Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Getting Off Square One

These are questions that came to me as I was considering the future of my congregations. They are thoughts that everyone involved in ministry should consider.

1. Are we willing to work with other congregations?
2. Are we willing to change our worship? Our habits? Our meetings?
3. Are we willing to eliminate programs and events that are holding us back?
4. Are we willing to re-organize the administrative structure of the church?
5. Are we willing to lose ineffective traditions, rituals and practices?
6. Are we willing to go, to live and to sacrifice for the sake of the church? For the sake of Christ? For the mission of the church?
7. Are we willing to grow and stretch spiritually?
8. Are we willing to truthfully evaluate who we are? What we want? What we need?
9. Are we willing to try new programs, even if they result in embarrassing failures?
10. Are we willing to dream big dreams for the future? Set goals? Live by timelines?
11. Are we willing to just do it without complicating everything with our bureaucracy?
12. Are we willing to commit more time, energy and money to the church/ ministry/ Jesus than ever before?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why I am Excited about the future

I have to say that I am a little tired about all the gloom and doom so many people have about the future. “Things are worse today than they every have been.” “I would not want to raise kids now.” “I don’t know what this world is coming to.” You have heard, maybe said, all of these things. I hope that you do not become too discouraged. Let me share with you some thoughts that I have about the coming days. I hope that you will be encouraged too.

  • Medical science has made life healthier and longer for almost all people. Procedures are more advanced and almost routine. Every day a scientist somewhere finds a cure for another disease, or a new treatment for a condition. The future looks even brighter as we continue to fight HIV/AIDS, cancer, heart disease and more.
  • Technology has made communication and travel easier, faster, less expensive and safer than ever before. Individuals can see more of the world. We can stay in touch with family more readily. And it looks like advances in these areas will continue.
  • The personal computer, and specifically e-communications, including the internet, cannot be overrated in terms of making the world a better place. Paper work that once took hours can now be accomplished in a matter of moments. Information can be gathered from almost anywhere, on almost any subject.
  • Finally, the Bible sets an important pattern for us, the best is yet to come. We see this throughout the Scriptures; the story of Job, Jonah, the book of Revelation itself.

And now, the best news of all about the future: All four of the statements made above, can, will and should be used for the propagation of the gospel. Christians should be using medicine to heal the hurts of people all over the world. That is what Jesus would do, and what he did command. Christians have already begun traveling the world in record numbers to share the gospel with people who have never heard, and to offer ministry to the hurting and helpless. And although the internet is often vilified among Christians as an entity filled with pornography and predators, we should realize that there are millions of people online who will never come into our churches. We must be in cyberspace witnessing to the love and grace of Christ.

Most of all, remember that the best is yet to come. Philippians 1.6 says that Jesus will keep working in our lives for our benefit. He will keep blessing us. The best is yet to come!

Monday, February 26, 2007

30 Year Plan

I used to be in a great big hairy hurry to accomplish things. I thought that the sooner I accomplished each thing the better off I would be. After all, if I did it quicker, I could do more. It is the American Way to think like this. But I have changed my mind. To that end, I think that it is critical to think more long term.
Today I believe that 'long term vision requires long term commitment requires long term resources. On the one hand, this way of thinking slows down all that we do, but the quality goes up markedly. It takes a lot longer to do things, but the things that get done are greater.
  • For the next thirty years I plan to build people, not programs. Programs will be tools to build big people. There will always be a place in my life for new programs, inventive ideas and creative resources, but my priority will be to encourage, enrich and disciple men and women. There will not be a focus on purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, or whatever the next great idea is. I will focus on people, not programs.
  • For the next thirty years I plan to spend time, not money. Money is a necessary evil in our world, but it should never take the place of investing our time and our hearts in what is really important. I will not throw my money at problems that I am not willing to invest my time in.
  • For the next thirty years I plan to do stuff, not pray that someone else will do it. I plan to be involved and active in life, community and ministry. I will not ask someone else to do something that I am not willing to do with them.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why being a pastor is not my most important job

If you have spent very much time with me at all, you know some of my priorities. One of those is learning what God has put you on earth to do, and then making sure that you do it. I think that there is at least one thing that every person is called to do. For me there is more than one. (There is probably more than one for you too.) God has called me to be a pastor. As a consequence of that I am supposed to teach the Bible, renew worship and raise up leaders. You have heard all of these things from me before. But long before I was called to be a Pastor, I had another calling, one that I believe to be more important.
I am called to be a husband to Shannon and a father to Molly. I remember telling someone when I was a child that I wanted to be a daddy when I grew up. I am sure that part of this was because I thought- and still think- that my Dad is pretty cool. But I think that it is deeper than that. God was calling me to be a father. Now, I believe that the only way I can be a good and godly father is in the context of a godly marriage. That means that I must be a husband to be a father. Therefore, my most important job is to be a husband and father.
Look at it this way, if I cannot be a good father, how can I be a good Pastor. If I cannot be faithful and loving to my wife, how can I in good conscience be faithful and loving to the church, the Bride of Christ? But more importantly, I believe that if I were not a pastor, if I were not involved in vocational ministry, my most important commitment is to my family. To this end, I try to always make it clear to my congregation that my family comes first. I will love the church. I will serve the church. I will give the church all my energy and commitment, but I will not lose my family for it. That would not be God’s will for my life, or anyone’s for that matter.
The great thing about this calling is that my fatherhood and my family do not have to be limited. Wherever I have lived and ministered there have been young people who have become ‘my kids.’ They are not the same as Molly to me, but they are very important. Whether they know it or not, I have become like a father to them. In fact, most of these persons would probably acknowledge me as at least a spiritual father. And even today my family is growing.
Several years ago God led me to a verse that has become my ‘life verse.’ Acts 21.9 is easy to overlook. I don’t know how many times I read it before it hit me. The passage refers to Philip the Evangelist. Verse 9 says that Philip ‘had four virgin daughters who prophesied.’ That is my calling, my most important job. I am to be a father to people who desire to live holy and missional lives. Are you one of those people? More importantly, have you found what God has as your most important job?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I Feel Petty (or is it the rest of the world?)

I am pretty fed up with the so-called celebrity culture in our society. Things are seriously upside down when Britney Spears in rehab, American Idol contestants and Anna Nicole Smith's burial hearings make the evening news. Why do we care? What difference does any of that make to me? It is no wonder that we are on our way to hell in handbasket. I have to work hard to find out the latest news on the war in Iraq, but the latest on Paris Hilton and Linsday Lohan is everywhere.
Could it be that Miss USA and her sex and drinking problems are easier to think about and understand than what happens on Capitol Hill? If I get past the feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donell will I have to use my brain and make my own decisions?
Here is the truly difficult and scary part: When we get consumed with Entertainment Tonight and InTouch Magazine, we lose touch with real life. I do not believe that normal people get married and divorced in a few hours, or enter rehab routinely. It is my conviction that regular people, the ones I know anyway, are pretty boring. They do not have what it takes to get on Extra, or in the pages of People. In fact, they would be mortified if they ever found themselves there.
When I spend too much time and energy focused on celebrity gossip I begin to think that maybe I should leave my wife; perhaps drug use is not that bad; I think I will party all night, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. After all, if it is good enough for Brad and Angelina, why not me?
So here is a commitment and a challenge:
  • I recognize that celebrity gossip has nothing to do with my life. Therefore, I am going to pay it no attention. I will turn off the television, radio, etc. if I cannot avoid the tabloid world.
  • I am going to be purposeful in using my brain. It takes work to think, but I think that God gave me a brain for thinking. Celebrity scandal and gossip do not allow for that.
  • I will try to affect change in those around me. I am going to help others see how ridiculous and potentially hurtful all this celebrityism is. My part will only be small, but it will be something.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why I am blogging

  • Here I will be sharing my thoughts about life, ministry, community, movies, music, etc.
  • I will also be providing information and links that will hopefully be beneficial to many people.
  • I will provide content on activities and events at Howe and Pretty Prairie United Methodist Churches, The Shed and Howe, Indiana.
  • Sometimes I will just leave random thoughts and rambling entries.
  • There will also devotional and inspirational comments, as well as Bible studies and lessons.
  • I will occasionally include tips for growing in the Christian faith.
  • I may offer commentary on current events and news in the world, nation, community and church.

I hope that you will join me on this journey from time to time.

Ash Wednesday

Each year I struggle with Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. I did not grow up in a liturgical environment and now pastoring in a United Methodist Church makes this a little challenging. My biggest struggle this year is how to make Lent fresh for my congregation. Our Ash Wednesday service is in five hours. I better figure it out quickly.

On Sundays I will continue to preach through the book of Philippians until Palm Sunday. But for myself, and for my congregation, this is not enough for Lenten discipline. Therefore, I will be challenging myself, and my congregation, as well as all readers, to do the following:
  1. Worship regularly. For most of us worship only takes an hour or two each week. Spend time in church. Or, if that is too big of a stretch, spend the next six weeks exploring churches. Haven't found one you like? Try a different one next week.
  2. Make sacrifices. For most of us in USA our sacrifices are somewhat embarassing. In light of the hunger, oppression and poverty around the world, what is it to give up chocolate for six weeks? Nevertheless, make a sacrifice. For the next six weeks I will not be drinking pop. It doesn't seem like much, but it is something.
  3. Reflect and repent. The reason that you sacrifice is to focus on your reflection and repentance. God will show you how you have screwed up your life. Ask him for forgiveness.
  4. Spend time in prayer, meditation and reflection. For most of us, if we would start to offer prayers before meals and bedtime it would be an increase in our prayer time. If we were to read three verses from the Bible each day, it would be an increase. You do not have to become a monk, but make some changes.
  5. Love other people. Listen to someone else. Care about individuals you meet. Have compassion on others.

There is my challenge for these six weeks. Who is game?