Review: Bringing Heaven to Earth

RossStormentI just read Bringing Heaven to Earth by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment.  This sentence caught my attention, “What is a Christian’s responsibility to bring to bear God’s will in this corner of the world, so that people throughout Memphis might come to experience a hint of what life is like in heaven?”

Maybe this sentence caught my attention because I live in Memphis.  Or maybe it caught my attention because I have seen the power of a believer’s behavior, witness, and ministry in places that would otherwise be dark.  Unfortunately, I have also seen the power of a believer’s behavior when one has been inattentive and even apathetic toward the world.  Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment have written a book in which they explore the possibilities of the renewing and restoring work of God.  This is so important in a world that is broken and dark.  The book is a challenge for Christians to be serious about allowing themselves to be used by God.

Unfortunately, the answer to a dark world for some is to attempt to insulate oneself and one’s family.  I once had a conversation with a person who said she was trying to figure out a way to surround her family with Christians and only Christians.  The family moved to a street where several young couples from church already lived.  They had a Christian doctor, lawyer, and dentist, all from their congregation.  Their children went to a Christian school.  Her husband worked in a firm which consisted, primarily, of Christian people.

There is no problem, of course, with any one of these.  It is fine to go to a Christian school.  No problem with having a doctor, lawyer, or dentist who is a believer. The problem is that they were trying to insulate themselves from the world instead of penetrating the darkness.

Perhaps much of this is due to fear.  I found Chapter 13 to be particularly helpful as the authors address the problem of fear as we live as believers in the world.

The book reminds us that the world is broken and dark and that the work of God’s Kingdom involves restoring and renewing.

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.”

Don’t Bother Me With the Truth

no-truthI’ve seen it happen again and again in churches.  So often, we are only willing to hear what we are willing to hear. Consequently men and women go through life repeating the same mistakes again and again.

1.  A college student erupts in anger toward his parents and various other family members.  At the same time, he wonders why his dating relationships seem to to have disappointing endings.  His fiancee saw how he treated his mom and dad and wisely became very cautions about continuing their relationship.  Yet, in his eyes, he had no problem with his temper.

2.  A young mother is inconsistent with her young children.  One moment she is angry over a child’s misbehavior. Thirty minutes later she is ignoring the same behavior.  On one occasion, she and her husband laughed the very behavior that put their daughter in “time-out” the evening before .

When People are Impulsive

making-your-own-decisionsIt is true.

Some people are slow to decide and slow to act.

Some groups are so afraid of making a mistake, they miss opportunity after opportunity to make a difference.

Some churches are so bogged down in committees they rarely take action.

There are some people, however, who seem to act impulsively with little thought.

Some people are impulsive with their words.  They say what they think and appear to have no filter.  Feelings are hurt and damage is done.

Some people are impulsive with money.  They spend first and think about their purchases later.

Some people are impulsive in their ministries.  In a sermon, a preacher suddenly makes a few unplanned, ill-timed remarks.  Is the Spirit prompting this?  Perhaps.  Yet, sometimes these remarks may be the product of impulsiveness.

Some churches are impulsive.  They have no real process for anything.  Consequently, the leaders frustrate the members of their congregations.

1.  A team of ministers and a group of elders discussed making a change that would impact the church.  They decided to sell their present building and move to another location.  They discussed this among themselves  for months.  Then one Sunday, they made an announcement regarding their decision to make this change.  There was tremendous push back which actually baffled the leadership group.  They could not figure out why people in the congregation seem agitated.  Yet, there was absolutely no process.

2.  One Sunday, a minister preaches a particularly difficult sermon.  He has been thinking about a particular passage and subject for the last two years.  He has reached a few conclusions about the interpretation of one particular Scripture that is quite different from what many in his congregation have heard before.  He preaches this sermon and later seems surprised at the questions being raised by a number of people who are deeply involved in the life of the church.  The reaction was not what he expected.  His response?  “I thought people here would be more open to God’s Word.”  Yet, he has been thinking about this subject for two years.  Those who heard the sermon had 25 minutes to process his thoughts.

3.  A group of church leaders decide to make some major changes to the congregation’s Sunday school.  This decision was made after the leadership team talked about the matter in a few elders’ meetings.  Yet, there was no real process involved.  The decision will impact teachers, Sunday school supervisors, children, visitors, and others.  Yet no one bothered to talk with other these people before it was announced.

Some people and some churches are anything but impulsive.  They can be paralyzed with indecision, frustrating their families and their congregations.  Yet, some individuals and some leadership groups are much too quick to send someone to a microphone to make an announcement before doing the necessary hard work to process a possible decision.

Impulsive individuals and impulsive churches can move quickly.  Yet, long after the action is taken, they must now spend an enormous amount of time and energy cleaning up.

Neither indecision or impulsivity get an individual, group, or church very far down the road.  There are no shortcuts.  Determining the best process for a decision and then following through may actually get one down the road more quickly.

Want to Make a Difference? (9 truths about ministry)

nineThe following are a few basic but critical realities of ministry.

1.  Good thinking and good practice matter.  Those who work with churches are sometimes challenged on both fronts. What we do with the text matters. How we think theologically matters.

2.  We serve out of our identity in Christ. What we know is important. Content is critical. However, my identity is rooted in Jesus. I am not foremost a leader, a vice president of a seminary, or a preacher.  Before anything else, I am a follower of Jesus.

Last year, I began a new ministry at Harding School of Theology. When I took on this role, I didn’t suddenly become brilliant or more important than any other Christian servant.  It is just a different form of ministry. What is at the core of any Christian ministry is how you are allowing your ministry to be used to shape you into someone more Christ-like.

When You Feel Insignificant

billboard_DiscouragedFeeling insignificant?

I am writing this to you.

You may be a preacher or a minister in some role in a remote area. Or, you may be in an urban area but you feel alone and isolated. There are days when you ache with loneliness. To make matters worse, some of your minister friends talk about getting together regularly with others with a kindred spirit. You are certain they have no idea what this kind of isolation is like.

Perhaps you are an elder. You had hopes and dreams of making a impact. You thought you might have the opportunity to address matters that might make such a kingdom difference. However, the group continues to gravitate toward the trivial. You come home from meetings tired and worn out. You didn’t agree to endless discussions of things that are small and inconsequential.

Ministry Inside.139

funeralOn Thursdays, I generally write a post for church leaders.  Much of the time, however, this is applicable to Christians in general.

I have done many funerals.  These funerals have been for infants, older people, and all ages in between.   I done funerals for those who died after a slow, lingering illness. I have done funerals for those who died suddenly in an automobile crash.

Years ago, I taught an undergraduate class called Christian Ministry.  As a part of the class, students would tour a funeral home.  A funeral home director would explain everything that would happen with a family in the home.  Students would see the casket selection room, the preparation room, and the chapel.  In the chapel the director would give some suggestions regarding funerals.

The following are eight suggestions I want to make regarding funerals.

Maybe you will find one of these helpful.

Do You Know a Happy Preacher?

Unhappy manThe following are ten characteristics of happy preachers. Do you know a happy preacher?  Are you this kind of preacher?

1.  Happy preachers manage themselves.  Too many people are preoccupied with what others might think, how others might act, and what others might do.  It is far better to learn to manage yourself.

2.  Happy preachers are intentional about who they choose to be with.  No matter what the vocation, you can find plenty of miserable people.  If you spend most of your time sharing stories of gloom with unhappy, miserable preachers, don’t be surprised if your own attitude becomes soured.

3.  Happy preachers understand that being human is more than what they accomplish or what they produce.  Being human also includes our relationships, our feelings, and matters of the soul.

4.  Happy preachers pay attention to time.  They schedule time to do the tasks of their ministry but also take time to laugh, enjoy life, rest, and experience friendships.

5.  Happy preachers find their happiness in the Lord and not the visible, tangible results of their ministry.  Ministry can be painful, hard, and at times excruciatingly difficult.  Yet, our happiness is in Jesus, not in finding the right circumstances for ministry.

6.  Happy preachers choose to be happy now instead of waiting for things to get better.  I once spent several years thinking that the next thing (whatever that might be) would make me happy.  Wrong.

7.  Happy preachers pay attention to the narrative they are living out.  For example, if I believe the biblical story, that the best is yet to come, this will impact how I feel and what I do.  On the other hand, if the narrative is “Ministry and the church are awful and will only get worse,” this will certainly impact how I live.

8.  Happy preachers get the focus off themselves.  Sometimes we are too focused on how we feel, how we look, how we compare, and how we are perceived.  This kind of self-preoccupation is a dead-end street.  Far better to focus on whom I am serving and how I might contribute.

9.  Happy preachers get out of the shame business.  I’m not talking about sin or guilt.  Rather, I am talking about the subtle ways some ministers shame other ministers.

“Wow, you still have one worship service?  We moved on from that a long time ago.”

“You are in a building program?  Oh, I thought your church cared about the poor.”

“You aren’t going to build an addition to your building?  Hey, I thought your church really wanted to reach out to the community.”

“You are playing golf today?  That must be nice.  I haven’t had a day off in weeks.”

10.  Happy preachers may complain but their complaint is not about their lot in life.  Rather their complaint is over the mistreatment or abuse of others whom the Lord has created.

Question:

What else would you add to this list?  Are there any other characteristics of happy preachers?

 

Competition in Ministry … Yes or No?

images (1)Summers used to be about baseball, swimming and riding bikes under the hot Texas sun. Those are my memories of growing up in Dallas.

In those days, the evenings were spent playing baseball on the field right behind our house.  What I remember was the competition each evening.  No matter how the teams were chosen, each side really wanted to win. Those are good memories and the competition was healthy.

Some church leaders, however, seem to thrive on an unhealthy competition.

What Has Pushed You to the Edge?

pushed over the edgeLots of people are discouraged.

Have you noticed?

Lots of church leaders are discouraged.

Regardless of the ministry in which you are engaged, there is a likelihood that sooner or later you will become discouraged.  The following are some reasons that may sound familiar.  I have experienced a few of these.  I have seen the others in church leaders I have known.

Some people experience discouragement and some even feel like they have been pushed to the edge.