I Quit Church Pastoring Today

Large grungy EXIT signAfter twenty-seven years on the staffs of three churches, one medium, one big and one small, I quit today. No, not out of frustration though there were those difficult moments over the years. No, not because I was fired, though there were times some hoped that would happen. And no, not because I don’t believe in the church and its importance in making disciples.

Jesus seemed to say that while He is the hope of the world, the church is plan A, B, C and D for sharing that hope, making disciples by living like one and sharing the Good News as clearly as possible.

I quit today because it’s time to move on. It’s time to try some new ventures that will give us more time with our family and use our experience and gifts to help others.

You see there are several concepts that are being neglected a bit in the Christian community and I at least want to help stem that tide. What’s missing?

Young leaders in the church need mentors who’ve been up the road before them.  There are a ton of quality, committed, staff members working in thriving churches. But many of them don’t know how to handle or avoid a crisis. They’re often not sure what to do when a fellow leader, board member or community relationship blows up.

So they make dumb mistakes that could have been avoided if they simply had a seasoned veteran to talk to.

Couples, parents and families need more wise counselors and coaches. There are few manuals or training books for the home. Churches need some help providing practical, usable and accessible assistance. Couples are far more likely to have a lifelong marriage if they can just find some training before their wedding day. Having been married nearly four decades and counseled hundreds of couples, I know I can help them head off the common marriage killers that stop many relationships in their tracks.

Churches often don’t have a clue why they exist. Their leaders have never actually talked about what they believe God has called them to do, how they’re going to do it and what make them unique from other churches. So when it’s all said and done, they try to do everything or spend a significant amount of time arguing about it.

If someone could just walk them through a process to think about where they’re going they could save a lot of time, effort and God’s money.

So, I’m quitting my role as a formal staff member but excited about doing what I can to keep helping the church, the messenger of God’s hope, be all it was intended to be. I guess I’ll still be a pastor, a shepherd of the flock, just doing it a little different way. I know I’ve met some wonderful people and look forward to meeting more.

I know I’ll still run into challenges and maybe want to even join a staff again. I’m confident that God use me to make a difference. I heard that again today. But for now I plan to enjoy something new. And I’d sure value your prayers.

 

 

Your Little Act May Just Be A Domino

maxresdefaultI’m always amazed at those unusual (yes, unusual, but disciplined) people who take the time to set up thousands of dominoes that fall in all sorts of unusual and multi-directional directions once the first domino is tipped over. It’s pretty cool to watch though the show is usually over in mere minutes if even that long.

But their efforts and even our own more paltry ones with far fewer pieces remind us of an important principle. One small action or decision can be the beginning of hundreds that follow with results far bey0nd what could have ever been imagined at the start.

One small investment in the life of a child or teen, one check written to kick off a new ministry, one listening ear for a friend in need, one Christ-like toward a neighbor who doesn’t know Jesus. All have the potential once knocked – over to bear huge results later as other dominoes follow.

I wonder if in Heaven someday part of our joy will be the result of seeing how God used our small action or decision to bear significant fruit later. I wonder how many people who tried to serve God but didn’t see much happening would have stayed with it if they only though about the domino possibilities down the road.

If we would  think more about the God-infused, kinetic possibilities of our smallest actions we would be more likely to overcome much of our discouragement, desire to quit and defeatist attitudes.We would keep climbing when everything within us told us to stop. We would be more thankful for small progress and simple God-moments and less enamored and tempted to think God saves his best for the big stuff.

How many people think they could never make a difference because they only look at the superstars, big churches or ministries or very talented people?

God often does his best with little and not much. Sometimes all he needs is one domino willing to take the fall. How about you?

 

 

 

When Christians Gloat Over Answers to Prayer

13340162044_99a172c33c_bMy wife and I lived in Austin, Texas for eight years and loved it. We enjoyed the wonderful weather (well except for June – August), great food, phenomenal music, friendly people, wild flowers and lots of other amenities.

However, for much of our time there east central Texas was in a drought. Lake Travis, normally considered full at 681 feet above sea level, often looked more like the Dead Sea, at some times over fifty feet below the full point.  Levels would go up, then down, then up and more down. Islands not normally visible became regular sights as everyone hoped and prayed for the missing water to be restored.

Some suggested it might be decades before 681  was attained again, if ever.

Yesterday, the lake was officially full again. The first time in six years. And yet for seventy-two months, many people, including pastors predicted, claimed, begged, promised, cajoled, preached and called for prayer meetings to somehow restore the lakes.

And often it was implied that anything less than 681 – 680, 670 , 600 – was unacceptable. In their minds for the lake not to reach the magic full number would be an affront to God and a clear indication that His people didn’t have enough faith.

And while I’m happy that one of my favorite parts of the country is enjoying this re-filling and example of God’s provision there are some questions that leaders, preachers and teachers would be wise to address and use as teachable moments. I fear, however, that there will be some  gloating such as,  “We prayed hard and you see, God had to come through. We told you so!”

Maybe someone will answer the following:

Question 1: Why didn’t God answer Austin’s prayers years ago? What happened when leaders called for a huge prayer effort concerning the drought and nothing happened?

Question 2: What do we say to people who’ve been praying for something even longer than six years and still don’t have their answer? Why was Austin allowed to have a major need met but other places were not?

Question 3: How does the sovereignty of God fit here? Were there other things that might have been going on that kept God from responding to the needs in Austin because other goals and purposes were at play?

You see there is always a tendency to think that prayer is about getting what we want from God, that somehow he has our interests and needs at the head of the line. As a result many think they can just send their requests to God and he’s obligated to come through. Austin’s water shortage is at least one example that it doesn’t work that way. Thankfully, we have a great God, one of mercy and grace, who does sometimes bless and come through for us.

Yes, we should still ask and still believe He can. But don’t gloat. It still up to Him, no matter the request.

 

What (or Who) Should We Pray For In This Election?

election2016We just had our primary in Illinois, part of the second of two Super Tuesdays’ on the road to this year’s presidential election. (Was one Tuesday real more super than the other?) And like so many people, each primary just confuses me more as to who’s the best choice for our country right now.

Which candidate will actually do even a portion of what they promise? Which one could do it even if they wanted to? Is our system so broken that no one who wins will really accomplish much of significance?

All that being said, what’s a Christian supposed to even pray for? Will it matter?  Who would God vote for anyway?

I’m sure I don’t have the last word or ultimate answers to prayer and politics but let me take a stab at it. I think I’m going to pray most for the following:

That more people actually get out and vote and exercise the amazing freedom we’ve been given. It seems to me that the millions of Christians who refused to vote four years ago should be ashamed of themselves. If you don’t vote, don’t gripe about the results.

That our next president and the corresponding leaders he or she chooses are wise people committed to going beyond the politics, status and cronyism of current Washington. The past eight years seem to have been dominated on both sides of the aisle by the misuse of funds, time and influence given to the leadership in our Federal government.

That the new leadership embrace a commitment to genuine change, true justice and protecting our country from evil and terror. It’s time to call our enemy the enemy and to go to war against terror, no matter the source.

Let’s not pray for only the person we want in place. Let’s pray that the person who gets the job will stand strong, lead boldly and look to the heavens for wisdom.

Leaders Are Essential . . . And Human!

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In an election year there is of course lots of talk about what makes a great leader and who we might want to lead our country. Leaders, good ones and bad, are everywhere. We need them and most organizations, including churches, rise and fall in large part based on their leadership or lack of it.

Do the leaders have vision, model integrity, have chemistry with the rest of their teams, continue to become better, more competent and listen to the wisdom of God and other wise people?

And many people look up to those who lead and guide them as CEO’s, pastors, bosses, writers and the like. These special people provide them guidance, direction, wisdom, counsel and inspiration. And we should be thankful for those who were placed in our lives to help us grow, learn and become who we were meant to be.

However, the men and women we follow can become those we  overly revere, adore and even worship. And many, if not most genuine, quality leaders never wish for that special acclaim, but get in anyway. And what many forget is that these leaders are not God or  Jesus. They are human beings and still make mistakes.

In fact, some of them will fail big time and suddenly their adoring followers are heartbroken, confused and deeply hurt. Their little god is not as godlike as they thought or hoped. They realize these important people are still tainted, flawed and human like the rest of us.

We need to keep leadership in context. Yes, we should respect leaders, learn from them, honor them and submit to their guidance and direction where appropriate. But we dare not make them into perfect, faultless, gods with a small g that they can never be nor should be.

And if you are a leader, be sure to have some people in your life who keep you humble, remind you of your humanity and continue to speak honestly into your life. There are few greater dangers to organizations, families and churches than leaders who know no boundaries for the adulation and praise that they get from others. Any leader can succumb to the siren song of high, enduring praise.

We need leaders. We need leaders to keep learning and being bold in guiding their organizations in wise directions and toward lofty goals. But remember these words from Proverbs: Pride comes before a fall. Make sure that our leaders keep standing!

Talent Should Rarely Win Over Decency

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We’ve all seen them. From the political trail to the sports arena to even the faith community and church. Talented, gifted, strong, engaging, charismatic leaders, athletes, musicians, actors and clergy, who while they possess myriad skills and abilities above the average in their field, seem to care little about being decent people.

What do I mean by decent? No, I’m not suggesting wishy-washy, smiling all the time or merely another clone like hundreds of others in their arena of expertise. They don’t have to be particularly religious or possess one of a limited number of personality traits.

Decent people can be all sorts of people but I want to suggest have at least three dominant attitudes which are very apparent no matter their field, personality or skill set.

Decent people can say hard things without attacking another’s character. They stay above spurious name-calling and focus on facts and the here and now. They avoid broad brush assumptions about individuals and groups personal traits and simply share what they have seen from their perspective, admitting it’s only their perspective.

Decent people also take time to talk with people who disagree. They don’t merely try to wax eloquently about others with few facts and when the others have not opportunity to respond. They welcome hearing the other side of the story even if they walk away still in disagreement. They are not afraid of people who don’t see things from their perspective.

Decent people don’t make every discussion or communication merely about them. They applaud others for who they are, what they’ve done and see potential in them even if they are on opposite sides of an issue.

No, decency by itself without talent or ability will only make for a nice person with good character. But talent and ability without decency only leads to a tyrant who you will probably avoid or replace soon discovering there was a far better person able to do the job or root for and not be a jerk. And you’ll be thinking, “Why didn’t we applaud and follow the decent AND talented person?”

 

Please Vote . . . Whatever You Do . . . Vote!

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It’s what they call Super Tuesday. Twelve states hold primaries and candidates on both sides salivate at the possibility of hauling in the most delegates on the road to the Presidency.

But sadly, many Christians will again stay home. Some will suggest there is no one they like. Others believe one of the candidates will win anyway no matter how they vote so why make the effort? The reality is that the last two elections might have had different outcomes if more of the people who thought it didn’t matter or who felt they weren’t getting everything they wanted in any candidate actually showed up and cast a ballot.

I’m not a political strategist or economics expert. And I’m not going to suggest who my pick for our country’s leader should be.

But I’m going to be brief in this post. Please vote in the primaries and general election. And do not expect that any candidate will have everything you desire in a candidate. We have been given a somewhat unique and amazing freedom to actually make a difference in outcomes in our leadership no matter what our perspective is on the issues. God has blessed us with this opportunity. Let’s continue to be heard, embrace our freedom and make a difference.

In my mind we can do no less.