Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, pt 5

Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, pt 5 (1 of 2)

“In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it” (1 Corinthians 9:7-18).

“ ‘I’ve had it with the church. I think that I should go back to school and become a psychotherapist.’

“That’s what a lot of disillusioned clergy do. They still want to help people, but they can’t seem to do it within the church.” (Charles Irish, Back to the Upper Room, 9)

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My second full-time, paid ministry position began when I was 27 and ended when I was 29 and 5 months. I was too young. Someone told me that, a respected person, when I was at a weekend retreat. Ah, sure. Who at the age of 27 wants to be told, let alone admit, that they are too young for something? Many professional athletes are in their prime at 27, it shouldn’t be any different for a paid preacher. I confess that I was not fully prepared for the level of politics that has to be played in a local congregation and in that sense I was too young. I was naive, easily manipulated, impulsive, defensive, and stubborn. There was yet to be developed in me the spirit of faith, the sustenance of grace, and the humility of defenselessness. Those things are developed in the crucible of turmoil.

I have said, on more than one occasion, that paid ministry is a different animal altogether. The local paid preacher, at least in my own denomination, carries a great deal of responsibility—far more than is biblically mandated or professionally reasonable. If the preacher is part of a multi-person staff, that responsibility is lessened; if he is solo, it is heightened. In all of the churches I have served, I have been solo with no other paid staff. (Please don’t misinterpret me here: I assure you this is not a complaint, just reality.) This means, ultimately, that the bulk of the work falls on the paid preacher’s shoulders. I was young enough to expect the church to work and encouraged the church to be an ‘every member ministry’. Every member ministry is a myth of epic proportions. The American way is easier: Let’s just pay someone to do it.

The paid preacher is chained, literally, to the expectations of those who write his job description and sign his paycheck. He is only relatively free to pursue his gifts and passions. He is on-call 24/7 and is paid for 40. Again, there is no whining here, just brutal facts. The sad truth is that in my experience paid ministry is neither ‘paid’ nor ‘ministry.’ It is something akin to indentured servitude or serfdom if he lives in a parsonage. I don’t think that is an exaggeration. There is the unwritten rule that the preacher can be bothered at any time, for any reason, and by any person. His home phone is published under the words ‘parsonage’ unless he owns his own house.

I believe there is a place for our modern concept of ministry and I believe there are some people who are made for it. It and they are called, collectively, The Church, The Body of Christ, The Congregation. The worker, yes, is worth his wage, but I have grown to believe more and more that our modern model for paid ministry is downright unbiblical and unnecessary when the Church functions according to the biblical descriptions and prescriptions. The Bible describes the church as a place where everyone is gifted by God (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12) to accomplish the work He has prepared in advance for us to do (cf. Ephesians).

The problem, as I see it, is that congregations end up believing they have paid for services—therefore, they do not have to do anything but show up on Sundays—that is, admittedly, a terribly vague generalization and not true in all cases. “It” is the preacher’s job. And if it is done properly, the paid preacher will spend the majority of his time planning, administrating, attending meetings, taking phone calls, or visiting the parishioners in their houses among other things. Most preachers will not be lost in their study of the Scripture or hunkering down in the prayer closet. Yet this doesn’t seem to jive with what Scripture says. Consider Acts 6 where we can clearly see that the responsibilities of the church have clear lines of delineation:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

“This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

In the absence of apostles dedicated to the preaching and praying, I believe that some are specifically called to such ministry. As Paul wrote in Ephesians Jesus himself apportioned such gifts (such people!): “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Some people are specifically called and gifted for ‘pastoral’ (visitation) ministry; others are not. Some are specifically called to preaching ministry; most are not. Since very few churches are willing (or able) to pay someone simply for their involvement in the Word and Prayer, the line gets blurred and ‘paid’ preachers become hirelings to do all the work that those gifted in the congregation should do—a truly every member ministry. Instead of all of us taking care of one another, it is the ‘pastor’s’ job.
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I think there is a better way to do church, a better way to be church—a better way to be a minister of Christ. I also believe that this is precisely the place where my disillusionment with the church and with ‘paid ministry’ comes into the picture. I know it is not the same for every single preacher on the planet. I know my experience is and is not unique. I know that making one person, effectively, the CEO/Pastor/Preacher/Planner/Etc., is the American way to do things. I know there is not a biblical prohibition against paid ministry per se. (Although I don’t know that the modern version is what the apostles had in mind.)

But what I have experienced has led me to a place where I can no longer do ministry precisely because of the paycheck that comes along with it. The paycheck hasn’t freed me for ministry, it has shackled me to the expectations of others and it has prevented the full expenditure of whatever gifts and passions I might have (and probably stagnated my congregation since I seem unable to motivate them at any level). In other words, it has limited ministry. What’s better? Preaching to a few people on Sunday mornings, once per week, for about 30 minutes and hoping that the church building will be the primary place for ‘salt and light’ type of evangelism, and being beholden to the whims of the paycheck? Or being out and about among the ‘lost’ all day, every day, doing good deeds, influencing people directly who are without Christ, preaching as we go, wherever we go, wherever we are led, and being free to do ministry out of love and not obligation?

This is the struggle I have been having for a number of years now and it has come to a head in my current ministry. The frustration is born out of the problems I noted above and out of the desire to be free to serve Christ in a more meaningful way because I love and not because I am obligated.
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“How can they fathom that half the world is too poor to feed its kids when their church just spent two years raising money to build an addition to their building? They gather, they sing, they hear a talk from the pastor, and then they get back in the car with their parent and they go home; the garage door opens up, the car goes in, and the garage door goes down. This is the revolution? This is what Jesus had in mind?” (Rob Bell and Don Golden, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, 138)

I don’t believe it is. Christ has called us to something more as ministers of his Gospel.

Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, pt 4

Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, pt 4

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)

“A Church is the new humanity on display.” (Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell, 155)

I believe this is true, but if it is I think it is scarcely a compliment to the new humanity. As this series continues, and as I draw closer to telling the story of my current ministry experience, you will see that I am not kidding at all. One caveat. Please don’t misinterpret my point. Don’t mistake ministry for Christianity. I love being a Christian and wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m just finding it more and more difficult to live it out while being paid to preach. That said, there’s a lot that needs to be said about the way preachers are treated within the church by other Christians.

The key to this post is to remember this: Preachers are Christians too.

Pulpit Supply

While I was in college, still learning to preach and still developing a theological perspective, I volunteered for the school to do what is called pulpit supply. Simply put, a church would call the college if they needed a preacher for the weekend (perhaps the preacher was on vacation or had been fired), the school would call upon its pool of volunteer student-preachers, and we would go. Some of my best times at college were doing pulpit supply. I traveled all over Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio preaching. At one point, a church asked me to stay on for several consecutive weeks preaching. I loved it because I knew after the morning worship, I could leave. Freedom.

Pulpit supply was also some of my worst times. Two times in particular come to mind. The first instance occurred once when I was preaching in a church down around Detroit. My wife and I arrived early and went into the auditorium and selected a seat in a pew down near the front. After a while, an older lady came in and was looking rather glum. My wife, tactfully asked her if everything was alright. The woman responded, shaking her head, “Oh, not so good.” My wife asked, “Oh, what’s wrong?” And the woman responded, and I kid you not, “Well, it’s just that you are in my seat.”

We were 24 years old. I was the guest preacher.

A second incident was about as bad. I will say this, most of the churches I preached in as a pulpit supply preacher paid well. Among those of us who did supply preaching, there were a couple we really hoped for on any given Sunday. One was in Michigan and the other in Indiana. Both were decent trips, requiring several hours of travel, and paid $250 per week. For college students, this was amazing money. It was motivation to preach well and get invited back the next Sunday (incidentally, when I was hired at my first church in West Virginia, I made, you guessed it, $250 per week).

I visited a church in Ohio as the pulpit supply preacher. It was easily a 3-4 hour trip. It was as close to my parents as it was to me because I distinctly remember my mother and grandmother making the trip to listen to me preach. It was no small church hurting for cash, but at the end of the day, I received a paltry $30. It was not even an official check from the church treasurer. It was a personal check from one of the members.

Even back then, that barely covered the expense of the fuel required to get there (and there was no lunch afterward). It sounds petty, but these two experiences were the mere beginning of my experiences as a ‘professional’ preacher of the Gospel. I learned early that some things in the church are sacred and it is not the things one might expect.

Interviews

I didn’t learn my lessons well during pulpit supply. I didn’t get any smarter when it came to interviews. The interview is where a preacher ought to decide if he is going to a church not if the church is going to call the preacher. Sadly, however, not many preachers are afforded the luxury of being so picky. To be honest, I was just plain stupid when it came to interviews, and young. I’ll share a couple of examples.

I interviewed at a small church in West Virginia for my first paid position. Admittedly, it was a small church and I should have listened to my wife’s concerns, but I wanted to preach and I was graduating soon. I needed to work, I wanted to work; I wanted to preach. So I hurried the process along. I don’t remember too much about the interview except for one particular question that came from one of the ‘elders’ of the church. I was not yet 25, my wife was just barely 24. We were about one and half months from graduation. We had one son.

The question? “Are you planning on having any more children?” I should have known at that point, but I wanted to preach so I answered that we weren’t planning on it (my second son was born less than a year later). I learned later what that question meant. My wife had gone home for a visit one weekend. My son was only about 2. We started the worship: singing, praying, and then the preaching. While I was preaching my son, about 2, grew restless as he sat by himself in the front row. He started talking and wiggling and clowning. I was stared at by the congregation while I preached by eyes that seemed to be saying, “What are you going to do about your son?” No one lifted a finger to help. Not one.

So I picked him up in my arms and preached the sermon with him on my hip. I learned that day what they meant by, “Do you plan on having any more children?”

In a second interview, at a different, yet another, church in West Virginia, I was asked an equally astounding question. I had been ‘out of ministry’ for about 10 months or so but I had started working myself back into shape by serving in my home church in a variety of ways and by doing some pulpit supply at a nearby church in West Virginia. At some point, ‘they’ decided they liked me well enough to begin conducting some rather informal interviews. One such informal interview was with one of the elders who, probably not incidentally, had been the mayor of the town at one point in his career.

Don’t get me wrong. He was a great friend and my closest ally while in the church. (I’ll have more to say about this congregation in my next post.) Yet it was during one of these informal interviews that he asked me a question that I should have listened to more closely. The question? “How do you feel about the gays?” Honestly, I had no idea what I thought about ‘the gays.’ It wasn’t something I thought I needed to put a lot of thought into and, to be sure, I’m not really sure how I even answered. I must have answered well enough because I was hired less than a month later.
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Back then, I was too young to know better because all I really wanted to do was preach. Preaching is what I do, it is what I love. What I learned, though, is that no one can enter into a church with the assumption that all he will do is preach-even if that is what he knows in his heart he is called to do. There is, without a doubt, an agenda in most established churches that is incomprehensible to the outsider looking in. The agenda is spoken in one way, “We want the church to grow.” But it is fleshed out in another way, “We want it to grow on our terms and you must conform to our ways in order for that to happen.”

Please don’t misunderstand me: I love the church because it is the bride of Christ and because I belong to it. My criticism is not of every church, nor of every Christian. What I am saying is that a large part of my reason for making plans to leave the paid ministry is because of the way I have been treated as a preacher.

There is a simple way to look at this: The preacher is not a member of the local church despite his confession to the contrary. He is never a member who is paid. (The paycheck always, always, dictates and controls.) This is the only explanation I can come up with for why local churches treat preachers the way they do. I’m writing from experience: I know this to be true. I am willing to bet there are many more preachers in the church who know exactly what I am talking about and until the local church accepts preachers as equal members, and not as mere itinerants or transients, they will continue to do so.

You see, it is not the responsibility of the local congregation, so goes the logic, to do what Paul said in Ephesians 4:16 for the preacher they have hired. It is assumed, however, that this is the preacher’s job to do this for the congregation who hired him. He has a responsibility to the local congregation, but they have none to him. The hired preacher is always expendable (hence the evils of the parsonage and the pay).

It’s almost like churches are saying: Preachers aren’t Christians so we can treat them however we want. And if this is how they treat preachers who are Christians then just imagine how they treat those who truly are not Christians.

Imagine.

Things referenced in this post:

Rob Bell
Michigan
Indiana
Church Elders
Ohio

Previous Posts in this Series:

Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, 1
Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, 2
Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, 3

Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, pt 2

Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, pt 2

“So Christ himself gave the…evangelists, pastors, and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”—Paul, to the Ephesian Church, 4:11-12

“Preachers must be willing to risk conflict, resistance, and rejection by the church in order to be faithful to the church’s peculiar vocation: joyful subservience to the Word. Preachers are to serve the Word, not be acquiescent to the congregation. In a day when pastoral care for and caring about the needs of the congregation has virtually overwhelmed much of Christian ministry, Barth reminds us that the best and most loving service that we clergy can render to our people is utter subservience to the Word.” (William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 245)

In this installment of my exercise in exorcising of pastoral demons, I’d like to share a little of the journey I have taken to get from there to here.

It’s not a little like A Hobbit’s Tale. I was minding my own business, working, newly married and quite ready to progress on doing nothing for the rest of my life and I was interrupted by a knock on the door. Probably not a literal knock, but no less audible. It was my own fault for answering.

Three or four months later I was at college. I don’t know why I was drawn to the Christian College as opposed to, say, a more useful and secular version of higher education institutes. Don’t get me wrong: Christian college was a wonderful place to spend four years with my wife and to learn to dislike music majors and professors, but practically speaking, the degree I spent a lot of money to earn is worthless (unless the good grades are parlayed into a Master’s degree or higher). Outside of a local congregation within the highly regulated world of Restoration Movement churches (where having the right name means a great deal) there’s not much use for the highly coveted Bachelor’s of Religious Education with majors in Theology and Bible Teaching. Seriously.

Still, I went and I did well. I accomplished a lot in college and I am proud of that. Sadly, no one seems to have recognized it but me. Magna Cum Laude is nothing to scoff at especially when it was earned while failing at two youth ministries, having a child, going through 6 months of chemotherapy and 6 weeks of radiation with my wife, totaling a car, going through a 20+ day stay in the hospital with my wife, and wondering day after day where money would come from to buy food. (And my GPA would have been higher if not for the music department screwing me on two grades.)

Renee and I went on through four years and at the end I got a nice piece of paper and a shiny yellow ribbon (called a graduation stole), a pat on the back, a bill from the library for fines, and a truck loaded with stuff.
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I went there with hardly a plan. I know I should have had a plan, but I really didn’t have anyone guiding me even if I had this strange feeling that I should live in Michigan, go to a Bible College, and do something once I had the degree. Do what? I didn’t know. After the first year I was convinced that I was going to be a missionary and go to Vietnam to do so. (At the time I was helping a pastor friend who was working with Vietnamese refugees in Lansing.) I remember one time going to a missions dinner and hearing a missionary speaker talk about the great need for missionaries in the world. I went up to him after that speech ready to sign-up and go. His counsel deflated my enthusiasm. He said that I should stay in school and finish my degree. That was the best thing I could do, he said, that I needed to be prepared when I went out on the field.

2 years later I graduated with a degree in theology. 1 month later I was serving a small family church (literally) in West Virginia. Not quite my idea of ministry, but who was I to question the Lord’s leading? My wife was a little bolder to question my decision making and my choice to move to West Virginia (I may as well have gone to Vietnam.) I didn’t listen. All I wanted to do was preach. That’s what I was called to do. Preach. I needed to get on with it.

We went. We suffered. We failed. We left. And for nearly a year I was out of the paid ministry.
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I cannot even begin to tell you how horrifying it was to endure that year and a half of ministry. I was totally unprepared. There is a major, major difference between having a degree in theology, graduating Magna Cum Laude, and thinking that that necessarily qualifies one to be The minister of a local church. One ‘Introduction to Ministries’ and two classes in Homiletics does not prepare one for local church ministry. And in no way qualifies one for ministry in West Virginia.

During that year off I worked as a restaurant manager and I worked as a simple laborer at a plant my dad ran. The restaurant was fun but the hours were long and the pay sucked. The labor job was dirty, filthy dirty, but I saw my dad every day and I liked busting my ass for him. We also went back to church at my home church, the church that had ordained me into ministry. There we began to teach the youth a little, I taught an adult Bible school class, and I was involved in a major Easter production that involved some acting and singing. I was starting to get the itch again.

Then one day I heard about a local church that needed a preacher. I called. The preacher was still there and I was not a little embarrassed (he was leaving, but was still packing his office). But he was gracious and told me about another church, ‘just across the river,’ in West Virginia that needed a preacher. I called. I did some pulpit supply for them. And about two months later or so (I forget the exact timing) I was hired on as their full time paid Senior minister.

A nice, new, big parsonage. A bigger congregation with more resources and ambition. A significant salary increase over my restaurant job. Close to home so my parents and in-laws could see the children. What a dream job! Finally. All of this was mine. Finally, I can put those good grades to work and grow a mega-church which we were all, in Church Growth 101, led to believe was what God wanted from us as ministers, and which, many preachers along the way, assured us would happen with the right techniques in place.

After all, on field trip day in Church Growth class, these were the only sorts of churches we visited. We didn’t go to small rinky-dink, struggling, single-staff churches in the middle of cornfields. We went to thriving, metropolitan, multi-staff churches in Detroit and elsewhere. There, nicely dressed ministers who had it all together waxed eloquent about how God had blessed them with so much and had blessed their ministries and what nice buildings God had given and how they were expanding this and doing that. (Which was always, it seemed to me, nice ways of saying, “Look what I did!”)

My second ministry in West Virginia was two and a half years of pure, absolute, from the deepest, darkest, nastiest places of the pit, chaotic Hell.

If my education did nothing to prepare me for my first paid position, it did less to prepare me for my second.
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The thing is, I have no doubts that I am called to preach. What I do have doubts about is that I am called to preach in a paid local way. There are some, indeed many, who are called to such things and have the temperament to do so. What I am learning, some 15 years after my graduation and nearly 18 since my ordination, is that I am not one of them.

There’s another side to these various ministries that I will tell you about in part 4 of this series. But first, there is part 3. In my next installment of this series, I’ll tell you a little about the two and a half years of pure hell I enjoyed at my second full-time paid position and I’ll also tell you what led to my current position (the one I still own).

“It’s a dangerous business going out your front door.” (Bilbo Baggins)

Indeed.

Things or People Referenced in this post:

JRR Tolkien
William Willimon
Great Lakes Christian College

On the Wayness

I’d like to share a thought or two on the subject of Christian Unity. I am a preacher by calling, and as such, lately, I have been preaching a series of sermons to my congregation on this ever so strange idea of Christian Unity or as I prefer to call it, essential oneness. I have been preaching this series of sermons because my congregation has been going through some difficult times lately and we needed to be reminded of what Scripture says about our oneness in Christ.

It’s no small thing for a church to be one in heart, mind, and ambition. If you think about what Christ did when he brought us together it is really quite remarkable. He pulls people together who are different races (although we all belong to the human race), people of different colors, people of different nationalities, people from different religious backgrounds, people from differing social backgrounds (‘rich’ and ‘poor’), men, woman, young, old–the list could go on–and he throws us all into one great big bag that he calls ‘church’ and says: “Find a way to make it work.” Find a way to make it work?!? Seriously? Seriously.

Jesus knew, knows, what he is doing; doesn’t he? I mean, no two people come into the church with the same history or motivation or even theological ideas. For that matter, no two people ever even retain those original theological ideas. As few as 10 years ago, I would never have considered an Anglican preacher to be among my best of friends–simply because of theological ideas. You know what, today I can; and I am glad for it. The problem we have, I think, is that we in the church are far too concerned about the baggage that people carry with them after they become Christians. We sort of seem to think they ought to drop it all right away and get on board the Jesus train. When it takes longer, we get frustrated, irritated, angry, and begin to lack patience; love might slip.

That is, we think that people need to be remade into our image. You know what I mean, right?

That’s when problems creep into the church–when we forget to love. So we believe things like this:

  • Those people who are not maturing at the same rate as I am are bothersome.
  • Those people who are not thinking like I am theologically are weaklings.
  • Those people who do not see things the way I see them are troublemakers.

We think that anyone who is not ‘like me’ is, clearly, not a Christian at all. Or worse. You know what the problem with all this is? We are not being remade in the image of other human beings! That’s the glory of it all! I don’t have to stack up against other humans, because they are not the template; they are not the standard; they are not the goal. Jesus is. Paul wrote in Colossians 3 that we are being recreated in the image of our creator who is Jesus. And none of us is there yet. We are all still on the way. Only those who fail to recognize this ‘on-the-wayness’ lack the courage to be patient with others.

So, then, what does all this have to do with unity in the body of Christ? Well, consider these words from Paul’s pen to the Ephesian church:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Be patient with others. Be humble–they may be more advanced than you think. Work at unity in the body. It won’t be easy: work at it. And here’s the thing, if we have a proper view of ourselves (humility) and a proper view of others (patience and bearing with them) then working at unity in the body will be our goal. But if we are not working at maintaining peace, then are we working at war? Even a casual indifference (not working towards unity) is an example of not working at maintaining unity in the body. We must work at unity in the Body of Christ. Work. We cannot afford to not work for peace in the Body because if we don’t work at it war will break out among us.

Growing up is the goal: the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Along with self-sacrificing efforts at unity comes maturity in Christ as we are patient with one another and understand that God has apportioned his grace to us. Unity in the body and maturity in the individual somehow go hand in hand. Then there’s that grace word again! It’s so intrusive isn’t it? So how do we ‘make it work’?

It’s not complicated. He says three times: Bear with one another in Love. Speak the truth in Love. Build up the Body in Love. Do you think we can overstate the case for how much we must love in the Body of Christ? Do we have enough room to love? Can we humble ourselves and love? For the sake of the essential oneness of the Body of Christ can we love one another? Can we recognize that all of us are ‘on the way’ and none of us has arrived?

dg

Does It Matter If We Worship With Other Believers? (a slight rant)

****I originally posted this on my own blog here****

Earlier this week a guy in my business quit. He went to a weekly Monday morning meeting, sat through an uncomfortable time where he essentially made up some numbers then he walked out and quit. He couldn’t handle being criticized or experiencing rejection. I sympathize with him, I don’t like going through those either. What was interesting was this guy talked so much about what he was going to do. He was going to do this and he was going to do that. He was going to study for this major thing and do this great event. He never did any of them. While I sympathize with him, I want to change gears now and look at church attendance in light of his talk, no walk activity.

Going to Mars has been one of the most healing things for our family. When we moved here there was some wounds from the churches that we had served in that needed healing and we have found a haven where the Word of God is preached, and our faith is giving the opportunity to be put into action. Invariably, when people talk about Mars, there are many who say they could never feel connected at the church. I think this may be true for a few of them but it is my belief that most people who say this are people who have an expectation of the church to connect them. They don’t feel that they need to make an effort to be connected; rather they feel the church owes them. That’s a different topic for a different day, but I will say that my family has never felt more connected to a church.

My wife and I were talking this recently about gathering with other believers on Sunday morning, commonly referred to as church attendance. One of the girls that was supposed to help with her class didn’t show up because she was out too late the night before.  Even attending a great church like Mars there are still Sundays where we don’t “feel” like attending the gathering. Most of the time, we still go. Now, I don’t want to go all legalistic about this but I want my life to be marked by regular gathering with other believers to worship God, to heal and be healed.  For me and my house we have decided that this is important. We serve because we believe it is important. What amazes me is how unimportant regular gathering is for so many people. Now, almost to a person if I talked to them (I have with many) and asked them , they would tell me that weekly gatherings—going to ‘church’, if you will—is important. The truth though is found in their actions. And the truth is that it isn’t all that important to them.

In fact, I would say that for most people going to a sports outing, going camping, or going to work is more important than gathering with other believers to worship God.  Come on, let’s be honest no one who is even remotely responsible would ever think of oversleeping for work. Or if someone had a big vacation type event planned out they would be more than willing to get up and give up sleep to be on the road on time. But how many of these same people will be out late Saturday night so they can have “fun” ,because that will matter for the rest of their life, and sleep right past their alarm, if they even set it on Sunday morning?

I’m convinced that for the average American Christian fun matters more than any gathering of believers. We would rather applaud a touchdown or homerun then bow before the Creator and experience Eucharist.   Too many of us like the idea of serving others through our local body but don’t want to be inconvenienced to serve. We want God—and consequently all the goes with Him– on our terms.  That’s why we can get up Monday to Friday at whatever time is necessary for work but we can’t make it for a gathering on Sunday.

In some ways, this may stem from our view of membership and the modern church. Too many of us believe we are in some sort of country club where attendance to group functions is nice but not necessary. Service is a nice ideal to be aspired to but not something that should actually cost us anything. I think this probably why the average person gives less than 3% of their income to their local church body.
Can I be honest?

Much like the guy who left the business this week, annoyed me because he was always talking about what he was going to be doing and never actually doing anything I am tired of people telling me how important God is to them when their actions say something completely different.  It’s not that I don’t want to accept people where they are, I do but I want more. I want a Christianity that is authentic and all authentic Christianity will involve regular interaction with other believers and regular service.
Bottom line, our actions tell on us. We get out of bed for the things that are most important to us. We sleep through the things that aren’t that important. We sacrifice for the things that matter to us, and ignore the things that don’t.  Most of the time we do what we want to do when we want to do it.  Most of the time we worship our bed or the ever elusive fun we’re having more than we want to worship God.

Weeble Wobbles and Failing Forward

Are you a child of the 70’s like me?? Did you ever play with Weebles?? We called them “Weeble Wobbles” Remember the slogan from tv?? “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”?

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Wikipedia defines Weebles as children’s roly-poly toys shaped like eggs with a weight at the fat, or bottom end, they wobble when pushed, but never fall completely over. How funny is that??? I feel like a Weeble Wobble…roly-poly and weighted at my fat end! I wobble when pushed but NEVER fall completely over!! Mind you, I belive I have kissed the earth on a few of those wobbles, but never stayed down!

One of my all time fav authors, Dr. John C. Maxwell recently wrote an article entitled “Failing Forward” that really struck a chord with me.

He told how Vincent Van Gogh failed as an art dealer, flunked his entrance exam to theology school, and was fired by the church. He also explained that Albert Einstein was expelled from school and even failed his college entrance exam!!! I couldn’t believe it when I read that Michael Jordan was cut from his sophomore basketball team!! WOW! Some would say these guys were FAILURES!! Thank the Lord their stories didn’t end there…..And neither does mine!!!! In a failing economy I was recently layed off from my job. (I definitely wobbled then!) But I can’t let that become who I am! Maxwell goes on to say that “failure didn’t stop Vincent Van Gogh from painting, Albert Einstein from theorizing, or Michael Jordan from playing basketball, but it has paralyzed and prevented countless others from reaching their potential.” I will not be paralyzed by my latest encounter!!! Will you??? What has happened in your life lately that has made you feel like a failure?? Made you feel like you are wobbling? Like your little weeble self might not wobble back upright? Will you let this event define “who” you are??? NOT ME!!! Maxwell goes on to say: “In the face of adversity, shortcomings, and rejection, they (achievers)hold onto self-believe and refuse to see themselves as failures.”

Maxwell gives seven principles for “Failing Forward”

Reject Rejection
I will not base my self-worth on my performance. I will maintain a healthy self-image.(ooops…does that mean no more roly-poly/fat end jokes??) I will learn from my mistakes!

Don’t Point Fingers
If I blame and point fingers at others I become a victim!! I will take personal responsibility for my decisions!! I am no one’s victim!!!

See Failure as Temporary
I am not permanently stuck in the current failure! It is TEMPORARY!!
I will not wallow in failure, I WILL look forward to success. Maxwells words: “By putting mistakes into perspective, achievers are able to see failure as a momentary event, not a symptom of a lifelong epidemic.” Now that’s just good….

Set Realistic Expectations
Unrealistic goals doom people to failure…… nuff said…chew on that for a minute!

Focus on Strengths
Don’t invest time on trying to change your flaws while not spending time investing in your strengths. I love how Maxwell sums this up: “You’re built to give your talents to the world; be diligent about finding expressions for them in your career.”

Vary Approaches to Achievement
“In the Psychology of Achievement, Brian Tracy writes about four millionaires who made their fortunes by age 35. On average, these achievers were involved in 17 businesses before finding the one that took them to the top. They kept trying and changing until they found something that worked.”

Bounce Back
I will have a short memory when it comes to my failures!! I will not let the memories of my mistakes eat away at my self confidence!! I will quickly forget the negative emotions of setbacks and press forward resiliently. I will remember that the past can not be altered but I can learn from it!!

Maxwell sums up his article with this:

“I believe it’s nearly impossible for any person to believe he or she is a failure and move forward at the same time. For those who have been downsized, let go, or bankrupted, the temptation may be to internalize failure. My hope is that anyone who has suffered setbacks recently will be able to separate life’s unfortunate events from their self-worth. Failure, like death and taxes, will happen. Your response to failure holds the key to your future.”

Wow! Has he been readin’ my mail, or what!?? Couldn’t have come at a better time!!
Just remember if we are like those little Weebles and just keep bouncing back, with good attitudes and belief in ourselves we too can wobble back upright!!!

Till Next Time!

In Need Of A Remembrance

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To start this article, I will have to begin with being brutally honest. The past two years have been…well…trying is a way to put it. It hasn’t been easy, but I have survived it. I am a little weaker. Definitely battle scarred and bruised…but I have made it. Thanks in great part to my fantastic wife, and of course, to the grace and mercy of my Heavenly Father who has never given up on me.

Just yesterday as I was at my desk doing my daily paperwork, a thought crossed my mind, and I found myself breathing a little prayer…”God, I am in need of a remembrance!” I am in need of building an altar where I can look back on this time years from now and say, “there is no doubt that God was with me and He delivered me”.

In the Old Testament, there are numerous times when the Israelites would build altars as signs of remembrance for the future generations to come, so they could have a remembrance of God’s goodness and how He has delivered.

So I found myself thinking about remembrances, and looking back on the things that God has done in the past, trying to refresh myself in the knowing that God CAN and WILL. A remembrance to re-build my faith to the point where I wouldn’t even think about doubting Him or His promises. I am reminding myself of God’s promises. Reminding myself of what He has done for me in the past. Reminding myself that He has always seen me through and will do so again. Remembering past victories, past healings, past prayers answered.

“Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done,…”

1 Chronicles 16:11-12