From Pulpit to Pew: On Joining a New Church

After five years in the pulpit and 30 years prior growing up in, working, and serving in my home church, I found myself in the oddly new position of looking for a place to worship. And so our quest for a new church began as soon as we moved from Chicago area to Nashville. After years of looking askance at those who “church shop”, I was in the buying mood. We felt it was important for us to find and get settled in a church as soon as we could, but we knew our search must be spirit-directed and guided by prayer. Our criteria was pretty simple:

  • It must be a church that preaches and teaches the Word of God (in a systematic, deep way.) We’re big on gospel-centered, expository preaching and teaching.
  • It must be proudly Southern Baptist.
  • It must be close to our house. In my pastoral experience, I’ve found greater distance from home to church usually prevents the type of community and closeness needed to become an essential part of a local body.

We also had some other criteria, but things that are not as much “deal-breakers” such as church culture, children’s ministry, welcoming atmosphere, friends who go there, etc. One thing we were determined not to do was choose a church based on flimsy things like the color of the carpet or the flavor of the coffee. We want to worship where God would have us worship, meaning we knew we wouldn’t find a church that exactly matches our preferences–and this is good because the point of worship is not me, but God.

So I created a spreadsheet of about 8 churches to visit, based on referrals from friends and web research and other criteria. Our plan was to visit all eight, then circle back and do second visits, just to get another look. But halfway through our search, something happened. We found a church we not only liked, but felt God calling us to join: First Baptist Church of Mt. Juliet. Angela and I went one after the first Sunday and said, “It’s okay if we just say we like this one and stay here, right?” And so we did.

There are a few reasons we feel compelled to worship at FBMJ. First, we just had a sense, after worshipping there, that this was the place for us. It was amazing, after talking with Pastor Andy Hale and his team, just how much we track with where God is taking this congregation: the desire to take the gospel to the community, to exalt Christ and seek His glory in all we do. Secondly, we really enjoy Pastor Andy’s preaching. By “enjoy” I don’t mean, “we found someone who politely affirms everything we believe so we leave feeling good.” By “enjoy,” I mean, we are fed by the rich, deep truths of Scripture every week. We’re challenged, convicted, and brought to repentance and confession weekly. Third, we have good friends who are involved at FBMJ. Jonathan and Beth Howe are longtime friends. Beth is the new director of children’s ministry at FBMJ. It’s helpful to have at least one family that you know very well attend church with you. Fourth, this church is close to our home, so we can be involved in activities and begin to build relationships with this body of believers.

Those are just a few of the reasons we like our new church home. There are many more. Mostly, though, we’re glad to join, get involved, to give and to take, to love and be loved, to nurture and be nurtured.

It’s a bit of a strange feeling sitting in a pew after being in the pulpit. I’ll admit there is a part of me that wants to get up and preach, but I know in this season of life God is wanting me to hear preaching rather than deliver preaching. And yet there is some relief in enjoying worship as a church member and not a church leader. Plus, I’m grateful to serve an organization at ERLC whose mission is to serve the Church.

 

What I’m most encouraged by is God’s work in every community, every corner of this world, building His church in big and small ways. There is much hand-wringing and debate about “the future of the Church”, but we have this sure promise from Jesus:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

Finding God in the Boring

Had a chance to interview my friend, Michael Kelly about his new book, Boring, which you should buy. Michael is a Director of Discipleship at Lifeway Christian Resources. He’s a creative speaker and author. If you have not read his book, Wednesdays Were Pretty Normalyou should. In that book, Michael walks thru the difficult journey he and his wife endured with their son, Joshua who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 2.

In this video, we discuss the meaningfulness of the ordinary parts of our lives, how we glorify God in the mundane details of everyday.

Mark Buchanan’s Writing Rhythm

Mark Buchanan is one of my favorite authors. He’s a pastor, a teacher, and a man who can really turn a phrase. I had the chance to interview Mark last week for Leadership Journal. One of the questions I asked was this:

What is your writing rhythm? Are you an early morning writer, a late-night writer?

I write almost everything I produce—books, blogs, or articles—in a 4–5 hour block every Friday. I awake around 6:30 AM. I exercise, shower, eat, make coffee, read 2 chapters of Scripture and a few pages each of theology and history. Then, around 9 AM, I fire up the computer, and buckle down. I usually write until 2:00 PM (with a brief lunch break around 12:30). I try to finish shorter magazine pieces (under 1000 words) in a single sitting. Longer pieces, in two. When I”m working on a book, I don”t grant myself permission to leave until I’ve produced a minimum of 1500 words. Most trade books are 65,000 words. At the rate of 1500 words a week, I need 43 weeks to complete a book—roughly 10 months.I do, however, block out two to three 5 day writing blitzes when I’m moving toward a book deadline—at least one just to write, two if needed, and one just to edit the complete manuscript. For the writing marathons, I write 12-14 hours each day, and require of myself a minimum of 4000 words a day—so I can write roughly a third of a book in one 5-day block. In the editing marathon, I typically edit about 10 hours a day.

Read the entire interview here:

5 Tips to Establish Yourself as a Writer

I have people ask me all the time how to get started writing. I suspect there are many who enjoy putting words together and just don’t know how to get going. Maybe they are intimidated by the idea of writing a book or a long-form piece to a journal or magazine. Or even the idea of “blogging” and social media scare them. Here is the best advice I can give them. I hope this helps you if you are reading it:

1) Get started somewhere, even if it’s small. My advice now is to just get started. Create a blog and start putting your best stuff online. Michael Hyatt’s book, Platform is a great way to get started, though I advise you not to be intimidated and think you HAVE TO DO ALL OF THIS RIGHT NOW. Start with a free service like Tumblr, Blogger, or any of the others. Select a nice template, come up with a creative name and maybe tagline and then GET STARTED. Besides blogging, you might try to query some magazines or periodicals. The best way to do this is to purchase Sally Stuart’s Christian Market GuideFind publications that might be a good fit for your writing style. Start, maybe, with devotional publications, curriculum publishers, etc. You might also consider guest-posting on popular blogs that offer content in your niche. Blogs are consistently in need of new content, so you might contact the proprietors and see if they are interested in your ideas. But do take risks and get started.

2) Publish that first piece. I talk to a lot of would-be writers and I hear the same thing, “I have this thing I wrote, but I’m not sure . . .” My advice is to get that piece of writing as good as you can get it and then publish it on your blog. Then get started writing another piece and publish it on your blog. The only way to get better at writing is to . . . write. You need to write hundreds, then thousands of pieces before you get good. Then you’ll discover that you’re only marginally good and need to write another hundred, if not another thousand to get better. But, for Heaven’s sake, stop perfecting that first piece like it’s the Mona Lisa. It’s probably not. Publish.

3) Have confidence that in time, good writing gets noticed. It’s my own personal law of creativity that the best stuff gets noticed. So before you try to sell yourself ahead of time, write in the trenches, write in obscurity for a good long time and actually get good at writing. Trust the process and know that if you consistently put your best content online, if you grow, if you’re open to critique and change, then you’ll get discovered. You will. Case in point: I’ve been writing for about 15 years. But I’ve only been seriously blogging for about 5 or so. I still don’t have one of the most highly trafficked blogs in the blogosphere, but after I committed to working hard and putting good stuff online, I got noticed. People starting reading my stuff, linking to it, passing it along. I think this goes back to a good theology of work. We work, we develop our gifts, not so we can get a fat contract or be rich and famous, but to the glory of God. The work itself matters, not who sees it and what happens. God sees it. So do your best work, even if only one human reads it. And, typically, you will get noticed and good things can happen.

4) Don’t be the one who pesters everyone to tweet, link to, or give you attention. Maybe this is a pet peeve of mine, but don’t be the guy who on Twitter tags someone famous and says, “You might like this . . . .” or “I wrote this, can you tweet it out.” Look, if your writing is good, people will notice. That’s not to say there is something wrong with promotion or marketing. Not at all. If you believe in your message, you want it to get out there. Still, there is a crass way to do this that skips all the steps it takes to be good enough to be well read. Don’t take that shortcut. Write well and you won’t have to convince anyone to read your stuff.

5) Don’t build your platform on outrage. There is a increasingly rich market for “evangelicals who are not like other evangelicals.” Controversy sells and generates clicks. And for a short season, this formula works. But over the long haul, if this is your game, you’ll end up running out of steam and having to generate outrage to keep your rapid fan base happy. But is this the way of Christ? Is the way to glorify God with your gifts? And do you want to be that guy know solely by what you are against? Now, an important caveat to those, right now, queuing up blog posts to say that I’m part of a secret cabal stifling dissent: there is a place for thoughtful, robust, substantive, even satirical critique. But always check your motives and make it your mission to be creative, tell your story, take risks, and use your gifts to glorify God.

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