May 21, 2015

Every Single Sunday (Part 3)

My last 2 posts have addressed the issue of why I don't - and why I believe most pastors & preachers should not - preach every single Sunday. So far I've talked about the need for the people of God to hear from multiple voices and the need for the pastor to sit under someone else's teaching. Today I want to tackle one of the toughest issues I face as a Pastor. It's not the hours of preparation I put into a sermon, or the times of walking through trials and valleys with church members. One of the hardest ongoing struggles I have as a Pastor is remembering that that is not my identity.


As the Lead Pastor of The Brook, there are 3 things I believe God has called me to attend to more than any other:
  • Casting vision for our church
  • Leading our staff (and therefore, our leaders) &
  • Overseeing the teaching & preaching of God's Word
Notice, I didn't say, "Being the only one to preach God's Word". I firmly believe that my chief responsibility is to oversee WHAT we are teaching our people and HOW we are accomplishing it - that we are accurately, compassionately, creatively and boldly proclaiming and communicating the truth of the scriptures. (More on "we" in the next post.) 

Now even though the main point of this whole series is addressing the fact that I do NOT preach every Sunday, I am still overwhelmingly the one who - 80% of the time - delivers the sermon on Sunday. It's not only one of the important things I do, it is a calling on my life: to preach the Word of God & to shepherd and oversee His people. These 2 things are intertwined for me; they cannot be separated. The problem that enters the picture is that as humans we are always inclined to begin believing that we are WHAT WE DO - that WHO we are is overshadowed by or rooted in WHAT we do. Many of us find this highly frustrating, yet we go on fostering this idea all the time. We meet someone and ask them: "So, what do you do?" Standard answers:
  • I'm an engineer
  • I'm a computer software developer
  • Oh, I'm a dentist
The truth is, many people struggle with this. In fact, it can be said that the more someone loves what they DO, the greater the temptation can become to believe that's who they ARE. If that guy in HR hates his job, he's probably going to do everything he can to make sure people know, "This is just a job!" The "professional" baseball player who's never made it out of AAA is probably not as tempted to begin trying to find his worth and identity in baseball than the guy who plays shortstop in the big leagues with a .333 batting average and his face plastered all over SportsCenter. The more we love it &/or the better we are at it the more we face the temptation to think that this is WHO I AM.

Lord, help us see the danger in this delusion.

Why was it so hard for Brett Favre to retire?
Sure, I believe part of it was he felt like he still had some football left in him.
But I think it had more to do with the struggle over identity.

The reality is that there are millions of Brett Favre's everywhere, who've spent so many years of their life (knowingly or not) believing that their identity was found in what they do, that when the clock finally ran out on their talent, their knees, their creativity, their focus - or maybe they just plain flat got old and retired - they really had no idea who they were. Their identity was gone. And when you lose your identity, it's really tough to find it again.

I'm not Brett Favre. Never played Quarterback. Heck, I don't even wear Wranglers.

I'm a pastor. I preach the Word of God. I lead and shepherd people that I love deeply. But I'm also a husband, father, son, brother, friend, coach, neighbor, etc...

WHO I AM is a child of God. But there are days that I struggle with the temptation to believe that my identity is wrapped up in being a pastor. And other people's affirmations (or otherwise) of my performance - someone telling me, "Great sermon, Pastor Brian" - can unintentionally fuel that fire. 

It's no one's fault but my own. 
I have to guard my heart. 
I have to check my motives.
I have to release control.
I have to take a Sunday off.
This helps remind me how crucial it is to distinguish between WHAT I do and WHO I am.

For more encouragement & understanding on this, check out this video:

May 19, 2015

Every Single Sunday (Part 2)

If you missed Part 1 in this series - Every Single Sunday (Why I Don't Preach All the Time) - I would encourage you to read it first. In it, I talked about the need for the people of God to hear multiple voices - they need to hear more than one person, perspective, and voice teaching and preaching the scriptures. In this post, I want to move on to another reason why I don't preach every single Sunday:

I need to sit under someone else's teaching.

I'm not going to speak for anyone but myself in saying this, but as a pastor - or more so, as a preacher - I fight a battle any time I spend time in the scriptures. The struggle is this: I'm always thinking about how to preach or communicate what I'm reading. I'm thinking about how those I lead need to be encouraged, challenged, or convicted by the truth that's impacted me. Which brings us to the problem and the struggle: My natural tendency is to read the scripture thinking about how it needs to impact everyone else, not me. I wrestle with the need to wrestle with the scriptures for my own benefit - with the hunger, desperation, and desire for the Word of God to transform my own heart and mind - not just for a fresh word for everyone else. 

What does this have to do with taking a Sunday off from preaching? 
Good question. I'll answer it with an example. 

This past Sunday at The Brook our Youth Pastor, Chip preached. It was a great sermon! The Lord really used it to stir my heart, encourage me, and challenge me to be in persistent prayer on behalf of others in my life; because Jesus is always interceding for me, I should be interceding for others. That by itself was enough. But let me explain what else this did for me. Because I wasn't thinking about what I was about to preach, the time of corporate worship was a huge refreshment to my soul. It was possibly one of the most unhindered outpourings of worship & praise I've had in quite some time. I can't begin to describe what a blessing this was for me.

During the week leading up, the Lord really opened up the Word for me on a personal level. As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount (along with The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer), I wasn't thinking about how this really needed to be heard or understood by someone else. It was for me. I needed it. The Holy Spirit did some serious internal recon into my heart. There were definitely some much-needed moments of repentance. And as a result, a much-welcomed wave of restoration over my heart.

I need to sit under someone else's teaching to be reminded that:

  • I am not the sole authority on the Word of God 
  • I am not the only one who can communicate & teach our people
  • If I am not humbly learning from the scriptures, I probably shouldn't be teaching the scriptures
  • The Good News is actually for me as well
  • The first person I need to be preaching the Gospel to is myself
  • The greatest enemy of the pastor and preacher is PRIDE
Pastor(s) - I pray that you are taking opportunity to sit under someone else's teaching. I pray that you are seizing opportunities, not just to rightly communicate the scriptures, but to be personally transformed by them in your own personal life, your home, and into the innermost parts of who you are.

More to come on Why I Don't Preach All the Time....

May 18, 2015

Every Single Sunday (Why I Don't Preach All the Time)

So, just to get it out in the open and on the table...I'm a pastor. To be specific, I'm the Lead Pastor of a church called The Brook. I love my church family! I am so grateful for not only those I shepherd and oversee, but for those who lead and serve with me. I am grateful for the calling God has placed on my life. 

While there are many different thoughts, assumptions, and perceptions about what pastors actually do (and/or don't do), one thing that many people automatically hold as an expectation - particularly a lot of "church" folks - is that the Pastor (Lead Pastor, Senior Pastor, or maybe the only Pastor) should be the one, week in and week out, to deliver the sermon. Let me put it in really simple terms:

A lot of people expect the Lead Pastor to preach EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY.

For some, maybe this is what they grew up with. For others, maybe they just love their Pastor. Regardless of the reason, not only do I believe this is an unrealistic expectation on any pastor, I believe it's a really bad idea. It's dangerous, not just for the pastor, but also for the parishioners. Yet, many go on carrying this expectation. Many church members go on thinking this way. Many pastors go on bearing this burden. And because of that, through a series of posts, I want to address head on why I do not preach every single Sunday

[Before I dive in, I do want to make clear that this is not a reaction to anything anyone in my own church has done or said, nor is it a defense sparked by someone's criticism. I desire to proactively and assertively champion the health, leadership, and well-being of pastors and the churches they lead. I hope & pray this will be a word of encouragement to someone who needs it.] 

The first issue I want to raise and first reason I want to give as to why I do not preach every single Sunday is that the people of God - the Church - need to hear from multiple voices. God gave the "apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip the saints". He raises up overseers - pastors and elders - to lead and shepherd the people. There is never a scenario in the New Testament where one man (or woman) is called to lead on his/her own. We'll get into that deeper in another post, but for now it helps us see that scripture has established the call and mandate for multiple gifts and voices. 

Looking at this from a practical standpoint, there are several reasons (or arguments) not only supporting the benefit(s) of hearing from multiple voices, but also the danger(s) of hearing from just one.

First off, when we only hear the Word of God preached from one person, we can begin to believe that everything that person says (or preaches) is automatically true or correct. We can unknowingly begin to assume that their authority is without question. And on the other side of this coin, the one preaching all the time can begin to unknowingly think or believe that they have (and are) the unquestionable authority. There's no one providing accountability. This is dangerous. Need proof? Watch THIS. Quite sad.

A benefit that we experience at The Brook - having multiple pastors who can and do preach the Word of God - is that we are constantly sounding things off of one another, whether theological issues, relevant or accurate application of the scriptures, or even cohesion between our view of a text in relationship to the whole of scripture. Rarely is a sermon preached on a Sunday that multiple pastors have not had some opportunity to examine and speak into. This is a benefit and safeguard for everyone; the one preaching and the ones who will be listening.

Another danger in only hearing from one person is the often overlooked prospective question: What if something happens to that person? If Pastor Bill is the only one who preaches on Sundays, and then Pastor Bill gets killed in a car accident, what happens then? I don't mean to sound morbid or insensitive, but this is reality. It's a dependence issue. And the fact is, pastors need to be very careful that they don't begin to actually feed off the fact that their congregation depends on them. To put it bluntly: this is sinful. It's pride. It's a preacher of the Word of God striving (whether knowingly or otherwise) to become someone's idol. Think on that for a moment. 

While I realize I'm taking this to the extreme, if you examine most cults (Mormonism, Branch Davidians, SDA, etc...) they begin with one teacher - one "pastor" - who claims to have a "word from God". They slowly move off of orthodoxy or add to scripture. Because they go unchecked - because no one else is seen in the authoritative light that they are - false doctrines creep in and ultimately a false Gospel is preached. Yes, this is the extreme. But no one who winds up there ever thought they were going to extremes in the beginning. 

There is great benefit from not just multiple voices, but a unified voice, boldly proclaiming and preaching the Word of God, creatively communicating the truths of scripture, and speaking the truth in love to one another, holding each other accountable, and fostering a culture of humility in serving and leading together.

Next post in this series, Why I Don't Preach All the Time (Part 2):
I need to sit under someone else's teaching.

May 14, 2015

Persecution Will Come

In recent days the world has been made aware that Christians around the globe are being hunted down, slaughtered, murdered, and even beheaded for proclaiming the name of Christ. For being called "Christian". While this is heartbreaking on too many levels to count, it should at the same time come as no surprise to disciples of Jesus. Egyptian Christians beheaded. Libyan Christians murdered. Chinese Christians hunted down and arrested. All around the world there are believers who can read many of the Psalms and actually empathize and identify with them.

"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy!" Psalm 57

"Rescue me from my enemies, O God." Psalm 59

"I cry to you for help, for my heart is overwhelmed." Psalm 61

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." Psalm 23

I could go on.

As this persecution increases - and it will continue to increase - there are several questions that we (as Christians) must ask ourselves. And we need to examine these questions now, not later. The first question is this:

Do I truly, wholly, completely believe Jesus?

If so, consider Jesus' words to his disciples in Matthew 10:
"I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." He goes on and says, "You will be dragged before kings" and that they will "deliver you over." "Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."

Sure, we believe this for the first disciples. We also believe it for those we assume will be the last disciples. But we disassociate any such idea from someone in our day, in our time, and in our land. This can't be us! Can it? Not now. Think again.

Do you truly, wholly, completely believe Jesus?

Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, affirms his belief. First, Bonhoeffer says, "It is not our judgment of the situation which can show us what is wise, but only the truth of the Word of God. Here alone lies the promise of God's faithfulness and help. It will always be true that the wisest course for the disciples is always to abide solely by the Word of God in all simplicity." Bonhoeffer not only establishes his complete trust in Jesus and His Word, but then goes on to expound on what it means for you and me. And then is where we must answer the second question:

Have I truly, wholly, completely determined to follow Jesus?

Bonhoeffer continues:

"The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the divisions which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his Word until the end. But when the end comes, the hostility towards Jesus and his disciples will be made manifest the whole world over, and only then must the messengers flee from city to city, in order that they may proclaim the Word where it can still find a hearing. If they run away then, they will not be running away from the Word, but holding fast to it."

Jesus said, "You will be hated. You will be hunted. Family will disown you. Friends will turn against you. The nation will ultimately burn you at the stake - whether literally or figuratively. Persecution will come. And I am not warning you so you can hide from it. I am sending you out, straight into the heart of it."

Here's why I'm pouring these thoughts out. Here's the beautiful, divine irony in all of this. The hate, brutality, and opposition that the disciples faced in Jesus' day, the centuries to follow, and even the most recent decades that have just flown by, would have never been known of. Many of the stories and lives of those who have been persecuted and martyred over the centuries have never been known or told. Only God knows. A hundred years ago it took weeks - if not months - for simple news to travel across the country. Then the radio came. It played a major role in the patriotism that won World War II. Then the television. TV possibly single-handedly swayed the momentum of a country fighting a war in Vietnam. The view of something is much more stunning and attention-getting than just the simple news of it. We watched in 1991 as missiles were fired into Iraq. It only took moments for the news of 9/11 to travel around the globe and everyone watched in paralyzed shock. Please understand the obvious trend: news travels faster every single day. So fast forward to now. See the bigger picture.

Islamic terrorists parade a band of innocent, silent Christian men down a beach in orange jumpsuits. (You dress them in orange jumpsuits to make them appear like criminals.) The apparent leader spouts hate and quasi-fear into a camera. It's propaganda against Christians. They then take their machetes, put them to the mens' throats, and without a second thought, end their lives. And the deep blue water on the shore turns red.

And because of the internet, everyone in the world knows about it.

These Christians didn't kill other people for their faith. They didn't display the cowardice of strapping a bomb to themselves and taking other people's lives. They stood on the truth of Jesus Christ...and their lives were taken. They were sent out like sheep among wolves. Just like Jesus said. 

But what the wolves don't seem to understand is that, while centuries ago they would have gone on living like wolves, hiding in the woods, no one knowing of their ravaging brutality, today, in their attempts to broadcast fear, intimidation, and power - in their attempts to slander, undermine, and ultimately destroy Christianity - they are actually proclaiming it's message and truth all over the world. They are taking the words of Jesus and unknowingly bringing them to life off the pages of God's Word. 

Jesus said, "Persecution will come."

Jesus was innocent. He was treated like a criminal. He was silent before His accusers. He was led like a lamb to slaughter. So were these men.

In their death, the Gospel is going out to the whole world.
In their death, Jesus' words were and are being lived out:
"This will be your opportunity to tell them about me - yes, to witness to the whole world!"

Persecution will come. It's already coming.
Be decisive: Choose this day who it is your life is surrendered to.
Be prayerful: Ask God for faith, courage, and opportunity - for you & all Christians.
Be bold: We have the Good News that Jesus Christ has set us free from sin & death.
Be all of these things.
But don't be surprised.
Jesus said it would happen.

Do we believe Him?
Are we ready to follow Him?

May 7, 2015

The Inevitable Challenge of Change

It's quite possible that no subject or issue has been written or talked about in the category of leadership more than the inevitable confrontation with CHANGE.

Change (v.) - to transform or convert; to make the form, content, future course, etc...of something different than what it currently is; to substitute or exchange for something else.

In The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes says, "Only those leaders who act boldly in times of crisis and change are willingly followed." (italics mine)

Andy Stanley, in his book Next Generation Leader (which is one of the Top 5 books on leadership I've ever read) makes the statement: "Progress requires change. If an organization, ministry, business or relationship is going to make progress, it must change. That is, over time it must evolve into something different. It must become better, more relevant, more disciplined, better aligned, more strategic."

Seasons change. The earth and environment count on it. So do we.

Dirty diapers get changed. Or bad things happen.

Old policies change. They may not have been bad, they're just outdated.

People change their hairstyle. They get bored of looking at themselves.

If you've ever painted a room, broken up with someone, bought a new car, sent your kid(s) off to school (or been the one driving off), moved to a new city, tasted something new and liked it, been fired or hired or both, made a New Year's resolution - if you're a human being that's entered adulthood, then you've experienced change. You've initiated change. In fact, you've embraced change. But 9 times out of 10, it's change that we ourselves have brought on and initiated, and therefore welcomed.

It's that change we didn't see coming that always gets us.

The great question in leadership that won't seem to go away is: How can we better, more effectively and efficiently, navigate change?

While there are possibly countless answers and responses to this question, I want to give you one simple truth that I believe almost always applies when it comes to change within an organization. I've seen this validated (positively AND negatively) time and time again. When it comes to change, there is one type and kind that people dislike more than any other:


As a rule of thumb, particularly when it comes to folk's routines, habits, likes, and familiarities, people don't like surprises. (You may say you do, but see what happens when someone messes with your coffee or daily routine.) Most people aren't delusional in thinking that they are going to be part of every decision and change that has to be made. That said, they don't want to be blindsided or caught off guard by it either. They want to know that they are important enough to be informed and prepared. After all, if a change is for the benefit of an organization, church, business, or relationship, and the people are what make up the organization, church, business, or relationship, then doesn't it make sense that the people should know about it? 

There are obviously limits to the sensible and the ridiculous in this matter. For instance, I don't for a second think that all the members of The Brook think they need to know - or even want to know - that we replaced the paper towel holders and soap dispensers in all the bathrooms on our campus last year. (If they DO, then they should be on our Buildings & Grounds team.) An organization would never go anywhere if it was/is stuck in the mire of micro-information. That's not why we exist. On the other hand, if the elders of our church felt like God was leading us to sell our property and move to another location in the city, this is most definitely something that even a half-interested and semi-invested church member (if there is such a thing) would and should want to know. How about showing up one Sunday and there's a FOR SALE sign out front. Surprise! 

One of the most difficult, yet most crucial and important aspects of navigating and leading change is knowing how and when to bring people in on it. There is no formula or secret equation. It's a matter of discernment and prayer. It involves confidence and clarity, with compassion and understanding. And no matter how delicately you handle it, there's always very likely going to be someone who isn't going to like it. That's life. That's leadership.

If you want to be a leader, you have to be willing to lead change.

But you can do it in a way that gives people the willingness, hunger, desire, and enthusiasm to actually follow. One of the greatest factors in whether or not this rings true for us is in our understanding that leading change = communicating change. 

Have vision. 
Be courageous. 
Pray consistently. 
Be humble. 
Seek wisdom. 
And communicate clearly.
People will follow.

"Simply recognizing the need for change does not define leadership. The leader is the one who has the courage to act on what he sees. Leaders are those who would rather challenge what needs to change and pay the price than remain silent and die on the inside." Andy Stanley

Dig Deeper:
Joshua 1:1-9
Isaiah 41:10