or to try and humble you), thank God that there is age limit to whom He can use.  And praise God He is using you for the greatest of all tasks:  preaching the gospel and pastoring His people.

Road-Weary Leaders

This past trip to Kentucky ( which I’m still on) has left this husband and father road weary. I’ve joked that I’m not just tired, I’m ‘mission trip tired.’  No complaints, mind you. Seeing family and friends that we had not seen in years did wonders for my soul. Visiting the farm where my dad grew up shook the rust off a number of memories from my own childhood was a treasure.

Yet, problems arose. My car needed a new alternator (money) which meant we needed to rent a car (more money) which meant not doing all we had planned to do. That increased my weariness as well. 

This happens to leaders as well. My friend Rick Lewis spoke to me recently about how even the best of circumstances and the smoothest of changes a leader brings to an organization can still put miles on you. He’s right. Every week, a new adventure arises for the leader, who then has to make that hard decision, have that hard conversation, execute that difficult move, and pour himself heart and soul into a people he loves. The goal is Christlikeness, both in the people and the leader himself.

So what do we do when will you grow road weary? What do we do to stave it off before it happens?

Peter Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader includes an illustration that may help:

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So what do we see here? In the secular rhythm, we see some at work, work, work followed by a vacation, then work, work, work. In looking at the sacred rhythm, we see the Sabbaths are interspersed all through life. I believe of the author is on to something here, leading me to purchase this book explore it all the more. For you see, in God’s providence, I just picked up this book off the shelf and turned to this page. This was no accident.

Sabbaths filled with Scripture, prayer, meditation, journaling, seeking godly counsel, reading spiritually rich authors who sat at the feet of Jesus, exercise, eating well–these things help us avoid road weariness.

On my way back to Kentucky, I will have the urge to plow on with as few stops as possible, all with the goal of getting as many miles in the rearview mirror as possible.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll take a few breaks along the way to see the sights.

I’ll let you know how it goes.