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Failing to Do This One Thing Can Lead to the Destruction of Everything Else

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. “ ~ Mark 1:35 (English Standard Version)

An isolated park bench at just the right time of day; that is a scene that plays in my head more often than I care to admit. As an introvert I am keenly aware of the energizing power of getting away by myself. Practicing the discipline makes me better in every role I am called to in life. Full disclosure; I haven’t taken the time to get to do what I know is important for quite some time. I have to also admit that neglecting this discipline has taken a toll on me. Not taking time apart as a leader is simply asking for trouble. When a leader does this they are treading on thin ice.

Does my confession sound familiar to you? Could you have written those words? If you are a leader, with even a minimal amount of drive, it is probable that you neglect Sabbath, retreat, or solitude. We often believe that we are too valuable to take time off or that we are much better served to press just a bit farther. We overlook or ignore altogether the signs that we are wearing thin at the edges. Fatigue, lack of focus, irritability, sadness, or despondency can all be signs that we need to get away and be refreshed.

As I have been spending time in a coaching relationship recently, I’ve learned that not taking the time to refocus, refresh, revive, reconnect (whatever words may fit) has possibly made me less effective as a disciple, husband, father, and leader. Ironically, the very things we are striving for move further from our reach if we neglect to take time apart. Jesus knew the importance of taking time apart. It is important for every leader to intentionally dial time into their schedule when they will get away to be with God, hear his voice, and obey his command. Are you long overdue for such a time? If so, I encourage you to schedule it now. I am going to find a nice secluded bench somewhere and spend a day. Where is your favorite place to go?

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Leadership

 

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4 Things to Get the Most Out of Sunday Morning Worship

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If you are like me, then you want to get the most out of our Sunday morning worship time. When I leave on Sunday afternoon, I want to know that I have had rich fellowship with God and other believers. I want to hear God’s voice and experience His presence in a way that only occurs when we are in corporate worship. If these are your aims and desires as well, then here are a few things that you can do this week to get the most out of Sunday morning.

Pray

Pray for the entire worship experience that will occur this Sunday, and the people who will render service. Pray for the greeters, ushers, musicians, singers, youth and children’s workers, pastors, and all who will attend. Pray that they are able to connect with the Lord during the week in worship, so that Sunday morning continues a thread that they have already begun. Pray for the men and women who will attend on Sunday. Pray that they will be open and receptive to the leading and guidance of the Spirit of God. Pray for breakthrough, deliverance, healing, restoration, reconciliation, and above all else…salvation.

Read

Read and meditate upon the text for the week’s sermon (if it is provided ahead of time). You should read through the text several times. Meditate upon what God was saying to the original audience through the text. Then meditate and pray upon what God may be saying to you through the text.

Rest

Don’t stay up on Saturday night until the wee hours of Sunday morning and expect that you will be primed for worship. Get to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday night, and wake with anticipation and excitement.

Expect

Expect that God will meet all of the people together gathered in the sanctuary on Sunday morning in a mighty way. Come seeking to receive God’s best from him, and give your best to Him. Remember worship is participatory and exponential…you get more back than you put in, but only get back when you put in.

What is your weekly routine to prepare yourself for worship on Sunday morning? What are you going to do different as you prepare for this Sunday? What are you expecting from God personally or corporately this Sunday?

Stay blessed and keep pressing toward the mark.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Leadership Resolutions

Believe it or not, we’ve arrived at the end of another calendar year and the beginning of resolution season. Personally, I believe that we should resolve to be better and live more committed lives daily not just annually, but I can’t resist the call to be reflective at year’s end. There is something about section of time when one year ends and another begins, that moves people to think of starting anew. Truthfully, most of the resolutions that are made in the next several days will be forgotten in a month’s time, but that fact doesn’t at all diminish most people from announcing resolutions. Leaders are no different. As the curtain closes on the year 2010, and rises on 2011, here are a few resolutions that I believe would be beneficial for all leaders, and especially those that lead in churches.

1. Resolve to live balanced lives.

Leaders, in the same or greater proportion as the rest of the world, are typically living out of balance. Too much work, not enough rest. All worship, no serious study. Spend, spend, spend; not enough saving. Eat too much, exercise too little. Too task-oriented, not enough attention to relationships. Let’s be honest, balance takes work. It is a lot easier to lean to our areas of perceived strength or comfort, rather than to work to grow in the areas of our weakness. Some management philosophies, such as “staff to your weakness”, empower the notion to continue in our strengths rather than striving for relative balance in all areas. Some leaders have gone so long without any course correction, that they have developed blind spots to just how out of balance they are.

As leaders, we should strive to live balanced lives. Leaders should, at least annually, partake in some sort of assessment that will highlight where we need to improve. Ask others their opinions, seek counsel with denominational or business leadership. Leaders need to work towards balance in every area of life, not just in the office or boardroom. Family, health, and relationship with God cannot suffer for the sake of “leadership” excellence. Truthfully, the unbalanced leader exhibits little overall excellence.

2. Resolve to continue to learn and develop.

A disciple is, by definition, a lifelong learner. Leaders should never tire of learning, developing, and growing. Finished with formal education? Audit a course. Ready to write a book? That doesn’t mean that you can stop reading them yourself. Set some reading, learning, and professional development goals for yourself in the coming year. I believe that one of the issues with the church in America is that most of its believe that they are above being taught. Make strides to ensure that you are not counted among that number. Many leaders complain that those they lead don’t want to learn, or think that they know it all…make sure that they aren’t learning those habits from you. A wise person once told me that when a leader stops growing, those they lead stop growing.

3. Resolve to be counted among the servants, not the served.

Jesus, in Matthew 23, admonished the Pharisees for desiring Moses’ seat at tables of honor. The rulers of the synagogue, the ecclesiastical leaders of the time, perceived themselves to be those who deserved to be served due to their title and position. Sadly, there is a trend in contemporary Christianity that implies that clergy leaders are a different class of Christian. This class of leader deserves the service and adoration of those they lead. This line of clergy worship couldn’t stray further from the ministry of Christ. This year, let us all resolve to serve, rather than be served. If you don’t already, esteem others higher than yourself. Recognize that the cincture that girds the waist of a cassock represents the servant’s role of the minister. A minister is, by definition, a servant. To be called servant was good enough for Jesus, and for centuries it was good enough for those called to lead within the church. Now we have the proliferation of titles such as bishop, elder, overseer, and even apostle. Whatever your title, resolve, that in the new year, you will be known by the name…servant.

4. Resolve not to compromise integrity for the sake of growth.

Recently, I listened to John Piper preach a sermon, in which he admonished a group of leaders not to sell the gospel. By this he meant that they should not compromise the integrity of the gospel message for the sake of crowds or cheap growth. Believe it or not, we do not get to determine, as leaders, when growth occurs. We do not control growth. God gives the increase. The Lord prepares the harvest. What a leader does control, is whether all the elements of healthy environments for growth are present. We get to ensure the integrity of the soil and the seed planted. We get to be faithful in our nurture of the seed. But the increase, the growth, is in God’s control. In the coming year, allow the discernment of the Spirit of God to reign. Say no to shortcuts that undermine the truth that is in the gospel message. Don’t follow the crowds into the use of the latest ministry techniques that promise to grow your attendance. Expose heresy, by shedding light upon it. The lines of one of my favorite hymns gives us a lead…”How to reach the masses? Men of every birth. For an answer, Jesus gave the key. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. Lift him up!” Lift Jesus up…still he speaks from eternity!

Above all else, I pray that we all, in this coming year, continue to grow in the grace, peace, knowledge, and likeness of our Lord. Stay blessed.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2010 in Leadership, New Year, Rants, Uncategorized

 

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The Blizzard That Never Was, and What It Should Teach Us About Pastoral Leadership

As I write this post, I sit holed up in my home, fireplace ablaze and the coffee maker filling the house with the scent of its hazelnut brew. With plenty of leftover delicacies from Christmas dinner, my family and I were prepared to remain sequestered as the first blizzard of the winter approached. Frankly, I was gratefully looking forward to the snow, and my gratitude was increased because it had held off until Sunday morning worship service was completed. It is this point, which is the crux of this post.

Pastors up and down the east coast of the United States were frantically or worriedly watching weather reports over the past twenty-four hours, wondering if they would need to cancel Sunday morning services on the day after Christmas. Many faced the promised storm with bravado, feigned or otherwise, proclaiming that nothing could or would prevent them from holding service on Sunday morning. I listened to some, and read the responses of others, as many publicly professed what they were going to do. As I observed, only periodically adding my opinion, I remembered where I used once stood philosophically.

When we began Harvest Christian Fellowship, nearly four years ago, I was full of the zeal and bravado that I heard and read from many of my contemporaries in pastoral ministry. There wasn’t a thing that would prevent me from opening the doors of the church on Sunday morning. It couldn’t rain, snow, sleet, or hail enough to dissuade me from leading that merry band of saints in worship, praise, and adoration of our Lord. There was a “word” from the Lord, and neither “devil” nor force of nature would prevent me from getting it to the saints. The additional, hinted to, and sometimes painfully obvious companion reason was a financial one; Sunday was our chief, nearly sole, giving opportunity. If Sunday service was canceled, how would the church survive. I am able to be transparent and admit that this was going through my mind. I am able to also pull back the veil and say that I believe much of the bravado and “by any means necessary” pastoral declarations have much to do with this as well.

Last winter put my philosophy to the test. There was over a foot of snow in December 2009, another major storm in January 2010, and then finally the blizzard of February 2010. In December 2010, I waited until the last possible moment to cancel Sunday service, and worried that church finances would suffer. They didn’t; men and women brought their tithes and offering to the church during the week, or the next week. When January weather threatened to force cancellation I again waited to make the decision, although with less angst. The outcome was the same. By the time the blizzard arrived in February, my philosophy had changed, and the decision was simple. What changed? I, through the message of the gospel, gained an even clearer picture of what it means to be a pastoral leader.

A shepherd lays down his life for the flock that he is charged to keep. Our model for this is Christ. To his detriment, he thought of us first. So it should be in pastoral ministry. I began to reflect on the influence that we, as servants of Christ, are given in the lives of those we serve. There are, I came to understand more clearly, people who will “go” simply because the pastoral leadership has said that it is the right thing to do. That means that there are a number of families, however small the number, that would clean off their cars and attempt to make their way to church just because the pastor said the doors would open. I was confronted with answering this question to myself…what would I do if even one of those families were injured on the way to or from church because our “proof” that we were zealous for God was to venture out in bad weather? I would feel horrible, and rightly so. Jesus came to deliver us; he arrived to lead us away from harm. His Spirit came to continue to do the same, as he sanctifies us and keeps us holy. By extension, pastoral leadership is called to have the best interest of the people in mind.

God is not impressed that we keep our church buildings open in snowstorms or blizzards. He doesn’t care that a few hardy souls put on snowshoes or drove snow mobiles and made it to church. The fruit that glorifies God are transformed and holy lives, and these are lived throughout the year. I would encourage pastoral leaders to reevaluate why we do what we do, as it pertains to bad weather closings or ministry offerings. Bragging rights as the bravest or most committed to preaching in bad weather aren’t impressive credentials in the end. Did you put the wholeness and welfare of God’s people above yourself? An affirmative answer to that question is far more impressive. By the way, the blizzard that was threatening to cancel service yesterday morning has been downgraded to four to six inches. The time sequestered with family was still priceless.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2010 in Leadership, Rants

 

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The Burning and Learning

My former pastor, under whose ministry I came to salvation and responded to my ministry call, used to say that preachers needed the burning and the learning, the inspiration and education, the celebration and information. What he meant was that as preachers, pastors, and teachers in ministry we should have both the desire that comes from an abiding sense of call, and intentional theological development. In recent years, I’ve come to notice that theological education has become an unimportant accomplishment for those expressing a call into vocational ministry. I find this widening trend both unfortunate and dangerous for the health and future of the Church. The mission of the local church, and ultimately universal Church is far too important to be entrusted to the ignorant, ill-equipped, and uninformed. The logical end of this trend is continuing doctrinal error, false teaching, heresy, and the leading astray of countless multitudes.

Historically, there have always been movements within the Church that have considered intentional, formal theological education unnecessary, and in some cases a hindrance to effective ministry. In my development, I had to endure comments that called seminary the “cemetery”, and other derogatory comments. This was a small thing to endure, to make sure that I gained as many of the tools that would aid me as a preacher, pastor, and ministry leader.

Some of you are thinking as you read this, the Holy Spirit is my teacher. The Spirit of God is a prerequisite for living a Christian life, and absolutely needed for effective ministry service. It is he, who convicts of sin, calls to service, and provides the required “abiding sense of call”–the burning that doesn’t dissipate. Without the aid of the Spirit of God, we cannot preach, teach, lead, or minister effectively. The Spirit of God imbues the ministry leader with the power that becomes clear in public ministry situations. I cannot, do not, and would not deny the power of the Holy Spirit in my life as a ministry leader.

I must also say that God desires us, saints and those saints who lead in ministry, to always strive to be the best we can possibly be. We should want to be equipped in every way possible. This want, or burning, should lead us to desire learning. Those freshly called into ministry should be running to discover what they need to be effective. These runs should be to formal, intentional forums of ministry training. This training can be as formal as Bible colleges, seminaries, or universities. This development can also be effectively obtained through intentional, structured, denominational, or church-based theological education. While seminary or university education is the choice of many, there are other viable options to get the needed ministerial development. Now, I am by no means endorsing any particular institution (although I have attended several that I would highly recommend), but if God has given you a desire to enter vocational ministry, the desire for development as a minister should go with it.

One more piece to this rant. A renewed desire for intentional theological education will, I can only pray, stem the current tide of extra-biblical, un-biblical, error prone, flavor of the month, making up things that aren’t in the Bible, ear-tickling, ego-driven preaching and teaching that is far too prevalent in the contemporary church. We do not stand to tell what is on our mind’s, what we believe they want to hear, what will make them put more in the offering, or what we think will make more people attend our churches, but to articulate the message of God to his people. This isn’t a joke or a business people! I’m not mad, I’m just tired of the nonsense. Stay blessed.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2010 in Leadership, Rants

 

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The Decade of Service

The second decade of the twenty-first century has officially begun. What a wonder it would be if, a decade from now, we looked back upon the next ten years as the “decade of service”. We, individual believers in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord as well as the Church catholic, have an opportunity to show that the previous decades of me-ism and decadent opulence within Western Christianity were an anomaly. We have an opportunity to return the servant and service to others first dynamic that has been a hallmark of the Church for centuries.

Listen, I am not naive enough to believe that the history of the Church hasn’t before been marred by TBN style self-indulgence, or that similar forays into prosperity focused gospel ramblings will not occur in the future. What I am saying is that the overwhelming intrusion of such teachings into the mainstream of the Church in recent history is alarming, and the tide must be stemmed.

Is the gospel message inward-focused? No. Is the gospel me-focused? No. The gospel calls me to deny my desires in order to be used to fulfill God’s ultimate desire, the redemption of his creation. The gospel compels me to think of myself after I have considered the needs of those around me, to love (actively) whenever the opportunity avails itself. Our Lord Jesus was the penultimate example of a servant and leader in action. We are called Christians because of our desire to emulate his faith and actions, and fulfill his mission. If these statements are true, and I believe them to be, then we should move to make ourselves stellar examples of what it means to “serve and not be served.”

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2010 in New Year, Rants

 

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Who’s Vision Will You Pursue in the New Year?

In less than two days we will all be saying farewell to 2009, and hello to 2010. For many people the end of year routine will be the same; they will set a course for the new year, things to accomplish in the coming twelve months. As a Christian and pastor, I must pose the following question: who’s vision will you pursue in the new year?

Watch night services across the country will be populated with people looking for a fresh start, and preachers in pulpits eager to tell them that one is on the way. New money, new jobs, new businesses, new relationships, new jobs, new academic degrees…will all be spoken of as God’s vision for you in the new year. Many churches will ensure that we jam our way out of the old year and into the new. Men and women will leave church feeling wonderful about what is in store, but will they have a clear understanding of the vision that they should pursue?

We weren’t saved from an eternity of separation from the God who loves and created us, so that we can become self-indulgent in ways that previous generations could only imagine. In other words…its not about us! God has a vision, and it is that vision that we ought to pursue daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. God’s vision entails those who belong to him being holy. His vision sees those who are called by his name desiring to serve others, rather than being served themselves. The vision that God has is for a people who shun sin and selfishness, in order to pursue righteousness and selflessness. In God’s vision, those who are called by his name remember that their bodies are not their own…they have been bought with a price. God’s vision holds reconciled relationships, selfless service to others, sharing his message of love with the world through word and deed.

I don’t doubt that those who belong to God are taken care of by him. I don’t doubt that God takes great care of everything and everyone that belongs to him. The Bible tells us that Solomon couldn’t adorn himself like the lillies that God took dressed in splendor. The Bible speaks of God’s great care for the well-being of birds, though they have no barns. God will care for those he loves. Since this is the case, our personal care is not the vision that we should pursue primarily in any given year. We should desire and envision being servants of the most high God. We should envision using everything that he has given us to glorify his name and advance his mission in the earth. Who’s vision will you pursue in the new year, your’s or God’s?

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2009 in New Year, Rants

 

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