Congregational Life and Ministry

How Acts of Evil Distort the Image of God

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On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 17 people were murdered and more than 15 injured in a mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. According to The Guardian, “Just seven weeks into 2018, there have been eight shootings at US schools that have resulted in injury or death.”[1]    Each time one of these hideous events happens, a debate breaks out in our country about gun control.  Well, I am not joining that discussion.  The other debate that happens is, the questions of faith, “Where was God?”  To me, that question is backward, and it serves the purpose evil wanted it to serve. Sinful acts like this and others throw into question the very nature of God.  This article today is to address the image of God.

When asked why God created man when He knew he would sin, Martin Luther replied, “Let us keep clear of these abstract questions and consider the will of God such as it has been revealed to us.”

Pause for a minute and ask yourself what kind of God do you require?  Be honest.  Some want, in fact, not so much a father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven: a senile benevolent being who allows us to live our life on our terms with little interference from Him.  We have limited God and created a crisis of faith by painting faith into a corner we cannot extricate. However, when a crisis comes, we want a Johnny on the spot God to come quickly to our rescue.  Wouldn’t it be great if God were to say, “I liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all.  Instead…”

What Do We Know about God?

Isaiah 6:3 “And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

In the Hebrew language when a word appears more than once it is for comparison.  For the word “Holy” to appear three times in a row says that there is no comparison in all the world to the holiness of God.  He stands alone.  There is no sin or evil in His being.

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved.”

When evil strikes the first thing it does is attack at the heart of the character of God’s mercy.  Paul reminds us that God is rich in mercy.  As one writer puts it, ““Mercy takes away misery; love confers salvation” [Bengel].[2]  God’s love is the motivating factor in His mercy, and notice this love comes in the midst of our brokenness.  While we were still sinners, He (God) loved us.

1 John 4:8 “Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.”

John’s encouragement is for Christians to love Christians, but that is not to exclude non-Christians. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the basis of our love is God and His love.   In fact, it is because love is from God.  True love has its origin in God and flows from or out of (ek) God and has God as its spring or source.

Jeremiah 10:12 “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.”

God is Almighty.  He is not powerless.  The Evil One attempts in the middle of tragedy to paint God as a helpless old man sitting in His rocking chair watching all the events unfold around Him powerless to intervene.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Every time evil strikes you hear how it could have been worse and we chalk this protection up to luck instead of God.  When catastrophe comes notice that there are always heroes.

It reminds me of something my wife shared with me about Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood fame). “In the wake of the horrific attacks in Manchester, England, many people shared a famous quote by everyone’s favorite neighbor.

His mother always said, when there was a catastrophe, ‘always look for the helpers.’ No matter how bad things are, there are always people helping.’”[3]

In nearly every story when bad things happen some brave men and women rise up and restore our hope in humanity.  Those heroes often point us back to their faith in God. In this last tragedy, the stories of faith have been striking.  Young survivors talking about how their faith in God sustains them.   How their faith comforts them because they know their fallen classmates are in a better place.  It is faith that gives the Christian hope in the light of darkness.  Confidence in God in the midst of uncertain times.  We cling to this hope in dark times like this, when there is so much pain and brokenness all around. It doesn’t make sense to an unbeliever, but it gives strength to the Christian.

Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Finally, God is consistent and constant.  His character does not change; His love endures forever.  We can find comfort is a changeless, loving, almighty and merciful God.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far

[2] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 345). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/23/mr-rogers-story-probably-make-you-cry/340111001/

 

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Congregational Life and Ministry, From An Older Hopefully Wiser Pastor

How to Care for the Shepherd Who Shepherds You

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Consider the following sobering survey results of the personal and professional lives of the clergy:

– 90% of pastors work more than 46 hours a week

– 80% believed that pastoral ministry affected their families negatively

– 33% said that being in ministry was an outright hazard to their family

– 75% reported a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry

– 50% felt unable to meet the needs of the job

– 90% felt they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands

– 70% say they have a lower self-esteem now than when they started out

– 40% reported a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month

– 37% confessed having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church

– 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.

I started this series because I believe most congregations have no idea just what a strain the pastoral ministry places on the pastors and their families. So, in this post, I want to share with you three things you can do to provide support for the one called by God to care for the sheep under his care.

Offer sincere and constructive feedback on the sermon.

“Pastor, that was incredible…” while I love to hear that, it did not help me to hone my craft.  I told my wife early on that “…since you are the only one who will have the courage, to be honest with me, please tell me the truth about my preaching.”  Early on some of those conversations were brutal, but then again so was my preaching.  It reminds me of what one parishioners said, some pastors preach “longhorn sermons,” a point here, a point there, and a lot of bull in between.

As I travel around and visit congregations, I hear this story far too often.  “Our pastor preaches sermons that no one wants to hear.  They just don’t connect with us. They do not spiritually feed the people.”  So I ask them, did you talk to your pastor about that?  And the answer is a resounding, NO!

The next time you want to give your pastor encouragement, make your comments specific, not general.   Direct your comments to what the Holy Spirit did through him. “God taught me ________through your sermon today.”

Give him encouragement after the mediocre sermons.

 I had a member who would come up to me after one of those and say, “Pastor that was a warm sermon.”  I asked him after hearing that a few times what he meant, and he responded, “Not so hot.” He wanted to remind me that I needed more work on delivery or preparation.

Encouraging your pastor in his preaching is important. It will not only help him, but it will benefit the entire flock.  If the pastor has a teachable spirit, he will grow in his proclamation of the gospel, and you will find yourself getting more out of the sermons.

Encourage him in caring for and leading his family.

Since many pastors are also husbands and fathers, they have an added responsibility. And the role of husband and father comes before that of a shepherd.  In writing to the young pastor Timothy, the apostle Paul had this wise advice to for him.

“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” 1 Timothy 3:4-6

As you can see from God’s word those roles should be more important in their life than their capacity as a pastor. So, if you want to have a happy and healthy pastor insist that the man called to serve not neglect his home life,  encourage him in leading his family, and care for them as you care him.

Give your pastor permission and encourage and support him in personal development.

In the first post in this series, I talked about the importance of taking a day of rest.  Now I want to encourage you to support your pastor’s professional development.  You want your pastor to attend conferences where he will continue to develop as a shepherd and leader.  There is something healthy about getting out and seeing other ways of doing ministry. Unfortunately, many pastors feel guilty about asking for this opportunity to grow, so they don’t.  But members expect them to know the latest ministry approaches and trends, and some members feel they are being cheated if their pastor is not there every Sunday. If you want to burn a preacher out and start a call process every three years, operate your ministry with that failed approach.

From some 8,000 laymen and ministers with whom we have conferred, five principal pastoral problems emerge a loss of nerve, a loss of direction, erosion from culture, confusion of thought and exhaustion. They have become shaken reeds, smoking lamps, earthen vessels…spent arrows. They have lost heart. But they can be revived!

 

Congregational Life and Ministry

The Church: Museum, University or Lifeboat?

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Ross Perot Museum

This story is a familiar one. In 1972, and after 308 years, the First Church of Newton, Mass., called it quits. It gave its assets to a museum, sold its building to a Greek Evangelical Church, and disbanded. The church started in 1664. It rose to a high of 1,200 members in 1952 but dropped to 325 in 1972. Three-fourths of the membership was over fifty.

In my current ministry position, I see congregations at various stages of the life cycle. But that is not the focus of this post. For the church to carry out its mission, it needs never to lose sight of the reason for its existence. The church can easy fall into the first two descriptions listed below without every realizing it has done so.

The Church as a Museum.

What does that mean? First, by way of a definition. “A museum is a building or place where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed.” – Webster’s Dictionary.

works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed.” – Webster’s Dictionary. I remember my time in Detroit as a parish pastor vividly. I toured so many historic churches in that once great city. These buildings were massive structures, that displayed with great detail man’s ability to create amazing buildings. These monuments are a fitting tribute dedicated to worship a God worthy of those accolades.

The problem is those days had passed for many of the churches in Detroit. There were not thousands of people praising God in those beautiful structures. There were less than a hundred people there. Those few faithful souls left were spending every penny they had to maintain the building’s beauty. If you took the time to stop and talk with those who remained, they would regale you with stories of the past. They would walk you down memory lane. It felt like a museum tour. They could tell you how the church was built and how it was making a difference in the lives and fabric of their community.

Sunday morning becomes the major donor event to keep the museum open. The patrons have very little time for outreach. And the outreach they do is to increase the donor base. I don’t blame the supporters; the mission got lost when the focus became survival. Don’t get me wrong I know that God is still proclaimed there, but if reaching the lost is not the primary focus, survival has replaced mission.

The Church as a University.

“Knowledge is useless without consistent application.” Julian Hall

I have been blessed in my life with great Christ-centered brilliant men of God who taught the mysteries of the faith. It was a joy and blessing to learn at the feet of such scholars. There are a certain number of churches that have been blessed with similar people of God who teach and share God’s truth in a powerful way to the flock who attend. The caution with a focus that centers primarily on education is there is a need for mission action as well. I love this quote. “Knowledge is not power. Applying what you know is power.” That applies to the work that the church is called to do. We are called to take the message of truth that we learn from gifted and knowledgeable people of God and take that into the world to be ambassadors of Christ. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians 5. “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The call to reconciliation is the work the church is called to do.

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The Church as a Lifeboat.

C.T. Studd, said, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”

The church has been given the task to carry on the mission that our Lord Jesus Christ began. He did not spend all his time in the Synagogue. Nor did he just go around preaching and teaching the truths of the faith. He never lost sight of his mission. Jesus’ mission was to give up his life to save others. Jesus came to set the captives being set free. He conducts a search and rescue mission to find the lost sons and daughters. Jesus’ ministry afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted. We are called to continue the work our Savior started. The Church is not about meetings and building projects, or even denominations conventions and politics. It is about the lost, the brokenhearted; the disenfranchise all finding their place in the King’s kingdom through faith. Reaching those outside of God’s sheepfold is the burden of the Gospel; this is the responsibility of the Church’s mission. We are called to go out daily on search and rescue mission and proclaim the love of God to those who are looking for hope in a hopeless word. Go armed with your grounding in the Word of God and be a lifeboat.

God in His plan for us (and for a lost world) spared not His own So tell the world of His love. Love is costly, but we must show it to the world at any cost.

 

Congregational Life and Ministry, Urban Ministry, Videos That Will Make you Think

TED Talk: Poverty Isn’t a Lack of Character; it’s a Lack of Cash

“Ideas can and do change the world,” says historian Rutger Bregman, sharing his case for a provocative one: guaranteed basic income. Learn more about the idea’s 500-year history and a forgotten modern experiment where it actually worked — and imagine how much energy and talent we would unleash if we got rid of poverty once and for all.

Congregational Life and Ministry

How We Deal With Poverty Impacts Our Witness

The Light Breaks Through

lightstock_99258_small_byrene_haneyHe (Jesus)will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:41–46 (ESV)

Almost…

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Congregational Life and Ministry

Meet and Greet: 11/16/17

Dream Big, Dream Often

 

Evelina and I are presently en route to Florida so I’m going to run the Meet N Greet through next Wednesday!!  Be sure to share this post with your readers to get more people involved and more links shared!

It’s the Meet and Greet weekend everyone!!  Strap on your party shoes and join the fun!  

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags.
  4. Feel free to leave your link multiple times!  It is okay to update your link for more exposure every day if you want.  It is up to you!

  5. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find…

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Congregational Life and Ministry

Are You Pushing God Away?

The Light Breaks Through

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The story has been told of a believer, Frederick Nolan, who was fleeing from his enemies during a time of persecution in North Africa. Pursued by them over hill and valley with no place to hide, he fell exhausted into a wayside cave, expecting his enemies to find him soon.

Awaiting his death, he saw a spider weaving a web. Within minutes, the little bug had spun a beautiful web across the mouth of the cave. The pursuers arrived and wondered if Nolan was hiding there, but on seeing the unbroken and unmangled piece of art, thought it impossible for him to have entered the cave without dismantling the web. And so, they went on. Having escaped, Nolan burst out and exclaimed:

“Where God is, a spider’s web is like a wall,

Where God is not, a wall is like a spider’s web.”

Where God is not, a wall is…

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Congregational Life and Ministry, The Week in Review

Kingdom Impact for the Week of November 13th

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The Week Ahead:

On Sunday our country was hit with another shockwave.  A man with a gun and a history of mental issues in his life went into a church in a small Texas town and killed or wounded nearly 50 of the members of that church.  The fallout from that event has the church considering tearing down the building and relocating.  How can you enter that building again with all the pain and sorrow attack to what once was a place of peace and comfort?  God will heal their wounds, but healing takes time and loss leaves a hole in the human heart.  I ran across these words that struck me in this time of grief.

 

Out of the dark forbidding soil

The pure white lilies grow.

Out of the black and murky clouds,

Descends the stainless snow.

Out of the crawling earth-bound worm

A butterfly is born.

Out of the somber shrouded night,

Behold! A golden morn!

Out of the pain and stress of life,

The peace of God pours down.

Out of the nails — the spear — the cross,

Redemption — and a crown!

 

Monday: “Dare to Disagree” A very insightful TED Talk.  Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us, good disagreement is central to progress.

Tuesday:Rural Ministry Has Unique Challenges and Opportunities”

Ministry in rural America is about relationships and patience.

Wednesday:  “Leaders Need to Humility”

One of our greatest gifts as a leader is humility.  If we are armed with enough humility a leader is open and willing to learn from others.  This post examines this in more detail.

Thursday:  “Using Rap and Hip Hop Music to Connect with Today’s Teens”

Rap music is not just genera for African American teens.  It is widely popular with many teens.  I will share an interview with a Christian teacher who is using it to connect with young people.

 

The Week in Review on The Light Breaks Through.

Monday: “The Danger of Silence”

https://revheadpin.org/2017/11/06/finding-your-courage/

“We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t,” says poet and teacher Clint Smith. A short, powerful piece from the heart, about finding the courage to speak up against ignorance and injustice.

Tuesday: “Creating a Family-based Ministry Environment in your Church”

https://revheadpin.org/2017/11/07/creating-a-family-based-ministry-environment/

 The Family-based model is the last model left to explore. What makes this approach unique is that Family-based ministry isn’t a program, it’s a mindset. It returns the church back to its biblical foundation and the Deuteronomy understanding of the role of parents.

Wednesday: “How We Handle Grief is a Reflection of our Understanding of Heaven.”

https://revheadpin.org/2017/11/08/12308

The devotional theme for today is “Blessed are they.”  I am not here to glorify their accomplishments or lift them up because these saints are especially kind and good people. This was by far the most popular post in the wake of the Texas massacre.  Our prayers go out the family and that community.

Thursday: “Three Key Components of Leadership”

https://revheadpin.org/2017/11/09/three-key-components-of-leadership/

A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them.”–M. D. Arnold

 Disclaimer

The information in this weblog is provided “AS IS” with no warranties and confers no rights.

This weblog does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of the Northern Illinois District. It is solely my opinion and if you know me or follow this blog long enough you will learn I have many. Some deeply insightful some may be the result of too much Cajun spice in my diet.

Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts you would not be the first to do so. In the comments section of each blog entry, but I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason whatsoever (abusive, profane, rude, or anonymous comments) – so keep it polite, please. It’s just a blog. It is designed to be a place for people to come and be encouraged. And don’t we all need a little more sunshine in our lives?

Congregational Life and Ministry

Creating a Family-based Ministry Environment

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It is common for Orthodox Jews to recite every morning and evening of every day Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This section of the Torah is written on the door frames of their homes. There isn’t a practicing Jew today who can’t quote it from memory. It is popular as John 3:16 is for the Christian. The core of the Old Testament is summed up in these few sentences.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”

We have discussed in previous posts three modern Sunday School alternative models. The Family-based model is the last model left to explore. What makes this approach unique is that Family-based ministry isn’t a program, it’s a mindset. It returns the church back to its biblical foundation and the Deuteronomy understanding of the role of parents. It is the responsibility of the parents to take their calling back and to “impress upon their children” the Word of God. Parents are the best examples to talk with their children about faith and then to live out that faith walk daily. Back in olden days, each child knew his or her place in the family and in their faith journey.

The Foundation of the Model.

Family-Based Ministry described by Brandon Shields.

Most closely resembles the age-segregated ministries common in the 20th century.
Rather than completely revamping the existing ministries and starting over, this approach builds on it, using the ministry platform to equip parents and encourage intergenerational discipleship within its framework.

Family-based ministry finds its strength in its intentionality to take formerly age-segregated events and make them intergenerational or family oriented and the style is more easily achieved with the existing models and culture

Because it does look similar to what currently in place, sometimes it can be challenging to change the underlying culture of the church towards family and transition to a family-focused church.1

The Downside of this Model.

As much as I love giving ministry back to parents because it is biblical, this model can become internally focused. Parents have a greater lasting impact on their children than a youth pastor or church volunteer. Equipping, encouraging and ultimately empowering parents to live out their calling as the primary faith influencers in their children’s lives is really important. I don’t want to in any way minimize that. My question is where in this model is there room for the outsider? That family that does not have a relationship with the Risen Lord? In my experience, those who are not already believers have little interest in being connected to Jesus. Connecting them to Jesus and the church comes over time, it is something that the Holy Spirit has to nurture over time. The church that adapts this model must find intentional ways to build outside relationships into the system.

[1] https://refocusministry.org/resources-for-ministers/family-ministry/types-of-family-ministry/

 

If you have been following this series here are all the models of family ministry.

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/18/four-modern-sunday-school-strategies/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/10/31/is-a-family-equipping-model-right-for-your-church/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/15/how-do-you-implement-the-family-sensitive-model/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/13/have-sunday-schools-lost-their-missional-focus/