Posts from May 2014
Often when people are seeking advice for decisions to be made, they will be told "follow your heart."
Hollywood loves this advice and builds movies based on this all the time. Not coincidentally, most of the films that are built upon this advice have happy endings. It should be noted that movies are fantasy and just because the two hour romance or adventure ends well on the screen, that does not mean it (whatever is done in the film) works in real life.
The only problem with this advice is. . .it's BAD!!!
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)
Jesus addressed this as well.
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Mark 7:21-23 (ESV)
So, according to the Scripture, go ahead and "follow your heart" and you'll end up in a place defined by deceit, immorality, slander, pride and foolishness. (That doesn't make for a good movie.)
So, what is the alternative?
Simple answer, but not so simple task. Follow God's heart!
You see, there are two hearts. Living from the old heart leads to that which Jeremiah expressed and Jesus defined. Yet, God is in the business of transforming hearts. He takes the old heart and replaces it with a new one, at the moment of surrender and salvation.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)
So, here's some advice for you. Don't follow your heart, or your dreams or anything else that people get tattooed on their bodies that sounds like that. Follow His heart (and thew new one that He has given you that beats with His.)
"You're a different kind of bird."
I was told that by a friend and church member not too long ago. . .and I'm not really sure what it means. I'm pretty sure it was just a statement of fact, not a compliment or condemnation. I wasn't offended. Maybe I was being mentally compared to other pastors this friend has had over the years? Maybe this is just a new title I've earned. I'm good with it.
And, truth be told, I am a "different kind of bird."
In meeting with pastors throughout the nation, I now find myself at an age where younger men come to me for advice and suggestions. This is a strange place to be, in that I still feel that I'm figuring out this whole "pastoring" thing.
In these young men, I see a passion for God that is energizing. The "take hell with a water pistol" mentality is actually exciting and rejuvenating for me.
I also see potential pitfalls and roadblocks for many and offer my wisest counsel (as I continue to seek counsel from others God has placed in my story.)
Why do pastors need such counsel? Here are some statistics given to me at a recent conference.
- 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least oncein their careers
- 25% do not konw where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue
- 25% of pastors' wives see their husband's work schedule as a source of conflict
- 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry
- 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family
- 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations
- 45% of pastors' wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout
- 45% of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry
- 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job
- 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family's well-being and health
- 56% of pastors' wives say that they have no close friends
- 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do
- 70% don't have any close friends
- 75% report severe stres causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alientation
- 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse
- 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively
- 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry
- 90% work more than 50 hours a week
- 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family
- 1,500 pastors leave their ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
- Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide
These statistics come from a 2011 Fuller Institute and Focus on the Family & Pastors' Friend Ministries survey.
There is a great need for pastors to be pastored as well. The business model of perfection and westernized definitions of success may be two of the Enemy's greatest tools in taking down those men called of God to pastor His church.
Pray for your pastor (and for those in the church I pastor, I unapologetically ask for you to pray for me and our pastors and ministry leaders.) The story is big. The victory is already won. Yet, the battle remains.
However, let me be clear - the calling is worth it. To be in the center of God's will is not the "safest place to be" in this world, but it is the best place to be. It is a dangerous place (because the world rejects the Gospel) but good.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:11-14 (ESV)
For pastors, check out NAMB's "Pastor for Pastors Blog" for great insight and encouragement. Click here to access.
As I talk with pastors from around the country, there is a growing urgency to move the church toward living missionally. A common theme is the need to update some internal church practices, without watering down the Gospel, in order to better reach and impact the community for the sake of the Gospel.
This means CHANGE.
The old joke that "no one in the church likes change except for the babies in the nursery" is more true than we want to admit.
Often I will hear from some pastors who tell me they feel resistance from the senior adults in their fellowship. This either leads to continuing on with "status quo" or creating an unnecessary battle within the church. Still, the inevitable is true - change is happening.
IN DEFENSE OF SENIOR ADULTS
As a pastor of a "First Baptist Church" who often hears statements like "You're not a typical First Baptist Church" as compliments, I acknowledge we have made some significant changes in strategy and systems over the years. While I have more mistakes in my bio than victories regarding these transitional moves, I have learned some things over the past couple of decades.
One thing that remains clear, our senior adults can handle change and will embrace it, as long as it is right and not superficial.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
I wish I had learned this earlier (and was better at it now.) I have discovered that many of the stereotypical senior adults who are categorized as not wanting change will actually champion it, if they understand the "why."
I have found that for senior saints who long for their children and grandchildren to be active in a local church and more importantly know Christ, they are willing to see needed changes occur. The urgency of seeing lost loved ones, friends, neighbors and others come to Christ melts away most aversion to changes within the church. . .as long as the goal is clearly communicated.
This does not mean that our seniors really enjoy newer music, schedule shifts or other things that are not how they have always been, but those with a heart for missional living are often willing to sacrifice so that more may join the family of God.
Clarity of communication is not relegated just to the senior generation. The age group most resistant to change, in my experience, are those between ages 35 and 50. Perhaps this is due to a strong nostalgia of youth groups and choir tours from the 1980s and 1990s? Maybe it's a desire to remain in their small (or not so small) groups with others who have the same age children or are in the same life stage? It could be the growth of therapeutic deism that many western churches unwillingly propagate. This leads to a self-centric church experience that feels more like a support group and counseling than a faith community. There are many possibilities, but as for seniors, they typically handle change better. . .as long as they know why.
SENIORS CAN HANDLE CHANGE
Again, change may not be desired, but our senior saints can handle it, better than most. Why? I believe it is due to the fact this generation has experienced more change in their lifetimes than perhaps any generation prior.
Many of our seniors have memories of global wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, etc.), the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and the advent of "the pill," the space race, Neil Armstrong, the energy crisis, the Red Sox finally winning, the introduction of the personal computer, cell phones, smart phones, email, social media, etc.
The world is changing at break-neck speed, and this generation has experienced it all.
In other words - they can handle change.
SOME RESIST, BUT IT'S NOT DUE TO AGE
There is always resistance to change within the church. Every pastor has a Sanballat and Tobiah in the fellowship. I have met with seniors who are resistant to just about everything I propose. However, I have also met with twenty year olds who exhibit the same deference.
As a pastor, I must ensure that whatever change I may be leading the church into is not just my good idea, but a prayed through God idea.
When that is affirmed, resistance will always arise.
Pastors - be careful to not categorize and stereotype every senior adult in your church as a bitter hearted curmudgeon. In truth, those are actually a minority in the family of God. They may be the loudest, but they are the fewest.
INTERGENERATIONAL MINISTRY IS VITAL
In the American church, we have successfully built ministry silos over the years. These silos of age-graded ministries have effectively divided the family and created less than what God intended in His church. While churches build buildlings for children, students, senior adults and others, in order to sequester people by age, we have often missed the joy and strength of inter-generational ministry.
This is especially obvious in our suburban, McMansion worlds where extended families tend not to live near each other.
There is value when seniors in the church begin to view the teenagers as "our teenagers" rather than "those teenagers." The same can be said in reverse. When a student sees the seasoned saints in the worship service as part of their family, the church begins to grow more healthy.
There's no easy answer to this and I'm not suggesting we tear down all our individual ministries, but we must begin to be more strategic in how we do life together.
MINISTER WITH SENIORS
There is a big difference between ministering with someone and ministering to someone. The with connotes togetherness and unity. Many of our seniors are discovering that retirement is not a biblical concept. While it is a good thing to be able to get the gold watch and walk away from the 40+ hour work week, the sad reality is that many have chosen to retire from church service and faith as well.
Thankfully, missional living allows us to see the value in all Christ-followers, regardless of age, and allows the church to affirm that which is being done daily in Jesus name. We have many seniors who refuse to just sit in a pew, and we celebrate that willingness to serve. Some of our folks volunteer at the hospital, local nursing homes and even create golf outings so they can engage lost friends with the Gospel. This all counts!
It has been three years since I received a Tweet from Wes Hughes about partnering with church planters in Portland, Oregon. Wes serves the Northwest Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board in this region as a missionary and church planting leader.
What did I know about Portland? Not much. I knew they had an NBA team (and as of this writing, fans of the Trail Blazers are wondering where this team that beat the Spurs last night has been the past week.) I knew it's geographical location. I knew "The Goonies" was filmed here. That was it.
I have since learned that Portland is a beautiful city with one of the most diverse populations in the nation. It may be considered the polar opposite of what some would label the "conservative Bible belt" area of culture. It is also a city with many nicknames and identities: Stumptown, Rose City, Bridge City, PDX, Rip City (for Blazers fans), etc. If you want a glimpse into the unique culture of Portland, check out an episode or two of "Portlandia." It actually gives pretty good insight.
Over the last few years, my love for the Rose City has grown, and it has become clear that our church is to be strategically partnered and engaged in this city. We have taken a few trips to the city over the years and have been able to meet with and bless church planters in this city and surrounding area with financial gifts at times as well.
Much has changed over the past three years as God is growing this team of planters and networking churches. Clay Holcomb, a friend and planter in the region, is now the Send City Coordinator. Some planters we connected with previously are still doing a great work in ministry, but are no longer in the network as God has led them elsewhere. Others remain in the city, and a good number of potential planters are finishing up their assessments with intention of relocating here. It is clear that God is working in Portland and it is exciting to see how this is being unveiled.
Our desire is to partner with a planter or church planting candidate for the next three years. This partnership, not unlike our connections with Mike Hauser in Toronto, will keep us intentionally connected as we offer prayer, people and provision. Pray for us this week as we seek to make this connection.
As our church (First Orange Park) continue to step into the role as a sending church, we may have people moving to the northwest in a few years, to plant and serve in this Send City.
Yesterday, as part 2 of our Engage Series concluded in small groups and in the worship time, we welcomed Nhial Kou as our special guest. Nhial is from a country that didn't exist when he was forced to leave. As a Christian in Sudan, his life was at risk. He shared how his family, all Christians, were forced to resist the Islamic government and its fighters and how many escaped (i.e "Lost Boys") and became refugees throughout the world.
It was 1999 when he and his family were told while staying as refugees from Sudan in Cairo, Eqypt, that they would be relocated to the United States.
The excitement of coming to the nation that he knew represented freedom, liberty and opportunity (not to mention care and concern as he stated, "USA was printed on the food items dropped by helicopters for us while we hid in the jungles of our native land.") soon turned to fear as he worried about how he would transition in this land where he did not know the language, the culture or how to provide for his wife and child.
His stories of learning how to use vending machines and discovering the existence of differing time zones are funny, but eye-opening as to what many of us would take for granted.
After a six hour stay in JFK Airport in New York, they boarded a plane to Jacksonville.
With tears in his eyes, Nhial shared of what he saw while walking toward the exit of Jacksonville International Airport. There was a group standing there with balloons and American flags with a banner that read "Welcome Home!"
"Who are these people?" he asked.
It was a group from a local church. Christians who had been praying for Nhial and his family, just as his pastor back in Sudan had told him. The church was welcoming Nhial. This was now home.
As we talked about what it means to live missionally and to be the church, rather than just attend the church, Nhial's story shines brightly. The church, praying and going and receiving. . .in the name of Jesus Christ, is a powerful entity.
May we not miss simple opportunities to share the love of Christ with those around us, regardless their skin color, culture, economic status, etc.
And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." Mark 15:16 (ESV)
Our ministry partner in Jacksonville in this are of refugee ministry is World Relief. This is the ministry that works with the US State Department when refugees are sent to our city. Nhial now works for this ministry that first helped him make Jacksonville a home.
Last Sunday was a special day in the life of our church. As is the case each Sunday, the Gospel was presented clearly. However, on this day, we were focusing on believers' baptism. We focused on removing barriers that people allow to keep them from following through in this step of obedience.
It was a great day and twelve people were baptized on this day.
In an attempt to remove some barriers, my wife and I did some shopping on Saturday morning. We went to our local Walmart and purchased dark shorts, dark t-shirts, men's boxer shorts, women's sports bras, deodorant, combs and picks, shower caps, makeup remover, hair dryers and towels. Seeing that most who were baptized last Sunday did not come to church expecting to do so, we offered these items to them to remove some excuses.
It was about 1:30am on Sunday morning when I rolled over and told my wife, "We forgot women's underwear." That's a statement I don't believe I have ever made before. She offered to go to Walmart and get them, but it was 1:30am. Walmart is open all night, but I didn't want her to have to get up and go do this, so I said for her to not worry about it. I get up early to prepare for Sunday morning services, so I told her I would take care of it.
She said, "Really? You're going to go buy women's underwear at 5am?"
"Sure. It's no big deal."
Well, we finally went back to sleep and at 5am, I awakened. I showered and dressed and left the house. I was heading to Walmart.
Even though this store is open 24 hours a day, there's not much happening at 5am in the building, except for restocking of items and some clean up.
I picked up one of the small blue hand baskets and headed to the women's department.
There I stood looking for the women's underwear aisle. There was one lady working in this area and she looked at me from the corner of her eye. At this point, I was thinking, "Maybe I should have let my wife do this?"
I finally said to her, "Ma'am, we're baptizing some people at our church this morning and I have to get some clothes for the people. I need to get some packages of women's underwear."
I threw in the "We're baptizing people. . ." in order to help her understand that I really didn't show up at 5am to buy women's underwear for. . .well, any other reason.
She took me to the aisle and, let me say first, there are many more varieties of women's underwear than there are of men's. Also, there seems to be a trend of charging more for the items with the least amount of fabric. Nevertheless, I stood there, still confused and asked the employee "Do you have multi-packs, you know by Hanes or Fruit of the Loom? I need the cheap pairs."
I found what I was looking for and thanked the dear lady. (I'm still not sure she bought my "baptism" reasoning.)
I picked up three or four multi-packs of various sizes and made my way to the register.
There were three people working registers (which I noted is not much different at this store than during peak hours.) I was the only customer, so they all came to one register to talk and help me. One was a manager.
So, there I was, with my little blue basket at 5am on a Sunday morning buying four packages of women's underwear. I didn't say much, but put the credit card in the machine. It was a new machine and my card has a chip. It worked, but had a glitch. So. . .here comes the manager.
I looked at him and felt the need to explain, as I did to the woman in the women's department, the reason I was buying women's underwear.
He said to me, "I don't need to know why you're buying these. What you do is not my business."
I said, "Yes, you do."
In other words, I was saying "I know you don't need to know why I'm buying these panties, but I need to you to know."
It was done. I had my women's underwear. Well, not my women's underwear. I don't wear or need women's underwear. Uh. . .you see how difficult this is to explain?
All items were available on Sunday and God led people to respond. We baptized a good many people, but in the midst of the clothing distribution, my wife pulled me aside and said, "You see these packages of underwear here? None of them have been used."
I didn't know why, so I asked.
She said, in her soft, caring voice, "They're huge!"
I was so confused, but here's some insight for my male friends: WOMEN'S PANT SIZES AND WOMEN'S UNDERWEAR SIZES ARE NOT THE SAME!!!
This is a revelation. For some reason the sizes on the tags of men's boxer shorts correlate to the actual waist size on men's pants. Just remember, the rules are different depending upon which department you are shopping in at the store.
What is a pastor in north Florida, of a predominantly Anglo church doing in Washington, DC encouraging Congress to reform our immigration laws?
I joined 250 pastors from 25 state in our nation's capital on Tuesday for an event titled "Pastors for Reform." This was a time of worship and prayer and meetings with members of Congress. I was asked by our friends at World Relief to join a contingent of pastors from north Florida on this whirlwind, one-day trip.
In a recent press conference on this issue, I stated "Whenever you mix politics and religion. . .you get politics." It's unfortunate, but often true. Yet, in this situation, along with numerous pastors from varying denominations, I stepped out on what some may categorize as "thin ice."
This was my second trip to Washington DC regarding this matter. I have met with the Congressman representing our district as well as staffers and others from nearby Jacksonville-area districts and have been impressed with their integrity and desires to serve the people and uphold the Constitution.
I discovered a common assertion from all, regardless of political party and position within their respective parties. Each affirms that our immigration system is broken.
Whether an election year or not, all politicians are having to live as if they're continually running for re-election. Making statements on controversial issues, such as immigration reform, in the age of sound bytes and Twitter, allows others to create and label individuals as either liberal, conservative or somewhere in between. The rhetoric is strong and continual.
Therefore, to take a stand is risky.
Nevertheless, the groundswell of support for immigration reform is growing, and not from the preconceived venues. To declare that reform needs to take place no longer means one is leaning Democrat or Republican or liberal or conservative. While removing the politicalization of such an issue is most likely impossible, the reality is that a broken system exists and most are realizing that there is no simple fix. Nevertheless, to do nothing is akin to kicking the can down the road. . .and the can is getting larger.
Meanwhile, families suffer.
I do not pretend to have the answers on what must be done politcally. That role is not mine to fulfill. I understand that in many of the 435 districts across our nation, immigration reform is not high on the "must do" list. In fact, in the state of Florida, there are pockets where such reform is a top priority (i.e. South Florida) but in other areas, it is lower on the list.
Our Tuesday meetings were cordial and enjoyable. We truly have some great people representing our needs in Washington. Meetings with staffers for Congressmen Yoho, DeSantis and Crenshaw filled our afternoon. Each man is duly elected, sworn to uphold the Constitution and represents his respective district well.
We fully acknowledge that these men (as well as all our congressional representatives and Senators) have many items on their plates. It's a challenging job, to say the least. Therefore, our meetings were intent on encouragement and affirmation, but strong on our desire to see something done in this area of immigration reform.
The risk is real, but it's the right thing to do.
A young lady was part of our local contingent. She could not fly up with us, due to her status, so she drove ten hours for this event. Her name is Tabitha and she's from Orange Park. She is a recent graduate of Ridgeview High School.
Her story is not unheard of. She's what many call a "dreamer." She came to this country with her family as a teenager. She graduated from Ridgeview with a 4.6 GPA, a graduate of the IB program and had accumulated over 500 community service hours. She and her family are here on a visa, but alas, she has no Social Security number. Therefore, she is stuck. She cannot move forward in her education. She cannot go "home" to Guyana. In truth, Guyana is not home. There's more to her story, and I encourage you to watch the YouTube clip below to hear it.
As a pastor of a church in Orange Park, I recognize that an issue many see as something affecting people elsewhere is actually impacting our own church family and community.
I don't pretend to have the answers regarding how to fix this issue. I just know it needs to be done. Not only is it risky for congressional leadership to take steps forward in this area, it is also risky for pastors. Some will read this post and label me as ignorant or of one political persuasion or another. Tip-toeing through the political maze is difficult. On this National Day of Prayer, as at other times, I pray for our leaders. My theology affirms that God is sovereign and, ultimately, He is in control.
This is not a move toward amnesty, as has been defined in our culture. It is not a move away from border security. It is not even a move toward "comprehensive" immigration reform (that word has been coopted, as have others.) It is simply a move to do the right thing and begin fixing a broken machine.
What Other Pastors Are Saying
“I was 6 years old when my family immigrated to this country. I am grateful not only for my parents’ sacrifice but for the hospitality of this amazing country. I am truly a grateful American citizen. I am in deep support of immigration reform — not only because of my personal story, but also because of the moral imperative given to us by Scripture. I am a pastor, not a politician, and I don’t like politics. But I acknowledge that we must engage politically because it is the only way to fix systems that impact people. So today I am here to tell our members of Congress that it is time to do their jobs.”
- Eugene Cho, Pastor, Quest Church, Seattle
“For me, immigration reform is not a political or partisan issue. It’s a moral issue and it’s a family issue. Our congregation has people from 120 different countries. We’ve seen married couples separated, mothers taken away from their children and fathers deported because of the broken immigration system. We need reform and we need it now.”
- Rich Nathan, Senior Pastor, Vineyard Columbus, Columbus, Ohio
“Immigration reform offers the finest opportunity we in the United States have had to put politics aside and do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time. For all the criticism heaped on the USA, we remain the most generous and kind country in the world. With no hint at amnesty, with determination to have a republic ruled by law, let us wrap our arms around all the well-meaning people who have sought the umbrella of America’s protection and opportunity.”
- Dr. Paige Patterson, President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Fifty years ago the African-American community longed to be heard, and unfortunately much of the evangelical community was not standing with us. However, I’m absolutely honored to be standing today with my brothers and sisters looking forward, recognizing that the urgency of the now is upon us. It is time for us to make a decision for immigration reform.”
- John Perkins, Chairman Emeritus and Co-founder, Christian Community Development Association
“I’m here today because in 2011, the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution on immigration reform. The leadership of the convention was concerned that so many conservative Christians were having their views shaped by talk radio and other news outlets, and we wanted them to come to a position shaped by Biblical teaching. Now it’s time to bring these Biblical teachings to our leaders in Washington, D.C., and ask for immigration reform this year.”
- Bryant Wright, Senior Pastor, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, GA & former President of the Southern Baptist Convention (2010-2012)
“Evangelicals believe that now is the time to cross the proverbial Rubicon on immigration reform. It’s the right thing to do. Every day there’s a delay, families, particularly children, continue to suffer. As a pastor and parent my urgent prayer is for a vote on immigration reform this year.”
- Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition & Pastor of The Lamb's Church, NYC
“A society is judged on the treatment of the most vulnerable among them. Undocumented immigrants represent some of the most vulnerable within our society. As a nation anchored in caring for the inalienable rights of humanity, our moral compass is being tested by how we care for undocumented Immigrants amongst us. Ignoring the plight of undocumented immigrants speaks to the very fabric of our moral integrity as a nation.”
- Althea Taylor, Executive Pastor, Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene, NYC