April 23, 2010

Growing Pains (The Resistance & The Rub)

I'm pretty sure Jesus knew these "growing pains" would come our way. He was well aware that we would ache and moan as the change and growth begin to flow through the veins of the church. In Matthew 9:16-17, Jesus talked about the conflict of trying to "patch up" (or reconcile) the old with the new. And of course He was trying to tell his disciples that the "new life" He had come to bring couldn't fit into the old religious system. But this principle that Christ lays out here - that you can't put "new wine into old wineskins" - ripples out even further into our lives. And the reason these growing pains hit us so hard - and the resistance and the rub begin to wear us thin - is because (while we claim, declare, and even believe that we want "change" in our church) we're not ready for the more important "change" in our own lives. And that hurts!

I am very grateful (and thank the Lord often) that I am leading a church where "the way we've always done it" hasn't had much time to take root. But beware my friends, all you have to do is let self-centeredness and complacency water that seed for a few brief moments, and the roots will start to dig in and hold on for dear life! These are NOT the roots that we need digging "down deep into the soil" of our hearts! (See Eph. 3) These roots are deadly. They will begin to choke out joy, unity, and hunger for holiness. And make sure you take note: If the driving force in your spiritual life and in your mission in your church becomes protecting your preferences and securities, you are walking down a road that leads to misery! Yours...and everyone else's. To put it bluntly, if your church is growing but you're not, it's eventually going to get ugly.

These growing pains are normal. It hurts to grow! There's tension and friction when muscles and joints and sinews begin stretching and expanding. But the key for us as God's people is acknowledging the tension and the pain and the ache and walking through it together. Jesus made it perfectly clear that this was non-negotiable (see John 13 & 17). But often this is put in jeopardy because inevitably there are people carelessly floating into the "church" each week who have no greater aspiration than to simply be a "butt in a seat". They may even check the box that declares they want to be a "Member", while in reality, they would have preferred another box labeled "Attender". And if you're just looking to "attend" a church, somewhere along the line you've gotten the wrong idea of what this is all about. You've missed the point! 

Are you feeling the growing pains? Hopefully you are. This will most likely mean that your church is reaching, building, and growing! Just make sure that as your church is growing, you are too. 

Jesus - give us a hunger to know you more and make much of YOU in the way we live our lives and grow our churches!

April 22, 2010

Growing Pains

Once every few weeks, in the middle of the night, I hear the noise. It starts with a thud and a moan (this is the feet hitting the floor and the pain gaining a voice). This is followed by the increasing volume of little feet scrambling across carpet, then wood, then tile, to carpet again, only to arrive at the side of our bed to awaken and inform us, "My knees hurt!" Growing pains! Through the tears, Nathan let's us know (without reservation) that he hurts and he needs help and he needs it NOW! Can you remember those pains? I do.

Growing pains are pretty self-explanatory, right? Your muscles or joints - what's on your inside - seems to be growing, changing, expanding at a different rate than your outside. It's stretching! And in case you didn't know it, our bodies don't really get excited about stretching. (You ought to hear me getting out of bed these days!) While we hate these pains - especially seeing our kids agonize through them - we know they're necessary and inevitable. You ultimately WANT these pains. You WANT to grow! Right?

Do you see where I'm going with this? Did you figure me out? This is a pretty clear picture of us - the CHURCH. And specifically, this is a very accurate image of OUR church...right now! We are growing. And in many ways...it hurts! But it seems to be quite a bit more difficult to console and convince ourselves that "this is really a good thing" and that "I should joyfully welcome this tension". The reason this happens - most of the time - is because these growing pains in the church force US to do just that - GROW! We're forced to push out of our comfort and convenience, possibly give up "our seat" on Sundays, maybe even begin serving in an area where "I'm not really 'gifted' to do this". But for the sake of the Kingdom - for the sake of the Body of Christ - for the sake of our own spiritual growth - it's necessary.

Have you felt this pain? Are you feeling it now? Are you ready for it - prepared to welcome it joyfully?

More to come....

April 19, 2010

New & Improved Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is by no means a new subject in the church. We've been preaching against it - while admitting to living it - for quite some time now. And make no mistake, Jesus is pretty clear about how He feels about it. He called the crowd around, called out the Pharisees, and said, "Listen to the teachers and Pharisees. But don't you dare follow their example. Everything they do is for show." (Matt. 23:1-5) We often get caught up in this game of "keeping up appearances". But I think there's another side to hypocrisy where we're often even more guilty, and sadly...unaware.

In Galatians 6, the Apostle Paul exhorts the church to "gently and humbly help others" who are overcome by sin. And to "share each other's troubles" or "bear each other's burdens". I think we're pretty good at this. Most of us, most of the time, anyways. We have a genuine desire to help other people, to walk with them, see them restored, and to carry their burdens with them when they just get too heavy. But the hypocrisy creeps in when suddenly we're sitting on the other side of the table. Sure, I'll help you. But no way I'm going to ask you to help me carry my burden. In fact, I don't even want you to know that I'm carrying it! And please, feel the freedom to confess your sin to me - to let me pray for you and walk with you. But don't even think I'm going to come clean and bear my soul! Forget you! This is our New & Improved Hypocrisy!

In yesterday's message, I gave what I consider to be a standard or principle with which you can know whether or not you're walking down a path toward hypocrisy: If you're not being really, seriously, genuinely, authentically REAL with SOMEONE, then most likely (to some extent), you're being FAKE with EVERYONE! 

Give it another read and think on it for a moment.

I know people are probably genuinely sick of hearing me talk about accountability. Tough crap! Until I know that the people God has placed in my life to lead and pastor - ALL of them - are taking deliberate and intentional steps in their lives to guard and protect their hearts and to challenge and nurture their steps toward Christlikeness, there will be no shutting up on this subject. [And I'm fully aware that we have quite a few "butts in the seats" who come weekly in an attempt to blend in and get by. I'm not OK with this! I don't believe that knowing Jesus Christ - the Savior of the UNIVERSE - produces wallflowers!] This isn't a junior high dance - it's your LIFE! Are you in or not? Do you seriously buy into the Word of God? The whole thing? If so, you need to meditate on 1 John 1:8-10 and James 5:16 (yes, that verse again!). You need to give the Lord an opportunity to pull back the curtain - think Wizard of Oz - and show you the real condition of your heart. Is what others are seeing on the outside a reflection of what's going on in the depths? Is there integrity there? Because you do realize this is THE reason Christ took issue with the Pharisees? They were "keeping up appearances". Are you?

I challenge you to begin asking the Lord to show you the real condition of things. And as He reveals it to you, I encourage you to confess it to someone else. The Lord has CALLED US OUT to confess our sins to Him AND to each other. Don't walk alone. Because if you do...you're a hypocrite!

Dig Deeper
Isaiah 29:13-19

April 12, 2010

Thoughts From A Rookie (Part 2)

While people can have seriously unrealistic expectations of pastors and leaders at times, it is just as criminally frustrating when we have unclear expectations of others. Are you a pastor? A leader? Does your staff or your team KNOW what's expected of them? Do you THINK they do, but you're not really positive? Because if the answer is anything other than an emphatic "YES", someone will eventually get hurt. And since this isn't really rocket science, most of us could question, "How do we let this happen?" If what I'm saying is pretty much Leadership 101 common sense, why do so many of us allow the windows to stay fogged up and the people we most need to be in the light to remain walking around blindfolded? I think there are a few reasons.

One of the main reasons this happens is because at times, as we're still trying to even develop an understanding of people, our circumstances, and everything that's been handed to us along with it, we're don't have the sense to simply say to people, "I'm still trying to figure it out". It's the prideful disillusion that, as a leader, you're supposed to have all the answers. ALL of them! Don't be an idiot! No one expects this of you. And if they do, you need to get rid of them. (Nicely, of course)

Another obstacle to being clear is that sometimes you speak a completely different language from the team member you're trying to communicate with. While you can't become immediately and wholly fluent in each other's "speak", you better at least figure out that you're somewhat speaking in different tongues. Something's not translating. We're not sure what it is, but we know it's happening. Ultimately though, you've either got to figure out how to communicate or come to grips with the fact that (maybe) it's just not going to work.

The last catalyst (that I want to take time to point out) in being unclear - please don't hate the messenger - is that you're a BIG FAT CHICKEN! [Go ahead if you need to and say it: "Bock bock!"] I know, it's not easy. We don't want to be associated with this dumb bird that most of us ate for dinner at some point last week. But the reality is, being a pastor or a leader comes with the unavoidable task of having HARD conversations! Conversations that cause you to lose sleep and make your stomach turn thinking about. Talks that you dread more than Chewbacca would dread getting a back waxing! Let's be honest - sometimes it sucks! Sometimes it's hard to say to someone, "This is EXACTLY what I need from you." There are times when it won't be easy to let someone know, "If you're going to take on this responsibility to do this - and it doesn't get done - there are going to be consequences." And it gets even worse when someone fails or misses the mark. No, you don't want to crush their heart or make them feel like a big loser. But if you don't communicate to them that what happened was FAR from what you expected....how the heck are they EVER supposed to know it better not happen again? Think about it.

If you don't know what you expect from your key staff or team, figure it out! And then - for everyone's sake - communicate it! This is so important, you better take days off and get on your face and do the work of hammering it into submission. If you're a leader, you better be like LIVING WINDEX for the people following you. And nothing I've said here is out of judgment, it's because I've been guilty of ALL of it! But I'm committing and working harder every single day to wipe off the windows and make the view for everyone in my bus as clear as possible! Lead on my friend!

More to come....

April 7, 2010

Thoughts From A Rookie (Part 1)

This past weekend marks one year that I've been here at The Brook as Pastor. While there have definitely been challenges, I am so grateful to the Lord for all He's done and is doing. Great things! This significant crossroad has given me reason to think, pray, and reflect on some of what I feel the Lord has taught me in this short time - some of it quite painful - and what He is still teaching me now. I'm going to work through this a few things at a time, so this will be Part 1 of several different posts. So, feel free to comment or criticize - but save your energy. You might want to do it in waves!

Without a doubt, growing up in the home of a minister and watching my Dad spread himself so thin that his weight problem was ironic, I have seen firsthand the effects of operating under the expectations of others. And (I don't think this is a secret) for pastors of all shapes & sizes, faiths & denominations, those expectations placed on you can be simply unrealistic. The sad thing is, it's much better today than it was 10-20 years ago. But that's still no excuse. Often people have an unbiblical, cultural, tradition-laced dependency on the "Pastor". There can be an expectation that he be "all things to all people". (And yes, I know Paul said that this was his aim. But Paul was also not married, nor was he a "Pastor". He was a single, traveling evangelist & church planter. Another post for another day.) I've seen church-folk get riled when the Pastor's sermon wasn't ranking with the likes of Graham or Swindoll, while simultaneously being furious that he didn't personally visit all 13 people who were coincidentally having their gall bladders removed on the same day. (OK, I exaggerate a tad!) But sometimes, the demand is impossible to meet.

That said, there are a few reasons this happens that are actually within our control - there are some things that we either do or allow or just ignore that - if we had some vision and backbone - could prevent these unrealistic expectations. First of all, if you don't have a clear Job Description, that's YOUR FAULT! The elders, leaders, deacons, staff, and people of your church better know what your actually responsible for. And I realize that there are plenty of times as servants (which we better be!) that you have to step up and get things done that just aren't your job. But if the Pastor is the one being called at 10:30 on a Saturday night because brother Harry came up to check the temperature of the baptistry water and discovered a broken toilet, there is obviously a lack of communication going on as to what you should and should NOT be called about - the night before you're preaching 2 sermons! [READ your Job Description. If you don't have one - a CLEAR one - fix that! If you do, then (to put it simply)...DO YOUR JOB!]

Another reason why this happens is because - as pastors or leaders - we're not equipping, empowering, and releasing others to "do the work of the ministry". You do realize that THIS is your calling? That Ephesians 4:11-13 is the fire that should be lit underneath your backside? And let me say as a not-yet-fully-recovered control freak, I know this can be a battle. But it's a battle you better be fighting! We are CALLED to equip others to grow, build, and expand the Kingdom. We are CALLED to teach and lead others to teach and to lead. Pastor: you're not the only one who can pray or baptize or (heaven forbid I say it)...preach! If you want to be a one-man show, go for it. But go ahead and make your reservations at the nut house and the cemetery. It won't be long!

The bottom line: you absolutely, without a doubt cannot and will not please everyone. You will probably lose sleep - lots of it - because of the strain that a decision you made cause exuberant joy for some and unrestrained aggravation for others. It's going to happen. But you can't please everyone. Don't try! Because if you do, you will in some way - even if it's invisible to the naked eye - stop trying to please the Lord. And THAT is your highest aim & calling!

But those are UNREALISTIC expectations. And I know all we usually think about are the ones placed on us. But stop for a moment and think about this: Are you placing any unrealistic demands or expectations on others? For me, this is really not the greatest temptation or crime. As a pastor or leader, the greater tragedy is when our expectations are UNCLEAR! And man, have I tripped over myself on that leadership sidewalk. More on that in Part 2. 


April 1, 2010

There Is NO SCRIPT for Leadership!

I'm just wrapping up "Linchpin" by Seth Godin. While I plan to eventually write a review over this book, I wanted to share a very simple idea/quote with you. Near the very end of the book Godin says, "There's no script for leadership. There can't be!" Let it stew for a moment.

I know, all the pastors, ministers, and especially uptight Beth Moore devotional groupies out there are going to initially say, "Well, what about the Bible? Wasn't Jesus the perfect model of a leader?" Yes. Do you feel better now? I said it. Yes. Absolutely! (I even added an exclamation point) But you're missing the point. There's a standard - even what we might call a "manual" - but there is NO SCRIPT! Jesus never said "When it's time to decide whether or not to build again or branch out and plant something new, here's what you do." There's no biblical "read this aloud" antidote for a pastor on the best way to find and hire a new staff member or build a team or help someone see that the ministry endeavor they embarked on 10 years ago has rendered itself irrelevant and needs to be sacked. Leadership is often about the willingness to say, "I'm not sure" and simultaneously having the guts to act. Or as Godin always says, "...to ship"!

Pastors and leaders keep going to conferences and looking for the next best thing or big idea - so many keep searching for someone else's "art" (or creation) or model to shove their church or organization into and sit perplexed as to why it won't fit and doesn't work. The reason this keeps happening - one of the reasons, anyway - is because it's just a whole lot easier! It takes a lot less effort and emotional leverage and sweat and prayer to just copy someone else. But that's only the half of it. The other side is - sorry about this - it's safer to have someone else to blame. After all, if I copy your way of doing things and it fails miserably, I can just blame you! (And don't think I won't!) Leadership involves RISK! Yes, leadership involves preparation - but part of that is being prepared for the fact that there are certain things you're going to face that NO ONE has written out a How-To-Manual to walk you through it. Sometimes it's "Live without a net". And if you're a leader - as much as this can tax on you and wipe you out - you know that your Creator wired you this way.

You are called to be YOU! Have courage. Trust that you have what it takes and that with the Lord's guidance - with the Word of God in your heart and mind and the Holy Spirit guiding and leading you - you can lead. Make no mistake: you are going to fail! But if you don't fail every once-in-awhile, you're not leading!

What do you think about Godin's statement? Is there a script?
Are you ready to walk the wire without a net?