What Validates a Minister’s Value?

value-propositionHow do you know when a minister has great value?  Or, if you serve as a minister of a congregation you may wonder how much value you really have.  Perhaps there are times when you when you feel as if you have great value.  What factors have led you to come to that conclusion?  Perhaps there are other times when you feel alone, inadequate, and have little value as a minister.

Some believe that ministers have great value if one or more of the following factors are true:

1.  People are asking this person to speak at their congregations or at particular lectureships, seminars, etc.

2.  Congregations that are visible within our fellowship are asking this person to consider joining their ministry staff.

3.  A particular minister has a much larger salary compared to other ministers who serve in the same role.

4.  Many in social media quote this person and seem to rally around whatever this minister might say or do.

5.  A minister may be well known throughout a region or even the nation and perhaps have a “following.”  This may be evident either through conversations at particular gatherings or conversation through social media.

6.  A minister who has served a smaller congregation begins preaching for a congregation that is highly visible.  Suddenly that minister may be perceived to be “important.”

What Did You Expect When You Became a Part of a Church?

expectationsWhat did you expect when you became a part of a church?

Some believe that Christian people really have their lives together.  Some Facebook posts seem to almost suggest that marriage, family, and life in general are always wonderful.  The husband/wife is always thoughtful, amazing, awesome, etc.  The kids are always cute, adorable, angelic, etc.  Some even suggest that if one has really turned his/her life over to the Lord, everything in life will basically be smooth.

The truth is that sometimes life is very hard.  

Marriage to the best person in the world can still be difficult.  Parenting children (yes, I know you adore them) can still be very hard.

Even committed followers of Jesus still deal with temptation.  I was once in a conversation with a person who was telling me about a temptation she was facing.  In the course of the conversation she said, “I hope you don’t think I’m a bad person because I’m tempted by these things.”

Bad person?  Hardly!

She was a normal person.  Human beings – all of us – are going to be tempted by something.  It is not a sin to be tempted.  Sin occurs when we move from temptation into another realm.

There are often two negative consequences when churches believe that Christians have their lives together:

1.  Some Christians believe that they really don’t have a sin struggle anymore and consequently look down on anyone who struggles or fails in life.  Some people may even look down on some who experience certain temptations.  In their minds, real Christians would not even have the temptation.  Such people may come together on a Sunday morning and communicate in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the people in their church just don’t have problems like other people.

2.  Some Christians in such environments realize they must hide.  When they are with people from their church, they think “I can’t let people know what I really struggle with.  They would look down on me if they knew some of the thoughts that went through my mind this week.”  Consequently, they work hard to project an image that they believe will be acceptable to their peers in the congregation.  Such a person may often feel isolated and alone in a congregation because she doesn’t think she can tell anyone who she really is.   After awhile, that person may wonder, “What’s the use?”

A church was never meant to be a spotless group of people on display.  Rather, we have been called to display the One who has redeemed us in our brokenness and sin.  Not only do we discover Jesus in such a church but we discover what it means to really be human.

My Secrets May Hurt More People Than Me

SecretThe person with secrets often feels like she has gotten away with something.  That person may know that she has given in to a temptation and now remains undetected. When no one seems to know, you are basically carrying a secret.

“As long as no one knows, no one gets hurt.”  At least this is thinking of some people.  They get involved in a particular behavior they know is wrong but they believe they will remain undetected.

  • This may be the person who has a separate bank account from his spouse.  He uses it to buy what he wants to buy with their money and yet remain unaccountable.
  • This may be the person who lies on his tax return but is convinced his misdeed will never be detected.
  • This may be the person who has her eye on a co-worker and really believes that any illicit behavior will never be discovered.

Mark of Dysfunction: Keep this Deadly Secret

shhhOne mark of a dysfunctional marriage, family, or church is that others within the system are not supposed reveal the secret.

What is the secret?

You are not to tell anyone about the way things really are in this marriage, this family, or this church.  After all, what would people think?

Of course, I do appreciate husbands and wives who obviously love one another.  It is really nice to see husbands and wives who still have much affection for one another after many years.

I do remember seeing an interesting Facebook status one day.  It said something like this:

Twenty-five years ago I met the man of my dreams.  We have loved together, laughed together, and dreamed together.  I am so fortunate to be this man’s wife.  Looking forward to the next 25 years.

Now many people enter a status like this one on their anniversary or spouse’s birthday.  What struck me as odd about this particular post is that it never occurred to me (and I suspect many of their other friends) that she in any way adored or treasured this man.  In fact, it really didn’t appear that they valued each other very much at all.  The way they treated one another each day made such a post on their anniversary seem odd.

It was almost like she was trying to sell something to the rest of us.

Five Suggestions for Cultivating Freshness

5Some of you may find this post particularly helpful.

I am going to share five practices that have been helpful to me in cultivating freshness. Hopefully, at least one of these might be helpful to you as you prepare your mind and heart for a new school year.

Each July, for the past nineteen years, I have stepped away from my daily ministry/work duties for the month.  Two weeks are vacation and two weeks are devoted to study.  I do no public preaching or teaching during this month.  The congregation that I serve has graciously supported this rhythm.

This month not only allows me the opportunity to rest and enjoy vacation, but has enabled me to spend focused time reading, praying, and thinking.

I want to share with you several practices that you might find valuable as well.

If You Could Change One Thing About Your Church

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

What is it that would help your church be more effective in its ministry?

I suspect that the answers to such a question might be varied. For example, some might say they wish that someone would give more attention to what actually happens during a Sunday morning worship service. Others might say that they wish their church offered more for children or teenagers. Still others might suggest that the preaching could be more engaging, challenging, or relevant.

What about your congregation? What would help your congregation in its practices?

Maybe you see room for improvement in a certain area. In seeing such a need and acknowledging it, you are not discounting your church. Nor are you suggesting that the leaders of your church are not making an effort and working hard. (You may be one of those leaders!) No, you are simply paying attention to the effectiveness of your church and acknowledging what you see.

Wanted: Moments of Grace

It was an embarrassing moment as a young minister.

Charlotte and I had been living in Abilene while I finished seminary. I had just completed my studies and moved to north Alabama where I began preaching for a church. Now, I was a full-time minister for a congregation.

I was overwhelmed and had no idea what to do.  So, I began doing what many young ministers do: I watched several experienced ministers to learn how to do this work.

One preacher I had been watching seemed to put a lot of energy into welcoming guests.  He was at the large urban church near where I grew up.  Some hotels get four and five stars for a rating.  This church would probably rate five stars in somebody’s review. People in my circle talked about this church as if they were the group that seemed to do most things right.

I did notice that they seemed to do things smoothly, unlike me.  I handled things awkwardly at times.

embarrassment.jpg


One of my first Sundays I introduced a new family and asked them stand. After all, I had seen the minister at this church do the same.  I then moved on to introduce another new family.  Upon introducing them I asked them to stand.  The couple stood, but I noticed the man had a puzzled look.

“Jim, I’ve been a member of this church for a number of years.”

I froze.  I wanted to hide.   


An Agenda for Your Life? (Guest Writer-Jordan Hubbard)

(The following is a post by my friend, Jordan Hubbard, Senior Minister at the Belton Church of Christ in Belton, Texas. Jordan is a good friend, an excellent preacher, and a good thinker. Enjoy!)Jordan.jpg

The church in Philippi had issues. Something was happening in this congregation of believers that caused division and discord. The joy of the Philippian jailer and the enthusiasm of Lydia had been replaced by tension and anxiety. This tension centered around Euodia and Syntyche, two women who were key figures in the Philippian church. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in this anxious situation. Paul helped to found this church and so had some authority with the congregation. As an apostle, Paul had the mandate to address the issue and command a solution to the division affecting this small faith-community.

What is remarkable is that Paul’s letter to the Philippians never mentions the issue. Paul constantly avoids the issue in the congregation in order to address a deeper concern. Paul exposes his agenda for this church in the following words:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Paul’s concern for the Philippians is not to address the issue. In fact, we don’t know what the issue in Philippi is! Instead, Paul pushes an agenda that the Philippians mature and learn to empty themselves for one another, just as Jesus emptied himself for them. The deepest concern is not to provide an easy answer for a problem, but rather for the church to grow to be more like Jesus in denying themselves for the sake of others.

Ronald Heifeitz in his book, Leadership on the Line, identifies two different kinds of leadership challenges. There are technical concerns and adaptive challenges. A technical solution provides easy and fast answers to present issues, while adaptive solutions address deeper concerns and require real leadership. Most congregations expect their leaders to provide technical solutions rather than adaptive challenges that cause real growth.

I have two small children. I spend much of my time as a dad being a referee between them in their squabbles. But I have hope. I have hope that these children will grow and a day is coming when they will not need me to intervene. I expect that my children will mature, and I do everything I can to support that agenda.

What if Paul’s agenda for the Philippian church is God’s agenda for your life? What if the real task of spiritual leadership is not to solve problems but to equip believers to be mature, loving and self-emptying? How comforting is the thought of living beyond easy answers to growing to be more like the self-emptying Christ? In your experience, how much does church leadership center in on the technical solutions versus. the adaptive challenges that lead to maturity?


699 People!



What a great number! That is how many people came to the Crestview Community Center last night from the Waco area to register to be a possible bone marrow donor.

We are in the middle of a story at our church. This is a story about a young couple, Susan and Van who love Jesus and have a heart for his mission. They have three very young children.

Susan has an urgent need for a bone marrow transplant.

So far in the National Marrow Donor Program, there is not a match. Last night Scott & White Healthcare conducted a bone marrow drive at Crestview Community Center (next door to our main building). The situation regarding Susan and her health had been heavily publicized by a local CBS affiliate (KWTX), our local newspaper, and many, many people through Facebook and e-mail.

Last evening was such a wonderful moment for the Waco community and Crestview Church. Hundreds came from throughout McLennan County. Our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and many others who simply heard about the need, came together for a great cause. It was an evening for the church and community to give to such an important cause.

Last night, we witnessed a community join together with an eagerness to give. People simply wanted to make a difference. A few examples:

  • One woman was there with her friend. They had heard about Susan through the local television news. One said, “We just thought we would see if we could help.”
  • Another was asked if she knew this family. “No, I don’t know them. I have children, however, and I see that she has three children. I had to do something.”
  • One woman and her fellow teachers drove 45 minutes to be a part of the drive.
  • Some physicians made a 40-minute drive from nearby Hillsboro.
  • One high school girl told me, “This is so awesome. I hope they find a match.”
  • One man said that he hurried over after helping to coach a team. He said that when he got to the church building and saw that the front parking lot was full, his eyes filled with tears.

What we witnessed last evening will be remembered as one of our congregation’s finest moments. Even more importantly, it was an evening when we witnessed the grace of God.

May God be praised.

Question: Self-promotion or Self-less Service?

aplausos

I would like to hear what you think about this. What has been your experience?

I mentioned to you in a recent post that I am spending much time in 2 Corinthians right now. There is a fascinating section of this book that I have read a number of times. The text is 2 Corinthians 2:14-7:4. Paul is being accused by some opponents of not being the “real deal.” He responds by defending his integrity and role as an apostle and as a Christian minister. He reminds these people of the Gospel and its implications for ministry.

These opponents were apparently taking advantage of this church by promoting themselves. Meanwhile, they took Paul’s refusal to do so as a weakness. “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you” (3:1)? Also, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (4:5).

I know many ministers. I have witnessed many, many examples of self-less service. Away from microphones and the Sunday morning spotlight, these people give to others in ways that no one ever sees. I am not impressed with their ministry because of their speaking ability or their public gifts. Rather, it is because they live as “… servants for Jesus’ sake” (4:5).

On the other hand, I have also seen subtle and not so subtle acts of self-promotion. I cringe when the message from the minister seems to be, “I am important.” (I am not referring to a person living out an important role in the life of a church. Rather, I am referring to a self-consciousness that manages to communicate to others, “I personally am important and need to be noticed.”)

Sometimes, this same spirit is seen in the way some congregations appear to jockey with one another for position in a certain community. It almost appears that they are in a race to the finish, competing with every other church in town. Yet, is Christian ministry really supposed to be about churches competing with one another?

I am thinking through some of these concerns as I read through 2 Corinthians again and again. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts and observations. What does this look like where you live? What has been your experience?

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Questions:

What are some examples of ministers who serve in ways that reflect they are “… servants for Jesus’ sake”? How have these people impressed you?

What are some examples of subtle and not so subtle self-promotion today (not searching for names but examples of behaviors that you have seen)?

Why do some congregations seem to almost be in competition with others in their communities?