How Seeing Weakness in Your Church May Show Your Strengths

In their book How People Change, Tim Lane and Paul Tripp give us a wonderful insight into those in our churches who, as well meaning as they are, tend to point out weaknesses in the church.  Granted, some may just enjoy finding weaknesses for weaknesses’ sake. But others may see weaknesses out of love for their church. This will help the pastors and leaders see their strengths.

The corporate nature of our growth in grace is highlighted in many places in Scripture. In Romans 12:1—8, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:7—16, and 1 Peter 4:10—11, Paul and Peter speak of the diversity of gifts. First Corinthians 12 is especially important, because Paul talks about the many different gifts while using the metaphor of the physical body. Each believer receives gifts from the Holy Spirit to be used “for the common good” (7). We are to live as unique and vital parts of Christ’s body, connected to serve, and be served by, the rest of the body (12, 14). No one part should think of itself as useless, especially when compared to more prominent or “glamorous” parts (15—27). Think about the gifts God has given you. How are they meant to serve other members of the body as they seek to honor Christ? What gifts do you need from others to help you do the same thing? When we don’t think about our gifts in this corporate way, the very gifts that are given to bless the community are used to divide it.

I remember a situation where a church was located near a trailer park. Over the years, the church had struggled to reach out to this community. In a congregational meeting, the pastor encouraged the congregation to make a new commitment to serve the people there. One person stood up and said that past efforts had failed because the church lacked organization. Another person said that the church had failed due to a lack of knowledge regarding the people’s practical needs. Still another said that the church lacked evangelistic zeal.

In each case, the person offering the criticism had the gifts to make the effort succeed! The person who saw a lack of organization had the gift of administration. The person who saw the lack of concern for practical needs had the gift of mercy. And the person who thought the church lacked evangelistic zeal had the gift of evangelism.

What should have been a very successful outreach was short-circuited because they had not been using their gifts, the very gifts that were needed most. Instead, they had lapsed into an unhealthy criticism of what others were not doing. About a month later, these three individuals got together and pooled their gifts of evangelism, mercy, and administration to spearhead a successful ministry to the residents of the trailer park.

The lesson is obvious: we are better when we are together. Without a combination of gifts expressing the grace of Christ, that very grace is shrouded in ineptitude and pride. Our gifts are for the common good, not self-aggrandizement. When we fail to see this, we find that our gifts actually create division within the body of Christ, instead of uniting us.

Are there places where your gifts are needed in the body of Christ? A better question is, Where are your gifts needed? One good way to determine your gifts is to ask yourself where you see weaknesses in the body. It is highly likely that you see these weaknesses because you are looking at the church through the lens of your gifts. Where you see weakness is probably the very place where God wants you to serve your brothers and sisters.

Start reading this book for free: http://amzn.to/2aqRTYp

Advertisements

Preaching That Makes One Weep

There’s a wonderful book entitled Chaplain of the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South, which is a biography of Baptist stalwart Basil Manly, Sr (1798-1868).  While the title may be off-putting for some (Chaplain of the Confederacy), I’ve only made it to his life in the 1820s as he just begins his pastoral ministry.  He was a preacher of the gospel par excellence, whom God seemed to use to stir the emotions of his hearers, leading to a revival in the town of Edgefield, SC, where he first served in the pastorate.  This stirring is not a bad thing.  I was talking to a friend about various aspects of preaching and worship services, and he noted how so much of what has been done in churches bordered on manipulation rather than a reliance on the Spirit’s movement in hearts from the preached Word. 

The pendulum swings back and forth between preaching to the heart (formerly known as the affections) and preaching to the head.  Yet, which should the pendulum swing?  Clearly, one generation often seeks to compensate for the perceived shortcomings of the previous one—much like the previous generation seeks to compensate for the one before it.  The goal is to preach to both the head with the truth and the heart with the love of Christ/hatred of sin (see Ephesians 4:15). 

Jonathan Edwards gives some helpful insight:

A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble broken-hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behaviour.

A preaching of the Word of God that seeks a transformation will preach to both head and heart.  It will strengthen the mind and soften the heart to the things of Jesus.  This type of preaching will help us pursue a union with Christ as Christ has pursued a union with us through the cross and resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. 

May God give preachers a message and the Spirit to strengthen minds and soften hearts to be sensitive to the truth. 

Dressing for Church: Which Way Does One Go?

pinstripe-bow-tieI cannot tell you how much time I have spent wondering how to dress for church, especially as a pastor.  Casual or no?  Suit or no? Tie or no? Khakis?  It’s maddening. In my 20s and 30s, my dress would depend on the context.  A Southern Southern Baptist Church would usually mean a suit and tie.  A church that just started and was looking to reach a younger demographic?  No tie, no suit, no how!

Have you ever wondered about this?  Churches usually slide one way or the other.  I remember going into a church plant with a coat and tie, and felt the peer pressure to take off the coat and tie.  Others wonder if they can come to an established church with anything else–even talking themselves out of coming because they don’t have “Sunday clothes.”

See the dilemma?

In Denver, I know the majority of pastors and church attenders usually wear a button down shirt or polo with khakis or jeans.  Some who have the build for it, wear T-shirts with logos that connect with a subset of our culture.  Yet, when I went back to Kentucky, I preached in the button down shirt with khakis, but at the restaurant, the majority of church folks who flooded the restaurant wore a suit and tie.  So very different from where I live, but not very different from how I grew up.

Now, I had the draft of the previous paragraphs in my draft folder for about two weeks, when lo and behold Joe McKeever, an insightful retired pastor who lives in New Orleans, put out a comment of Facebook that led to a lengthy article on his blog titled, “Does it matter how the preacher dresses?”  While many may dismiss McKeever as out of line and out of touch due to the whiteness of his hair or his advanced years, he brings much-needed wisdom to the table.  And maybe since I’m not in my 20s or 30s anymore–and this year will bring me closer to 50 than to 40–maybe I’ve mellowed as well.   But we would do well to read this if for nothing else than to interact with the topic.

Here’s McKeever’s point for pastors/leaders:  Staying dressed one step ahead of the dress of your average congregant inspires confidence in your leadership.

Let that soak in. First of all, he’s not saying coat and tie are mandatory across the board.  He’s not saying it–nor should he. Too many different contexts exist for such a blanket statement.

Second of all, he’s not saying that the way a pastor dresses will cover up other issues regarding character, care, preparedness, etc. It won’t take long for the average church attender or member to see through the charade.

My church have a few in a certain demographic that like their preacher in a suit and tie. Others in a younger demographic frankly don’t care.  They want me clean and dressed, which would be good for everyone!

Now let me stop and tell you what I’m doing: I’m spending a lot of time on this blog post, and a lot of time in my personal life over the years concerned about how my dress affects ministry.  Will my dress help connect with visitors? Will my dress be received well among our members?

It’s maddening!  And exhausting!

Over the last three weeks, I have found myself enjoying the feel of a bow tie.  I am in the process of learning how to tie an actual bow tie, but I’m wearing the pre-tied one at this point.  And the comments have come: some have told me, “Wow, you pull that off really well,” while others react as if you say, “You need to pull that off… like now!” (It’s probably about 80/20 for/against).

But it goes down to a fundamental question: what are the rules in wearing clothes to church?  And even for pastors?  Does McKeever have a point?

I think he does, and I’ll tell you why.

  1. There’s no way you will please everyone in the room.  If we have 200 people in our sanctuary, the chances of everyone of them being happy with any given thing are minimal to non-existent.  My goodness, I won’t please everyone reading this blog post even now.  My implication is not for us to stop trying, but to not make it the #1 reason for anything you do.
  2. If you’re not sure what to do, follow McKeever’s advice and dress one step ahead.  You don’t want to be the sloppiest guy in the room, but you don’t want to be two to three steps ahead.  Own your context, lean into it, and don’t apologize or worry.  I love wearing a suit and bow tie.  I can’t quantify why, I just do. I’ve almost gotten to where I can actually tie one.
  3. Whatever we do, be neat and clean.  Iron clothes, wash hair, and don’t let your attire distract.  I visited a church up the road where the pastor wore the pastor plaid and jeans (or was it khakis).  See? I can’t remember–because it didn’t distract.  Granted, some will be distracted regardless.  One couple came to our church who’d just moved up from Texas.  I had my suit and white shirt–but no tie.  They knew in their hearts it wasn’t that big a deal, but they couldn’t get past a pastor or any of the men now wearing a suit and tie when preaching.  Do I put on a tie just to keep them?  No–we’re back at square one in people pleasing.  Someone may object to my bowtie.  Do I yank it off?  No.  You just be faithful and own where you are.

The difficulty in discussing this matter is you can slide into a legalistic mindset very easily.

What do you think?  Does dress really matter?  If it does, what’s your go-to standards and practices?

 

The One Factor in Helping Students Retain Faith After High School

0e2241705_1372095385_saving-leonardo-nancy-pearceyNancy Pearcey challenges me more than any other in showing the need of having a strong Christian worldview, but also interacting with other non-Christian worldviews. In Pearcey’s book Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning, Pearcey cited a study that showed the one factor which helped students keep their faith after high school.  What was it?

A recent study by Fuller Seminary found that when teens graduate from high school, they often “graduate from God”as well. But the researchers also discovered one factor that proved most effective in helping young people retain their Christian convictions. What would you expect it to be? More prayer? More Bible study? As important as those things are, surprisingly, the most significant factor was whether they had a safe place to wrestle with doubts and questions before leaving home. The study concluded, “The more college students felt that they had the opportunity to express their doubt while they were in high school, the higher [their] levels of faith maturity and spiritual maturity.”

In other words, the only way teens become truly “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks”(1 Pet. 3:15) is by wrestling personally with the questions.”

The challenge for our Christian homes and churches is to have these environments as ‘safe places to wrestle with doubts.’  I began wrestling at 15, and I’m thankful for having places where I could share some of my concerns and work through them.

Pastors, give your student pastors the room to help students explore the issues of the faith that trouble them.  Student pastors, given your students room to express those issues.  Better now than later while you still have influence!

How Efficiency in Your Organization Helps Fulfill the Great Commandment

I just finished Matt Perman‘s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things DoneThis stands as one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read on productivity. It’s building on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but putting a gospel-centered productivity aspect to this. I love how he showed that being productive is not just about doing things for you in a self-centered way, but is an act of loving your neighbor. That chimed with me, and may well be the final catalyst for being productive.  Below is a choice quote from the book (p. 303) about why being effective and productive is not for selfish ambition, but actually is about ‘loving your neighbor.’

How does individual effectiveness lead to the greater effectiveness of the organization? It’s not simply that by doing your work better everyone around you gets more done and thus the organization gets more done (though that is true).

It is also because personal effectiveness has an impact on the spirit and culture of an organization, creating an environment that calls forth the best from everyone. This raises the sights of everybody and creates an environment that calls forth their best. This is good for everyone individually and for the organization. As Drucker puts it, “As executives work toward becoming effective, they raise the performance level of the whole organization. They raise the sights of people —their own as well as others. As a result, the organization not only becomes capable of doing better. It becomes capable of doing different things and of aspiring to different goals” (Drucker, The Effective Executive, p. 170-71).

Thus, “executive effectiveness is our one best hope to make modern society productive economically and viable socially” (Drucker, 170).

This book will stay close by on my desk for the foreseeable future.  It provides concrete measures to help you sort through various actions and projects that will come your way.

I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough.  Blending the purpose of preaching, pastoring, and productivity is what this blog is all about–and will help all leaders lead their organization more joyfully and less stressfully.  Who knows?  We may spend some time going through this book chapter by chapter.

How Preaching Hard Texts Endears You to Your People

Whereas conventional wisdom in most evangelical circles dictates that pastors would do well to avoid the hard texts, my contention is that pastors should never shy away from this.  While the Joel Osteens and the Robert Schullers of the world will shy away from such dealings , I believe that many in our pews are just wanting a pastor who will deal directly with what the Bible says and address the issue at hand.

A case in point: in my previous church, I preached on two rather “hard texts” two Sundays in a row: one dealing with the role of women in the church, the other on the necessity of giving.  After each of those sermons, one of my deacons came out and said, “Man, I thought you’d be black and blue right now — you really laid it out there.”  But the reaction couldn’t have been different.  By the grace and glory of God, I received thank you’s for being willing to tackle such issues and helping to make things clear.  That will happen more often than not!  What joy that brings to a preacher and leader!

Why should we preach the hard texts as well as the other types to our people?

  1. Those texts are in the Scriptures! Obvious, yes.  But I have had well-meaning ministers tell me that just because it is in the Bible does not necessarily mean it will be appropriate to preach on.  This is why I make the case for expositional preaching: if forces you to deal with a text that your flesh may tempt you to avoid.
  2. For all the talk about our people despising authority, I believe they are looking for solid ground on which to stand.  We all are.  All this noise about postmodernism winning the day is far too premature.  It may be prevalent, but it hasn’t won anything.  If anything, our culture feels more in the dark than ever because many people’s spiritual journey is leading them down some deadends.  Preachers must never forget the supernatural transformational power of the Scriptures that are breathed out by the Spirit of God himself!   Never give up preaching!  The world may deem it folly, but to those who are being saved it  is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
  3. People, especially Christians, long to be dealt with honestly. Many in my generation are becoming angry at the church for their failure to teach them the things of the faith.  They praise God for churches sharing the gospel with them and showing them Jesus, but afterwards they become afraid of being too doctrinal (read: divisive) and therefore they do not “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
  4. People feel patronized when pastors fail to deal with a text or issue.  When pastors avoid these texts, they are in so many words telling their people, “You really can’t handle this right now.”  Yet, pastors who stay with their churches and invest their time in their people can take them along slowly and help them step-by-step.  Young pastors especially need to remember that you don’t need to tell them everything you know (or think you know) in one sermon.  Pour yourself out into your people and teach them with patience (1 Timothy 4:13-16).

What do you think?