Month: June 2014

A Dangerous Question

“Trash Sunday morning. It doesn’t exist anymore. There’s nothing there. Now, starting from scratch, redesign the entire Sunday morning experience with two goals: 1) Introducing Jesus to someone who has no clue who he is, and 2) Strengthening the faith of our members and visitors who already know him, no matter how well they already know him. Go.”

We’re walking the path to becoming “an outreach church.” For the last several years, while we’ve certainly held outreach events and God has certainly laughed as he’s blessed us with people who want to join the congregation, we’ve not exactly been focused outward. One member told me with a straight face, “If someone wants to come here, they have to change to be like us.” I want to point out here, that this same member is not afraid to tell me to change God’s Word if it means keeping a member. He’s more concerned with “the way things have always been” than doctrine.

I also want to make clear that there are certain non-negotiables. I constructed the question to be as broad as possible to start discussion… but I suspect I’ll be pulling back from more radical changed, depending how creative people get. Non-negotiable number one: the center of the service is still the proclamation of the Gospel. Period. We do not change doctrine. We do not change God’s Word. I don’t care if the Gospel or closed Communion or original sin is offensive and scares people away; these things are non-negotiable.

But today, in our “little” evangelism group, we asked the question… and got some responses I didn’t expect. (more…)

10 Things This Pastor Wants to Tell His Congregation

A different top ten… but one you can laugh at!

I just finished reading a book. It was a bad book. The title is 10 Things Your Pastor Wants to Tell You – But Won’t Because He Needs the Paycheck. Don’t read it. It was bad.

If your pastor is afraid to tell you something because he needs the paycheck, it means he is a coward. It means he is willing to lie to you to get money. It means he is no longer capable of being a pastor according to God’s Word in II Timothy. So, if your pastor fits that description in the least, you need to do one of two things:

1) Warn him about his unfaithfulness.

2) Love him and encourage him. Tell him you want and need to hear what God says.

Something else that may be happening: If your pastor is a coward, there may be a reason. Perhaps he has battle scars from standing up for the truth, and now he simply wants to get by. Perhaps he knows from experience that if he spoke the Truth, people will leave. He loves those people’s approval more than he loves approval from Jesus. And you know what? That is such an easy trap to fall into. I know.

This particular book… well, the things this pastor wanted to tell his people basically amounted to, “Don’t trust the Bible because it doesn’t matter.” Which is complete crap and isn’t loving to the people in the least.

I would like to make a list of 10 things this pastor wants to tell his congregation… and for them to hear. Not just to go in one ear and out the other, but things I want these people to really get. So often pastors love their people and try to speak the truth in love… and it doesn’t get through. And it’s not because we’re afraid of losing our paychecks. It’s because we’re not able to get people to open their ears.

So: 10 Things This Pastor Wants to Tell His Congregation (and for them to hear!): (more…)

A Practical Trinity?

I push myself to demonstrate how God’s Word is practical in my sermons. I want to show how sin really shows up in the lives of the congregation – not just “out there.” I strive to show how God’s forgiveness really shocks us and comforts us. I endeavor to show how the Gospel then changes us to live lives that obey God – not because we have to, but really because, in the Gospel, it’s simply better to obey. We’ve been alerted to sin’s lies and we know that God’s love for us is way better.

Sometimes that’s easy.

I just finished a series on I Peter, which talks all about suffering, why Christians suffer, and how we should suffer. That made practical applications so easy.

“How do you react when you get punished for doing the right thing? When you stand up for truth and lose that promotion, that raise, that friend, that valued family member? Do you get angry? Do you act as if this is the most maddening thing that ever happened to you?

“Well, yeah, it’s more than frustrating… but it’s also normal. Peter warns us all about this. And he shows us how to respond. And what’s better, he shows us why to respond.”

In that series we talked about things like rejection and suffering for the truth. These are subjects that are real and immediate and needed. It hits the people here right where they live; the pain in this congregation is so near the surface. We don’t need to pretend we’re doing ok; we know we’re not.

Like I said, sometimes it’s easy to make that connection between what God says and where the people are living now.

And then we get to a Sunday like today. (more…)

“What is wrong with the world? I am.”

I don’t often share articles from other blogs, but this is an excellent look at what we as Christians should look like.

The Family Minister's Blog

There is a story about G. K. Chesterton that around 1908 the London Times asked him, along with other notable authors, to write an article answering the question, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s response was to send them a brief letter that said, “Dear Sir, Regarding your article ‘What is wrong with the world?’ I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton.”

While no one can verify that Chesterton actually wrote this (there is no documentary evidence of it), if you’re at all familiar with his work you won’t have any trouble believing it. It matches with both his style and his character.

Chesterton took to heart the words of Paul to Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Chesterton was given the opportunity to point the finger of blame at anyone he…

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“If you want to do something about it… stand up now.”

We planned it out. It was time to convince the congregation to get their hands dirty. We had a meeting today. A meeting after Bible study, running into the lunch hour. We’d arranged for lunch – my Bride made her fantastic chicken bacon teriyaki ranch sandwiches – but even with food… how many people will turn a morning at church into an at least three-and-a-half-hour marathon?

How many people will come, knowing that this was going to be a presentation asking them to get involved… in sharing Jesus with other people?

Before church, one of my members and I talked. “Well, if anyone shows…” he said. He was pessimistic.

Me? I was sure I could count on a few people. You know, the usual suspects – the ones who show up for everything. But would they actually be willing to not just sit at a meeting, but even get their hands dirty in outreach?

And then… after church, I hear a group of the usual suspects talking: “Yeah, we’ll meet you at the park. Right after church?”

So… we’re not even getting the usual suspects, huh? Maybe that pessimistic member was right. (more…)

Dirty Hands, Beating Hearts

You’re supposed to have dirty hands. You’re supposed to have dirt under your fingernails and have it just caked on your knuckles. That’s the way of things when you’re a Christian. You don’t stand on the sidelines; that’s a good way to get eaten by a lion.

I think I’ve mixed my metaphors.

This summer, a member of the congregation chose to foot the bill to bring in a summer ministry assistant. This young man is a pastor-in-training, and he’s sharp. He knows his stuff. We’ve chosen to focus him on evangelism.

Now, so much of evangelism is based on relationship. This man will only be here for the summer, so how could we use him well?

We’ve asked him to get to know the congregation as well as the neighborhood and offer us creative ways for us to connect the two, so we have the chance to share Jesus with them.

And then this last week, he’s brilliant. He reminds me: To maximize impact… the congregation should be listening to the neighborhood with him. Sure, he can go out on his own and come back and report his findings. But how much better if a member of the congregation goes with him at all times, simply listening, observing what he does? How much better if a congregation member says, “I kept seeing people say this. Can we do something about it?”

In other words… this man wants our congregation to get its hands dirty. And I think it’s brilliant.

Our leadership however…

They’ve been burned on congregational participation before. Of course, they’re looking at a few things that simply didn’t interest the congregation. We tried to get a senior group going… and one person showed up for our organizational meeting. One council member in particular is always looking for more people to take care of the lawn and the building. It generally doesn’t happen. It’s true that our congregation has certain gifts, and they like using them… but in other things? They’re just not interested.

And that’s part of what our summer ministry assistant is going to find out: What are our passions, so we can pursue those things? Why should our congregation be a thing that we’re not?

I have a feeling this is going to ruffle some feathers. It’s going to hurt some pride as members of the congregation discover that, well, no, their ideas won’t work in this place and this time because no one is willing to get their hands dirty in that field. (Though, you know what? Most of those ideas – the people coming up with them will bankroll the idea, but not actually do anything with it beyond that. If you can’t get your own hands dirty, how can you expect anyone to get their hands dirty with you?)

Our ministry assistant will be doing his best to get our hands into the dirt with him. He won’t ask anyone to do anything without him, or to do anything that he’s not already doing.

I’m cheering him on. And don’t worry; my hands are getting dirty in this particular field, too.

We’ll see how much dirt is under our fingernails at the end of the summer. I hope a lot of it.

But those dirty hands count for nothing without beating hearts to motivate. What has Jesus done for us? Do we really see the dust we were? Do we see the dust we will return to? Do we see that in the between, Jesus has chosen us, made us his own, raised us up in him, and called us to produce fruit? Do we get how awesome that is, and nothing could be better?

I don’t. I get stuck in the day-to-day stuff.

But this assistant – as I said, he’s sharp. He’s keeping his eyes on Christ, and helping all of us with that.

Let’s love this neighborhood.

Let’s share Jesus with them.

And let’s figure out the best way to do that.

And how do we do that? We get our hands dirty.