You Can Make a Difference

umakeLast Saturday evening, Harding School of Theology honored Dr. Jack Lewis on his 95th birthday with a wonderful dinner and evening of appreciation. Dr. Lewis was a longtime professor of Bible at HST and is deeply respected by many. I made the following remarks at the dinner. I am sharing these with you as a reminder of the importance of our ministry in the kingdom of God.

What we are doing at Harding School of Theology is participating in a great cause, a work of God. We are investing in the mission of God.

My wife, Charlotte, and I have been in Memphis for about 90 days. Like you, we believe in what this school is doing.

For 20 years, I preached for the Crestview Church in Waco, Texas. As you know, congregational ministry is ministry on the front lines.

We moved to Memphis to begin working with Harding School of Theology. We did this not because I was bitter, burned out or jaded. In fact, I loved the ministry that I was doing. We did this because I am passionate about the impact of the local church. I love the church. I believe that God works through local churches to not only make a difference in our towns and cities today, but to make a difference for eternity.

Some months ago, while we still lived in Texas, I was thinking about the youth group in our church. I thought about how they will grow up and by the grace of God will be a part of churches in various parts of the nation. Their future is impacted by the leadership and other influencers in these churches.

Some of our own children and grandchildren will be a part of churches throughout the nation. We can make a difference in these churches so that our children and grandchildren experience the ways in a church can impact their community by living out the Gospel.


So, I am thrilled to be here. I am thrilled to be a part of a ministry with you where we can work together to make a real kingdom difference. The impact of our graduates in these churches has much to do with how they were equipped, trained, and mentored. It has to do with the kind of models they have. When the churches where they are function well, embody Christ, and are “on mission,” then towns and cities are blessed as well.

We are partnering together to provide the resources to equip our students – men and women – to help others in these churches, by the power of the Spirit, live out the teachings of Jesus. I have joined this wonderful staff and this sterling faculty

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because I really see the opportunity to make a difference.

Tonight, I am so thankful for you because together we get to share in this wonderful work. Tonight is a “Thank you.” We celebrate our rich heritage and the contribution of Dr. Lewis.

As kingdom people, we also confidently lean into the future believing that the future is bright and tomorrow is full of hope. We can say this boldly and yet with humility as we trust in the Father of mercies.

Again, thank you for your partnership.

Minister Search: You Have More to Offer Than You Might Think

agile-intrinsic-value-solutionsiqIn the past year, I have talked with a number of ministers who are interviewing with various congregations. These congregations were in the process of looking for someone to fill a particular ministry role. Hearing these stories reminded me of my own experiences in interviewing with churches.

Church leaders often underestimate what they have to offer a prospective minister. They have much value to offer a minister and I’m not talking about money.

Some churches believe that talking with a prospective minister is all about salary, benefits, etc. Is that important? Sure. This family has to pay bills, save for emergencies, and have money to eat Mexican food. However, a church has more to offer than just a salary with benefits.

1. Church leaders need to spend time thinking about what they have to offer that is of value. For example, church leaders who will regularly and consistently encourage their ministers have something valuable to offer. Far too many ministers live in an atmosphere of regular, debilitating criticism. Others live with an erie silence from the key leaders of the church. These leaders don’t criticize their ministers. They say nothing. No words of encouragement or affirmation. No expression of interest or concern. At key moments these leaders remain silent.

Yet, there are elders who refuse to be silent. I once worked with an elder who told me that he and his wife prayed for me every single

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day. Another elder regularly expressed appreciation for specific things I had done. He did this in the presence of the other elders on a regular basis. Still another regularly highlighted what he appreciated about various sermons.

2. Church leaders who will form a hedge of protection around a young minister really have something of value to offer. Far too often, a young couple will move to a distant town or city to begin working with a church. While there are good people in this church, there is often someone who is difficult. Maybe this person doesn’t like the preaching and begins to criticize. Without the involvement of the key leaders, a few people can be allowed to destroy the confidence and spirit of this preacher. As a result, the entire congregation is impacted. Young preachers in particular need elders who will stand with them to support, protect, and encourage.

3. Church leaders who will show a genuine interest in the lives of their ministers and families definitely have something valuable to offer. Genuine interest by a group of church leaders toward their ministers and their families doesn’t cost a dime but may be one of the most valuable things they offer. I’ve known particular elders that took a genuine interest in their minister’s happiness, health, finances, and children. Again, this is huge.

Some church leaders might read this and think, “Well of course I’m interested in their welfare.” Yet, so often that is never expressed to a minister. It may be assumed but not expressed.

On the other hand, I can recall times when a church leader expressed genuine interest and how it felt. An elder once said to me, “I want to ask you a question about your salary. Do you feel good about it? Are we supporting you financially in a way that seems fair and right?” Now, I had no problem with my salary. However, it meant so much to me that he would care enough to ask this question.

Another elder periodically showed up at my office during the week. He would ask, “How are you doing — really? How is Charlotte? Are the girls happy and doing well in school?” He did this for many years. This was a huge gesture of care and goodwill.

Don’t underestimate the value that you (as a group of church leaders) and the congregation may have to offer a prospective minister. You may have more to offer than you might think.

Question:

What might church leaders or congregations have that is of value to prospective ministers? What have you witnessed or experienced?

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?

 

So Thankful for these 20 Years

LastSermonSunday was our last day with the Crestview Church.

We have been a part of this church family for over twenty years.  Sunday was a day we will remember.  Our children Jamie and Cal as well as Christine, Phillip, and grandson Brody were all there.  We were joined by other special family and friends – people who shared the day with us.

We will remember Sunday for a long, long time.

Our congregation expressed to us their appreciation and affirmation in ways that we will always remember.  Charlotte and I were moved.

The special lunch, the beautiful decorations, and the thought that went into this day spoke volumes to us.

The hugs, video tributes, and the kind and affirming words meant so much.  All of this was very humbling but also encouraging.

We enjoyed the hilarious skit with the Duck Dynasty family (featuring some of our own, dressed up, complete with beards).  It was so good to laugh together.

Our church family even gave us a financial gift they had evidently collected prior to Sunday.

We went home exhausted but full of gratitude for such a special day.

Today, I am so thankful for:

1.  A wonderful congregation who made us feel loved, appreciated, and valued on Sunday.  We received all that they did as a precious gift.

2.  Individuals who recalled memories of times (both sweet and difficult) that we shared together.

3.  The way we have been blessed by these people for over twenty years.  They helped us raise our children and navigate life.

4.  The blessing of serving this church and community.  (I really mean this.  It was a blessing!)

We will soon be on our way to Memphis.  I will begin a new ministry with Harding School of Theology.  The next chapter of our lives will begin. However, we will continue to treasure these friendships, memories, and the blessing of serving God in this place.

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.

Ministry Inside.110

quitHave you been tempted to quit?

Many of us have considered quitting at one time or another.  After all, serving in a ministry role can be very, very difficult.  In fact, there may be times that are so grueling you may wonder what you got yourself into.

Why would a minister and his family consider leaving a “full-time” ministry role?

1.  Relentless criticism from members of the congregation.  Many people in ministry roles understand that criticism comes with this work.  However, some criticism can be deeply hurtful and debilitating.  A minister may experience great pain and frustration when some in a congregation criticize his children or his spouse.  The same is true when criticism is aimed toward one’s personality or even his integrity.

2.  Disappointment that one experiences in a congregation.  Serving in a ministry role with a congregation often means that a person will become aware of some of the wonderful ways in which members quietly serve the Lord.  However, this can also mean that one is now exposed to some very nasty attitudes.  Perhaps this minister or elder even admired these people at one time.  Now, however, this church leader is witnessing another side of this church member.

3.  Financial stress.  Sometimes congregations do not provide adequate financial support to their ministers.  Consequently, some ministers and their families feel constant stress due to their financial situation.  Ministers may feel like they can not share this burden with their elder group or friends within the church lest their motives be misconstrued.  Consequently, these families bear this stress alone.  Yes, I know that some ministry families put themselves into debt due to unwise financial decisions and undisciplined spending.  However, some are simply trying to live on an income that is inadequate.

4.  Loneliness and isolation.  Some church leaders (ministers, elders, pastors, and many, many others) feel lonely and isolated.  They find that their friends really don’t understand the work they do or the pressures they are under.  Complicating this even more is the reality that some ministers often feel geographically isolated from their extended families due to their location.

 

Question:

What are some other reasons that might cause a church leader to consider leaving a particular ministry role?

Harding Seminar

HardingSince last Thursday, I have been teaching a Doctor of Ministry seminar at Harding School of Theology (Memphis).  The course is entitled “Connecting Preaching with the Congregation.”  I have been co-teaching this seminar with Chris Altrock, who preaches for the Highland Street Church of Christ in Memphis.  In this class are some wonderful students, all of whom serve in ministry roles in various congregations.

I have enjoyed being at Harding.  For many years, this school has offered excellent preparation for ministry.  This week, I have also gained a great appreciation for the encouraging atmosphere.  The faculty, staff, and students have been exceptionally helpful and accesible.

I have especially enjoyed teaching with and learning from, Chris Altrock. I encourage you to follow him on Twitter.  Also be sure to visit his website.  You may want to check out his book, Preaching to Pluralists or his book Prayers from the Pit.

Chris is a wonderful model for any preacher.  He is a person of high character who takes his own spiritual formation very seriously.  He is a good thinker and knows much about preaching and ministry.  He is also humble and unassuming.  Chris has a gracious manner that puts those around him at ease.  It has been a pleasure to teach this seminar with him.

 

 

Why Not Start Today?

START_TODAYSome time ago, I began reading Jeff Goins’s blog. One day I read an excellent post of his entitled “Start Today Not Tomorrow.”

I have been thinking about these encouraging words.

Start today.

Far too often I have waited too long. I’ve waited for additional information, more favorable conditions, and better timing. Is waiting ever appropriate? Sure. Yet so often my tendency to wait did not help or contribute to the project that needed to be done.

Most of the time, I simply needed to start.

A number of years ago I was speaking on the campus of a Christian university. A friend who lives over 600 miles away came into the session unexpectedly. He had been traveling and decided to stop by the university. He learned about the workshop in which I was speaking and decided to join the session.

We later visited in a nearby room. During the conversation, I expressed to my friend my uncertainty regarding my future plans. I said,

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“I really wonder what I will be doing someday.”

My friend very wisely said, “Someday is here.”

Think about that one.

Someday is here.

What have you put off? Have you repeatedly said, “I’ll do this tomorrow.”

Maybe today, you just need to begin.

  • Maybe today, you need to start working on that difficult research paper.
  • Maybe today, you need to start speaking to the young man at the gas station.
  • Maybe today, you need to smile at the custodian and inquire about his day.
  • Maybe today, you need to tackle that project you have put off far too often.
  • Maybe today, you need to start writing.
  • Maybe today, you need to ask your friend to lunch instead of waiting for her to ask you.

What do you need to start today?

 

 

Ministry Inside.104

dangerAs a young man, he was a gifted and popular minister. I had seen pictures of this man when he was a younger minister. He looked handsome and confident in those early years.

He preached for a large congregation and became quite popular as a minister. Then there was an affair, followed by a second affair. He and his wife divorced. He moved away and began working in a business. For many years, subsequent chapters to this story only seemed to get worse. Eventually, however, this man’s life completely turned around and his walk with God was alive and fresh again.

Now, several decades later, I was having lunch with this man. I was a young minister and was eager to learn what I could. He told me that his mistakes and sins were rooted in his own ego.

“People were telling me how great I was. The church was growing and good things were happening. Yet, that also meant that I had to work even harder to keep up the pace. I began to feel entitled.”