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.


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?


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?



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?

When Faith Meets a Locked Door


Have you ever walked into a room and then closed the door behind you only to realize that you were locked in?

Charlotte and I had been invited, along with our small group, to dinner at a family’s new home. They had only lived in this house a few weeks. They were still making adjustments and taking note of what needed attention. I walked into a restroom just off the living room area. I closed the door behind me, locking it. Then, I saw a screwdriver beside the sink.

Sure enough, the door was not only locked but it would not open — at all! Now I realized why a screwdriver was in the room. This had happened before.

Have you ever been locked inside a church? You entered freely. You were excited to become a part of that fellowship of believers. Yet, now that you are inside, you keep finding locked doors.

1. You may find a locked door when you question the traditions and customs of the congregation or the denomination. I am not talking here about attacking the traditions or customs or condemning them. In some circles, one dare not even ask a question that might elicit a response that goes beyond the standard accepted answer.

2. You may find a locked door when you read the Bible and wrestle with its implications for our lives today. Not long ago, a young minister told me that he had finally heard the unbelievable. He said that, in a moment of frustration, a gentleman in his church exclaimed, “I don’t care what the Bible says, I don’t like it and don’t want to do it!”

3. You may find a locked door when you share with some in the church a dream for ministry in your community and beyond. You then realize that not everyone shares your excitement. At first you can’t figure out why. Then you begin to realize that this dream is apparently upsetting some who are committed to the status quo. Those who put a premium on the status quo often see the church as a spiritual recliner. Let’s just sit back, enjoy being saved, and be content to watch life go by.

4. You may find a locked door when you realize the objective of the congregation seems to be keeping people happy and content instead of reaching others who are living without a relationship with God. Consequently, a young minister may hear something like this in his church: “Let’s just do what we have always done, but let’s do it better. There is no reason to change anything.” After awhile the young minister grows discouraged and slips away. Or, he just gives up and stops dreaming.

I am convinced these doors can be unlocked and God working through his Spirit can breathe new life into churches both small and large. These doors don’t have to be locked. A fear-based faith will always try to control by discouraging anything that appears to be outside our comfort zone or familiar system. Consequently, the doors gets locked. On the other hand, a grace-based faith will change the hearts of men and women and cause them to live in perpetual thanksgiving.

I am not interested in doing anything that is unbiblical or moves us away from the core of the Gospel. Yet, I am interested in getting back to the very heart of what Jesus was about.

As long as we talk among ourselves and the conversation never gets outside ourselves, we will continue to play intramural theological games. However, when we begin to look and listen to the people on the street, we might hear questions that are not being asked behind these locked doors.   

People have street-level questions and desire a street-level hope. After all, Jesus was the street-level savior who brought hope to the world.

This is something I have been thinking about lately. Will you give this some thought as well?



Do you see other doors that are often locked inside a church?

What important questions do you hear from people outside churches?

Question: What are the Secrets in Churches?


I’ve got a question. What are the secrets in churches?

I believe that in churches everywhere, people have secrets. These are secrets that men and women have in their hearts. These secrets may involve feelings, questions, sins, past experiences, addictions, future intentions, etc.

Some of these secrets include:

1. The man who has always had some serious questions about the Bible. Is it really God’s word? How can I know this? How can I know there is a God and that he really loves me? What if I have doubts?

2. A woman continues to be impacted by a dark secret. She had an affair years ago while she and her husband were going through some difficulties. No one in her church knows this. She was never completely honest with her husband. The memory, guilt, and some nagging questions continue to haunt her.

3. A middle-aged man has always been brash and outwardly tough, yet no one can ever penetrate his emotional wall. His secret? Many years ago when he was an adolescent, he was molested by older teenagers. He reported this assault to a relative only to be told that he shouldn’t have been a wimp but should have been tougher.

4. A young minister is repeatedly told by church members how important it is to not offend people or do anything that might upset someone. Now some years later, he finds himself going along with whatever the influential people in his church want. He has lost any sense of who he really is. His secret? His true feelings, opinions, and desires are never expressed to the church. He continues to stuff his true thinking and feelings.

5. A woman grew up in a chaotic family. Her secret is her anger. She harbors such anger toward her mother and often feels great guilt for some of her thoughts. She tries to live a normal life but occasionally flies into a rage with her immediate family.

6. A husband and father is preoccupied much of the time with his next drink. He can’t imagine really having a good time where there is not some drinking. He looks for opportunities to drink and often drinks in secret. He thinks about drinking quite often. One would never know any of this by the image he projects at his church. This is his secret.

7. A longtime member of a church listens one Sunday morning as an elder in his church tells the congregation that anyone can come to these elders and talk and pray. Yet, he thinks to himself, “You say that now, but if you knew my secret, you would wish you had never said that.”

8. A middle-aged woman has some very real questions regarding a few of her church’s traditions and practices. She does not feel welcome to even raise the issue with the leaders of her congregation. She remains in the congregation because of lengthy friendship ties. She chooses to remain silent about the questions on her heart.   

None of the above people have names. I composed these scenarios after reflecting on the many, many conversations I have had with people through the years. For years, I have heard people talk about what was really on their hearts and the difficulties of such secrets.

Each one of these secrets is a part of someone’s story. So often the story and the secret are never told. People can be a part of a church for decades and never utter a word about their secret. Consequently, such an important part of their story is never told to anyone.

Think about what you have seen and heard through the years. Think about the late night conversations over a cup of coffee with friends. Think about what you have observed from simply being a part of a congregation.



What are some of the secrets that exist in churches? (Remember these might be thoughts, feelings, sins, past experiences, addictions, future intentions, etc.)


Question: How is the Church to Talk About Sex?

What do you think?

How should the church be addressing the subject of sex?

Think for a moment about our context:

1. We live in a highly sexualized culture. Sexual images are everywhere (advertising, various forms of entertainment, etc.). News in pop culture ranges from “wardrobe malfunctions” at the half time of a Super Bowl show to celebrities who have become well known for their sexual exploits. Scandals have involved politicians, ministers, public school teachers, and other public figures. It has only been a few years ago a number of priests were named for their involvement with minors. On and on it goes. So what does the church say regarding sex in such a culture?

2. We live in a time in which many, many people are getting married who have never witnessed a healthy marriage anywhere at anytime. Couples in premarital counseling may have read a book regarding marital sex or they may have had conversations with a counselor. Far too many people, however, get married with only the information they got off the street. What does the church say regarding sex that might help and bless these couples?

3. Many people have much information about sex. Information is readily available everywhere. However, (and this is huge) so many people have no idea about the meaning, function, and purpose of sex within a marriage. Consequently, this becomes just one more expression of self-centeredness within a marriage. What does the church say regarding the meaning of sex?

The question:

How is the Church to Talk About Sex? How are these issues best addressed? How is sexuality from a biblical perspective best addressed?