Posts Tagged ‘church’


Preaching and Baseball

In an article for Leadership Journal, I compare ministry to baseball. Pastors have a tendency to “swing for the fences” with every sermon, but we’re better off working hard on the little things of preaching in order to give our people a lifetime of good spiritual food:

Ministry is very much like baseball in this way. There will be the home run hitters—exceptionally gifted preachers. But most who lead God’s people will be the grinders. The Belhorns, Glanvilles, and Bakos who show up every week and feed God’s people truth in faithful, but unspectacular fashion.

This is not an excuse for mediocrity. It’s not a rant against celebrity. Every generation has genuinely gifted servants with ministries beyond their congregations. We should rejoice at their large kingdom impact. “There many not be many noble,” Paul says. But there are some and we thank God for their giftedness.

Still, I wonder if the rest, called to grind it out and preach weekly attempt to be superstars. I wonder if we try too hard, swinging for the fences with every new sermon. When I pastored, I had to fight this weekly.

You might call this the Revival Syndrome or the Camp Meeting Syndrome. Most of us who serve in ministry have experienced one or more of these emotional, life-changing moments, where a single message altered the course of our lives. But if we were to be honest, those sermons might have been catalysts, but it was the patient daily practices of Bible reading, church attendance, prayer, and spiritual mentoring that helped the seed of spirituality blossom.

As a pastor, you want every Sunday to be this meaningful for the people in your congregation. Yet, there is something wrong if we expect every message, every worship service to be like that revival or camp meeting.

Read the whole thing here:


People Want a Church to Be a Church

This week I had a chance to interview Brett McCracken. Brett teaches at Biola and is a keen cultural observer. I’ve always enjoyed his work. He has written two books. The first, Hipster Christianity created quite a splash when it came out. He pushed back against the attempt by the Church to be “cool.” Recently Brett wrote a terrific piece on Millenials for The Washington Post.

Now Brett has a new book out, Gray Matters, where he dives into delicate territory. How does the church handle the “gray areas” of life that are not specifically spelled out in Scripture and how does the Church handle it’s consumption of culture in a way that doesn’t lean to libertinism or legalism?

One of the questions I asked Brett was this one:

Pastors and church leaders wrestle with this question all the time—making decisions on worship styles, programming, and their own personal choices. What advice would you give to church leaders as they seek to navigate the tensions?

I would say that all of those decisions are worth talking about—just not too much. And certainly not at the expense of focusing on what really matters: being a gospel-centered community of worship and discipleship where people feel welcomed and Christ is glorified. I think that pastors and church leaders often assume that people want church to be more than it is. But mostly people just want a church to be a church; to embrace its tradition, the richness of doctrine, sacraments, and life together as a community of Christ-followers. Flashy graphics, smoke machines, high-tech videos, and hip worship leaders may get people in the door, but they are not the things people will stay for. And they are certainly not the things that are going to be transforming peoples’ lives in the long term.

Read the entire interview here:


God’s Purpose and Mental Illness

Today, for my weekly Leadership Journal Interview, I had the chance to talk with Amy Simpson, author of the new book, Troubled Minds. I asked her about some of the misconceptions we have about mental illness. Among her answers was this very hopeful one:

Many people also mistakenly believe that people with mental illness are doomed to live wasted and unproductive lives—that they can’t contribute to the life of the church. We have this sense of spiritual hopelessness about mental illness that we don’t have about other treatable conditions, even when they’re very serious. But God has a purpose for everyone. Mental illness may alter the course of a person’s life, but it doesn’t mean that person’s life is no good anymore. Psalm 139 is a beautiful reminder of our value to God, and his attention to the details of our lives. Verse 16 celebrates, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” God is not surprised by any of our suffering, and he wants to use all of us. His redemption is always at work, and he uses suffering to make all of us more like him and to qualify us for ministry to others. If the church gives up on people, that is the church’s doing. It’s not God’s policy.

You can read the rest of the interview here:


Why Going to Church on Sunday is An Act of War

Okay, so maybe that title is a bit melodramatic. But I wanted to get your attention, because I think faithful, weekly attendance at your local gospel-preaching church is important. It’s important for all the reasons we know, right? To hear the Word preached. To develop community in the body of Christ. To exercise your spiritual gifts. To support the gospel proclamation both local and international. To obey the Scriptures.

Yes to all of these reasons for going to church. And also yes to the well-worn clique, “You can go to church every week for your whole life and still be far from the Kingdom of God.” Yes, I’m still preaching that because it’s still true. Going to church won’t get you one yard closer to the pearly gates.

And yet, the simple act of going to church–I’m assuming here a church who preaches the gospel and declares that Jesus Christ is King–is in and of itself a declaration of war. When your weary legs rise for another verse of the chorus and you offer praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, you are saying, in effect, that the reigning prince of the power of the air, Satan (Ephesians 2:2) is really not the King He thinks he is. There is another King, another Kingdom and it’s coming one day in it’s fullness and power. When you gather with your fellow believers and worship Christ, you are saying to the rest of the world that man is not ultimate. You are saying that the great movements of this world may have some power, but ultimately they are part of God’s gathering of history to Himself and for His kingdom. When you worship the risen Christ every Sunday at your church, you are telling the world that in your life, for this moment, Christ is ultimate. He is to be worshipped above all else. You’re making a statement that there is Someone deserving of more adulation and worship than the lesser things to which we pledge allegiance. You’re inviting them to ask you, “Why do you think the Kingdom of God is better than the Kingdom of man? What is it about Christ that gets you to roll out of bed, get dressed, get your family dressed, hop in the car, and go to church every single Sunday? 

Now I know you don’t feel like this on most Sundays. I don’t even feel like this and I’m a pastor. But that doesn’t make it less true. So go to church for all the reasons you should go to church, the ones we mentioned above. But also go to church so you can tell the world, by your actions, by your praise, by your not being somewhere else, that there is another King. And he’s worthy of your worship together with other citizens of His kingdom.

Going to a bible-believing church, in a largely Christian culture, may not seem so courageous. It still may even seem to be the good and right thing to do (though it has less cultural cache than it once had). But that doesn’t make it less significant.

So this Sunday, think about that as you scrape yourself up and make the decision to go to church.


What Evangelism Is

I’m highly skeptical of mechanics. If you are one, I’m sorry, but I think you probably realize that it goes with the trade. It’s this way with pastors, too, so perhaps we can commiserate some time.

But there is one shop in our community who does exceptional work, whose proprietors rise above the usual price-gouging and fake repair needs. These are guys I trust with every need my car has. They give good advice. They only fix what is needed. They give good referrals for other work. And when you are with them you just get the vibe that they are genuine, not slick salesmen trying to make a deal.

Here’s the thing about service like this. It’s so rare that when you find it, you want to tell the world about it. That’s what marketing experts get paid big money to tell their clients: perform good service and let the word of mouth build your business. Why is this? Because people are natural evangelists.

I think about this when I think about evangelism. If you have had a great experience with something, you don’t have to be prodded to tell ten people. It’s the same way with a bad experience. Guarantee you that you will not only tell ten people, you’ll post on your social networks. Companies are desperate for this.

When we evangelize the gospel, that is when we fulfill our calling to share the good news of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, it should be as natural as me telling ten people about my experience at Hainseville Firestone near my house.

And herein lies the problem with our evangelism for God. It’s not that we are afraid to tell people. It’s not that we want people to like us. The deeper reason we don’t share Christ is because we’ve lost our first love. We’ve forgotten how great Christ is. He’s become sort of familiar to us, Someone we aren’t all that excited about, not excited enough to tell people.

I find it interesting in the Great Commission verses in Matthew and Mark and Acts that the imperatives are not in the going and telling, but in the teaching and baptizing. Why is that? I think this is because Jesus assumed the disciples would tell everyone the gospel. And why wouldn’t they? They’d just seen Jesus rise again from the dead. They’ve had a radical, life-changing encounter with the Risen Lord. Who could shut up about that?

Perhaps the key to our evangelism is not adopting a new strategy or finding the perfect method or being guilted by Hellfire, but simply to revisit the wonders of the gospel message itself, to reread passages like Ephesians 2 to realize how sick and dead and lifeless we were before we met Christ. To bask in the wonders of regeneration and rebirth. To look at ourselves before we were Christians and how we are now.

Evangelism is really a natural human instinct. Every single one of us is an evangelist of something. Listen to yourself talk. What do you tell your friends and neighbors about? What excites you? What is that you can’t wait to share with someone?


Friday Five: Paul Rude



Last week I read an excellent article on the Gospel Coalition blog on the significance of everyday work. At times, pastors and ministry professionals tend to cast “secular” vocations as a sort of second-tier calling. I loved Paul’s perspective and asked him to join me today for a chat around this topic and his new book, Significant Work
Paul Rude is a ministry consultant, speaker, and founder of Everyday Significance, an organization dedicated to helping people connect Christ-centered faith to everyday life. Before launching Everyday Significance, Paul spent eight years working in missions as a ministry leader. Prior to that, he spent a decade in the adrenalin rush of Fortune 500 corporate finance–and loved it. When he’s not speaking or consulting, you might find him rafting whitewater rivers or climbing mountains. Paul lives in rural Alaska with his wife, Misty, and their five kids.

There seems to be a renaissance, of sorts, among evangelicals around the doctrine of work, with Tom Nelson‘s Work Matters, Gene Veith’s work, Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavor and now your book. Why is this issue so important?

Hardworking, everyday Christians are tired of feeling like second-class citizens in the church.

Deep down, we know something is wrong with the paradigm that limits eternal significance to the short list of jobs we traditionally define as “ministry.”

Most of us earn our daily bread in the marketplace, not in religious ministry. If we assume that only acts of “ministry” (teaching Sunday school, witnessing, etc.) are significant to God, then we live two separate lives. We live a sliver of life that makes a difference in eternity, but everything else we do, the great bulk of life, has no eternal value—or worse, it’s a necessary evil.

As we become accustomed to living two separate lives, our faith gradually loses all relevance to our weekday lives. Church is church; work is work. We navigate between two unrelated spheres, two value systems, two moral codes. We begin to confine our faith to that sliver of time we spend doing “religious stuff.” The rest of the time—the great bulk of the time—our faith is off duty. It sits on the sidelines, unconsidered and unexpressed.

Now, at last, theologians, pastors, and authors are pushing back against this paradigm. We are trying to articulate the robust biblical doctrine of work. It’s a doctrine that gives extraordinary significance to the work of truckers and accountants and homemakers. Millions of people are discovering that Jesus Christ is Lord of all seven days of the week—not just Sunday.

You talk about a class system in the church where missionaries and pastors are “really serving the Lord” and lay people are sort of “walking wallets” to fund God’s work ,but whose daily job has no significance. How does this view conflict with God’s mission?

If we were all pastors and missionaries, the human race would starve to death. So we must ask: Did the sovereign God of the universe create a cruel game of musical chairs, where 90 percent of us must work in meaningless jobs so that 10 percent of us can work in significant jobs—ministry jobs? The absurdity of this class system is self-evident.

We make little of God and much of religion when we claim that only pastors and missionaries are serving the Lord with their work.

God’s mission is bigger than our job titles. And he doesn’t play cruel little games with significance.

His mission encompasses far more than simply preaching and witnessing. We see this when we read the rest of the Bible. The Bible begins and ends with creation. Our God is the Creator and Ruler of all things, and he made us in his image. We reflect his glory and character when we create things, when we fill the earth and subdue it, when we tend it—when we work!

How can pastor’s empower the laity to find purpose and mission in their daily work?

Talk about it with their congregations. It’s that simple. Oh, sure, there are many other things a pastor can do. But most pastors need to take the giant first step of initiating the conversation.

Surveys repeatedly tell us that pastors almost never preach or talk about everyday marketplace work—the activity that consumes the greatest portion of the congregation’s time and energy, the activity that puts them in direct contact with the world. This creates a huge disconnect between the heavenly bliss of Sunday and the gritty reality of Monday.

What about parenting? How can Christian families instill a sense of significance and worth in the everyday work life?

My grandmother was awesome, the coolest granny in California—she loved parasailing and polar bear swims, and she loved Jesus Christ.

But one day she told us, “My greatest hope is that all of you will grow up to serve the Lord as missionaries and pastors.”

She meant well. But her words dumped a crushing load of expectation into the heart of a kid who desperately wanted to please his parasailing granny. My dad wisely pulled me aside and corrected grandma’s well-meaning, but misguided, intentions. So no damage was done in my case. But what if my dad had agreed with her?

Parents and grandparents: guard your tongues! Do you carelessly imply that pastors are more significant than truckers? Do you imply that CEO’s are more successful than carpenters? Ouch! I preach and write on these topics, yet I easily fall into this trap. This is tough; we must steadfastly guard our tongues, as well as our hearts.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from your book?

I passionately hope the reader will lay hold of—will live, breathe, trust, know, and utterly experience—the life-giving freedom of the gospel. I want him or her to see how the gospel gives extraordinary value to their regular, everyday work—and to their lives.

Because of Jesus Christ, our undiscovered gifts, our unapplauded work, our forgotten names, and our unsung lives all matter. They matter to God. They matter for his glory. They’ll be part of his masterpiece for all eternity—and oh, what an astonishing, breathtaking wonder it will be!


What We Don’t Want to Hear: Leadership Is Hard

We live in an age when distrust of leaders is, perhaps, at an all-time high. I don’t have any statistics to verify that. However, if my Facebook and Twitter feeds are a reasonable sample, if the blogs and columns and books I read are an indication, people today just don’t like the people who lead them. For instance, Congress approval rating is at an all-time low. The latest negotiations over the Fiscal Cliff exposed the dysfunction in Washington between Republicans and Democrats. And so everybody, everywhere teed off on the politicians.

I think we’ve arrived here for two reasons. First, the last few generations have seen the stunning and tragic fall of leaders of all stripes, from Presidents to pastors. We’ve seen leaders abuse power, not only in Washington, but in the church, in the home, in the community, in business. Many wonder if there are any honest leaders left. Over the Christmas break and into our vacation, I read a few books on the American Presidents. I’m amazed at the decline in respect for this once-great office. Historians may disagree, but I feel that perhaps Watergate was a turning point, where the office of President became less regal. But it’s also the spirit of the age, I think, that we just don’t like or trust those who lead us. Some of this is deserved, but some of this a spirit of rebellion. And I think it makes leadership that much more difficult.

This leads to my second reason why I think we don’t like leaders. This reason points not to the leaders, but to us. You see, it’s much easier to be a critic of a leader than to actually lead. For instance, there is one President and 435 leaders. But there are a seemingly unlimited number of paid pundits, columnists, bloggers, radio talk show hosts, and other such members of the opinion media. Most of them get paid very handsomely to lob their criticisms at those in office. But, here’s the rub, they don’t actually have to lead. They are not in the arena. And so they can articulate purist ideological positions and hammer leaders who deviate, even in small ways. They can resist any kind of deal-making with the other party. They can live in a fantasy world where your side can get everything it wants all the time in every situation. Now, to be clear, I think the media and opinion-makers serve a valuable purpose in our democracy. They help shape the public discussion and influence those in power. After all, I’m a writer and blogger who sometimes gets paid for my opinion. However, looking at Washington from this perch is much easier than having to actually lead and get something done in a difficult environment with those who hold opposing views.

I think this view of leadership prevails in the Church as well. Church leaders should be open to criticism. One of the things that bothers me about some is that they dismiss all criticism with a sort of lazy “haters gonna hate” defense. The best leaders bend an ear to opposing views and admit mistakes and weaknesses. But, it is far easier to be a Christian blogger with an opinion than to be a high-profile pastor in the arena. It’s easier to criticize Rick Warren than to be Rick Warren. It’s easier to criticize John Piper than to be John Piper. It’s easier to criticize Beth Moore than to be Beth Moore.

I think all of us would do well to recognize that leadership is difficult and while we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to abuse and corruption, we should obey the Scriptures and hold our leaders with some esteem. We should recognize that the sideline gig is much easier than the one in the arena, that couch commentary comes easy, real leadership is hard.


What You Don’t Like About Your Church (And why that’s good)

I have this conversation quite often with members of my church and with believers outside of my church. It is usually sparked by a discussion of something this person doesn’t like about our church or about the church they attend.

Now, let’s assume the disagreement is not related to doctrinal purity, moral integrity, authoritarian abuse (issues I believe are grounds for leaving a church). Let’s also assume this is a gospel-preaching, Word-saturated, bible-believing church. Let’s also assume the disagreement is not over a 2nd-tier issue that is not orthodoxy, but valid reason when choosing a church (mode of baptism, denomination, etc). So we’re dealing with issues of preference.

This is what I tell people who tell me there is something about our church they don’t like or about their church they don’t like: “Good.”

It’s good that you’re involved with a local body of believers with whom you have disagreements and varying preferences. Why? Because that is the whole idea of God calling out and gathering together His local body. We come together, not because we agree on everything and have the same preferences, but because, despite our disagreements, we are united in Christ.

I often say to people and have preached in messages before this statement, “I don’t like everything in our church. And this is good, because if everything here was geared to what I like, it would be great for me, but not-so-great for the other members.” And so it is with you.

Chances are there is something on Sunday mornings you’d like to see differently. Perhaps you like danishes instead of donuts. Or you’d rather sing hymns than songs written since 1990. Perhaps you’re more of an organ person than a guitar person. Or you really hate the color of the lobby walls.

Good! A resounding, spirit-filled good! You’re continued presence at this church indicates you’re willing to lay aside your preferences, sacrifices your pet peeves for the good of Christ’s body. And it proves that you’re not simply going to church to have all of your senses tickled, but to use your gifts to serve God’s people.

When leadership structures a church in such a way that it meets all the pastor’s preferences, it creates a personality-driven church. But when the pastor is willing to lay aside some of his preferences for the good of the people he serves, God is glorified and the people are blessed.

When the people who attend a church stomp their feet and demand certain things at church be their way, it sows division in the church, hurts the pastor, and ultimately undermines the gospel mission to the community. But when people come to church and get involved, even though there are very real things at church they don’t like, they are making a profound statement that God’s work and God’s people are more important than their preferences.

This must be an intentional attitude, because we live in a culture of American consumerism. We can pick and choose churches, not based on anything important but our own pet likes and dislikes. I’m not discounting the importance of church culture, family atmosphere, etc. But ultimately, our role as a Christian is to participate in the local body of believers, to serve with our gifts, and to glorify Christ corporately. When we make our church choices based on personal preferences, we idolize what is unimportant and marginalize gospel witness.

It strikes me that these choices would be irrelevant in many places around the world. I was in Eastern Europe this year where there are very few, gospel-preaching evangelical churches. So if you are a missionary or a Christian in that area, you’re choices are few and you suddenly aren’t as concerned about the coffee and the guitar and the color of the walls. You’re just happy to find people of faith nearby with whom you can fellowship and serve.

So, if there is something about your church you dislike, consider it an opportunity to sacrifice for the greater good of the body.