Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Hopefulness of a Happy Pastor

9d531b02d73dbe159a663a7dca6f808e I’ve been called a happy pastor.  It’s not something I’ve cultivated intentionally—I truly love being a pastor, not just in general but specifically of Arapahoe Road. 

But I’ve also been around happy pastors as well—and are they ever a delight.  Those pastors do not have any less challenges than the dour pastors, but the attitude behind is filled with gratitude and hopefulness and opportunity.  Outside of rare instances, this happiness and hopefulness is contagious.

Unhappy pastors convey a hopelessness.   And it’s just as contagious.   Hopelessness breeds hopelessness.  Despair breeds despair.  Gratitude is replaced by grumbling.  Opportunity takes a hike, so the reality of the present is ever-present. 

Happy pastors are not ones with their head in the sand, ignoring the situations around them.  The true test of leadership is defining reality. 

Happy pastors must not be goofy pastors—thus conveying a lack of seriousness to their calling or their church. 

But it’s here that pastors and leaders have a choice:  will you look at the sadness of the situation, or will you look at the gladness for an opportunity to watch God work? 

How do you as pastors become happy?

  1. Pray.   Pray for Christ’s perspective for His church.  Pray for the condition of your own heart toward Christ and toward the people whom you are shepherding.   Pray for God to give you a heart to lead as a servant and serve as a leader.   Pray for God to give you a heart to not just pastor as a leader but to be pastoral to you people.  And pray for patience (2 Timothy 4:3-5).
  2. Define the reality of a situation.  For me, is the Great Commission the paradigm by which we gauge success and faithfulness in the church?  If that grips the heart of a pastor and a church, then that’s a win. 
  3. Prioritize what is a first tier issue from a second or third tier issue.  If you as a pastor identify a number of issues to address, prioritize them or you will be overwhelmed.  Albert Mohler’s article on theological triage is helpful.   What some deem first tier issues (things to address yesterday) from second and third tier. 
  4. Surround yourself with both encouragers and identifiers—have the balance of the two.  If you’re around encouragers all the time, you will miss the issues.  If you’re around those always identifying what the issues are, you will become discouraged. 
  5. Fall in love with the place and people where God called you.  What a privilege that God has given us to pour the gospel into others to help them grow-and-go.  What a privilege to open up God’s Word and to preach and teach and counsel and evangelize!  Some times we don’t see the forest (God’s sovereign call to His people) for the trees (the particular challenges that may arise). 
  6. Identify leaders who will partner with you in the ministry–happily.  We cannot do this alone.  We weren’t meant to—so we find people who have bought into the direction and invest in them so they may invest in others.  You know, 2 Timothy 2:1-2 put into action. 

What do you think?   Let’s hear from you who are happy pastors, want to be happy pastors, those who aren’t happy pastors and wish they were, and from those of you who wish for happy pastors—or even have one? 

And while you’re at it, consider what part you play in that joyfulness of a pastor by reading Hebrews 13:17.

Go!

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Seven Aspects of a Dying Church (Rainer)

We pastors read a lot of books on the church.  Oh, the amount of books on how to do church.  It’s overwhelming to the point of madness.  Of course, we realize that the primary book to tell us how to do church is the Scriptures.  It’s not even close. 

Church has become complicated.  But it doesn’t have to be.  How do we start looking at how a church is?  The first is to identify reality.

Thom Rainer and Sam Rainer published a book in 2008 called Essential Church?  –a book that deals with why 17-19 year olds are dropping out of church.  As the title implies, the church is not an essential part of their life.  Their faith and the life of the church do not connect. 

In their research, they identified the seven aspects of a dying church as part of a conversation they had with a number of folks who have dropped out of church.  The list may surprise you:

  1. Doctrine dilution.  “Watering down the Scripture is not the answer to reaching a younger generation.  They do not want to be mollycoddled with tough doctrinal truths.”
  2. Loss of evangelistic passion.  “Dying churches stop speaking about Christ to the world.  Evangelistic fervor becomes apathetic disinterest in a lost world.”
  3. Failure to be relevant.  “The church, however, must find ways to relay this gospel message to the culture around them.  The church in a farming community in Indiana should relate differently from the church in a suburb of Vancouver. . . . Churches that keep their internal culture unchanged for fifty years while the world around them goes through continual periods of metamorphosis typically die with that old culture.  Churches that ask the question, ‘How can we best relate the unchanging gospel to the shifting culture around us?’ are one step closer to relevancy and reaching a new generation.
  4. Few outwardly focused ministries.  “Essential churches think outward into the surrounding communities and into the world earnestly seeking ways to win the next soul for Jesus.”
  5. Conflict over personal preferences.  “People in the church can squabble over the most insignificant things.  And these internal conflicts smother a church.  These quibbles overshadow the true purpose of the church.  Essential churches grasp the primacy of the gospel.  Languishing churches are mired in conflict over paltriness.”
  6. The priority of comfort.  “Dying churches … do nothing outside the bounds of their comfort levels.  … But the “way we’ve always done it” will not pass muster if the American church is to thrive.  Churches that flourish get outside comfort zones and reach into areas uncharted for them.”
  7. Biblical illiteracy.  “One of the major sins of a dying church is neglect of theological teaching.  If a church member does not understand the basics of Scripture, then they are hampered in their witness.  Those who do not comprehend the Scriptures will also have trouble remaining obedient.”

(Thom Rainer and Sam Rainer, Essential Churches?  pp. 16-19). 

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Of What Does Christian Freedom Consist? Hint: It’s Not About You

Christian freedom, in my opinion, consists of three parts. 

The first: that the consciences of believers, in seeking assurance of their justification before God, should rise above and advance beyond the law, forgetting all law righteousness.

The second part, dependent upon the first, is that consciences observe the law, not as if constrained by the necessity of the law, but that freed from the law’s yoke they willingly obey God’s will. 

The third part of Christian freedom lies in this: regarding outward things that are of themselves “indifferent,” we are not bound before God by any religious obligation preventing us from sometimes using them and other times not using them, indifferently.

Accordingly, it is perversely interpreted both by those who allege it as an excuse for their desires that they may abuse God’s good gifts to their own lust and by those who think that freedom does not exist unless it is used before men, and consequently, in using it have no regard for the weaker brethren.  Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forego it.

John Calvin (1509-1564)

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Leaving a Great Commission Legacy

(An excerpt from a sermon I preached on Senior Adult Day, May 4, 2014 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO.  The text is from Hebrews 12:1-2.  You can listen to the entire sermon here.)

“Run with endurance the race set before us.”  From talking to many of you who are seniors, one of the main frustrations you have is not being able to do what you used to do.  As one of you told me this past week, the sin that you struggle with is mostly in your thought life.  Frustration, despondency, value.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we find a book that was written by Solomon in his old age.  In chapter 12, Solomon begins, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain.”  So in this season of life, don’t forget about your Maker and your Savior.  Why?  Because many, many physical trials accompany this time of life.

Look at the metaphors Solomon uses in Ecclesiastes 12:3-4 to depict the physical issues that arise with age:

  • Keepers of the house tremble:  arms
  • Strong men are bent:  legs
  • Grinders cease because they are few:  teeth
  • Those who look through the windows are dimmed:  eyes
  • Doors shut, sound of grinding low:  ears
  • One rises up at the sound of a bird:  sound sleep departs
  • Daughters of son are brought low:  vocal cords
  • Almond tree blossoms:  white/grey hair
  • Grasshopper drags itself along:  not as much hop in the step
  • Desire fails:  the nature of the intimacy between a husband and wife changes in this season of life.

Each season of our lives have particular issues.  As a teen, school work, peer pressure, and finding your way as to who you are and how God made you can certainly derail.  As you get older, having a job, having a family, paying bills can derail. 

And in this season of life, physical issues along with a number of other things can made one think they cannot run.  We often pray for physical needs as well as spiritual.  We do know that physical issues can often affect us spiritually.  But what does Solomon say?  “Remember!”  Remember the Creator of your youth, for that Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Though the seasons of life may change, and bring their challenges with them, we can still run the race. How?

Look ahead

We look to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our Faith.  Senior adults, this is not a promise for those who have physical stamina.  Non-senior adults, this is not a promise for those who have navigated the various seasons of life and possess a wisdom you may not yet have.   

Don’t just remember—look!  To whom do we look?  A present member?  A former pastor?  A day gone by?  Do we look to those for affirmation of how we live, and move, and have our being?  Do we look at our sin?  Do we look at our difficulties?  Do we look to others for our value and identity?  Where do we look?  To whom do we look?   

One older preacher said, 

“The cloud of witnesses is not the object on which our heart is fixed.  They testify of faith, and we cherish their memory with gratitude, and walk with a firmer step because of the music of their lives.  Our eye, however, is fixed, not on many, but on One; not on the army, but the Leader; not on the servants, but the Lord.  We see Jesus only, and from Him we derive our true strength, even as He is our light of life.”[1]

When Jesus was at his most vulnerable, most physically spent, what did he do?  He endured the cross, despising its shame.  It did not matter the stigma that the cross brought, he endured it.  And it does not matter what obstacles may be in our lives.  When we lay aside our baggage and our bondage, when we run ahead with endurance by looking to Jesus, we do so with one particular emotion leading the way.

Joy!  Jesus ran with endurance because of the joy set before him.  What was that joy?  The joy was accomplishing what the Father sent Him to accomplish.  The joy was that after enduring the cross and before He breathed His last He could say, Tetelestai—it is finished!  Paid in full!  He endured.  And the legacy that Christ left us was, because of His death, burial and resurrection, to “go and make disciples.”  

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

In talking to many of you who are in the senior adult season of your life, many of you share with me of special seasons in your life:  when you came to know the Lord, when you got married (if applicable), when you had children, when you came to this church.  You have also shared difficult times: if you’ve lost a child, lost a spouse or a loved one, even ups and downs here at the church—among many others.  You have had many more experiences that I have.  What kind of legacy do you want to leave?  I leave you with three things. 

  1. As those great cloud of witnesses thought about the next generations, so you too must think about the legacy we will leave to the next generation.
  2. Be aware of the baggage and bondage that weighs you down and keeps you from looking up to Jesus. 
  3. Recognize the nature of the race.  Our physical comfort leads to a Great Complacency.  When our comfort is first and foremost, we are not running the race—rather, we may be sitting or sprawled out on the track.  But the race for us is to look to Jesus and do all we can to get others to look to Jesus. 

 

 

[1]A. Saphir.  Quoted in A.W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, p. 904.   

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