5 Promises to My Church

I love to please people!  All my life, I have wanted people to like me, affirm me, and generally think that I’m wonderful.  As I have matured as a leader and as a pastor, I’ve discovered that I have to sometimes set those desires aside and do the right thing regardless of what other’s think.  My goal MUST NOT be to simply “please people” — my goal must be to help people and please God.  Sometimes I have to set boundaries and tell people “no” in order to help them.  Other times I have to model a new approach and lead people to walk in a more effective, efficient manner.

Sometimes I have to set boundaries and tell people “no” in order to help them.

Everyone seems to have their idea of what their pastor should do and how he should use his time.  Hardly a week goes by, that someone does not pull them aside and share with them their opinion of what their life’s assignment should be.  Most of the time, the assignment is fair and reasonable, but it almost always matches their own personal preferences and desires instead of the desires of the Lord or their pastor.  As the senior pastor, he MUST consider the big picture and keep the entire church body in mind as he leads.  If he simply jumps from personal assignment to personal assignment, he will not lead with vision and God-given direction.

Here are the 5 promises I made to a church during my first sermon as their senior pastor:

  1. I promise to love God.  In order to fulfill this promise, I must be disciplined in my private time with the Lord.  The man who never spends time with God in private is no good in public.
  2. I promise to love my family.  I love to work hard and I love being a pastor (most the time).  Because of this, I have to guard against neglecting my family.  I have asked other staff members to tell me if they see this in my life and I have pledged to tell them if I see it in their lives.
  3. I promise to love you.  I love our church and all our people.  I look forward to serving our Lord together for many years to come.  Keep in mind that all of our pastors love God and love our people as well.
  4. I promise to love the unchurched.  I want to see people come to Christ.  I need to spend more time around lost people.  I need to get out of the office more and into the community.
  5. I promise to preach the Bible.  I have tried my best to focus on God’s Word in my sermons and in my teaching.  It takes time to prepare true, Biblical sermons, but it is worth all the hard work and extra effort.  Currently, I set aside Tuesday and Wednesday as my main study days.  Occasionally, I will schedule an appointment or meeting on those days, but I try to devote those days to preparation for preaching and teaching the Bible.

I also went on to say the following to them:

As we move forward, I pledge to always be open to suggestions and ideas.  My default of wanting to please people will always be there, I’m sure.  But, I promise when I’m faced with the choice of “simply pleasing someone” or “providing Godly leadership,” I will strive to choose providing Godly leadership every time.

If you are a pastor, hang in there! God is good and worthy of our service. If you are a church member, pray for your pastor. Encourage him. Be a blessing and serve God faithfully!

3 Keys to a Successful Year

Success

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14, ESV

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, he gives us insight into his personal walk with the Lord.  You could call it a “formula for success” or as I prefer, “keys to success in our walk with the Lord.”

THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS IN 2022

1.  Release the past.  The Apostle Paul said, “….But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind….” (Vs. 13).  He is not saying that he actually lost memory of the past, he is saying that he put the past in the proper place–behind him!  He knew that the past can cause us to lose focus on the present and block our vision of the future.  He knew that the past can sometimes riddle us with guilt, lure us, haunt us, taunt us, rob us of intensity and passion, and even cause us to rest on our laurels.  Regardless of what we faced in 2021, let’s learn, let go, and move forward.

2.  Reach for the future.  Paul seems to say, “don’t look back, but BE SURE to look forward.”  He describes it as “…..straining toward what is ahead.”  I can remember running my first 10K race when I was 30-yrs.-old.  Because of my excitement, I started the race at a pace that was too fast for my fitness level.  As a result, my side began to hurt at mile 3 and I desperately wanted to stop and walk.  At that point, I saw my wife standing on the side of the road, so I didn’t want to quit in front of her.  Somehow, I kept plodding along and shortly after I passed the 5-mile marker, I saw the finish line about a mile away.  Something about seeing the finish line lifted my spirits and injected bounce in my step.  I finished fairly strong even though I had almost stopped to walk just a few miles earlier.  Paul seems to say that he keeps the finish line in view and it encourages him to do his best.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s set some goals for 2022–spiritual goals, financial goals, vocational goals, fitness goals, nutritional goals.  Let’s “reach” for those goals day-by-day throughout this new year.

3.  Run for the prize.  What is Paul talking about when he talks about “the prize”?  We know he is not saying that we can live in such a way that we earn salvation because he just said in Vs. 9 that righteousness is “through faith in Christ.”  I believe Paul is saying that he is running for the goal of pleasing Jesus with his life and running for the satisfaction of knowing that he gave his best.  He is saying what he later says in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  If God tarries His coming and if He allows us to live to see 2023, I pray that we will be able to say the same about the way we served the Lord in 2022.

PRAYER:  “Lord, please help us remember the lessons you taught us in 2021, but Lord, help us to release last year and not relive it.  Help us to see Your plan and goals for 2022 and strain towards them in the power of Your Holy Spirit.  Help us to cherish your divine approval as our highest prize!  Be glorified in our lives!  Amen.”

Old-Fashioned Church

A few years ago our Church Consulting & Revitalization Team held a planning retreat in the Southern Indiana Amish country. Although I do not agree with much of the spiritual theology of the Amish, I have always respected them for their commitment to the “old-fashioned ways.” I believe that the modern church should strive to be old-fashioned in certain areas.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and would not want to give up my iPhone, iPod, iPad, iCloud, GPS running watch, or any other smart device. I also love a lot of the new music being written for the church today. I prefer indoor plumbing over outhouses, air-conditioning over funeral home fans, and padded pews over pews that make your body go numb, but old-fashioned is still sometimes preferred.

An old-fashioned church is a church fashioned after the Book of Acts!

So, where should the modern church be old-fashioned and what is an old-fashioned church? An old-fashioned church is a church fashioned after the Book of Acts. It is a church with the same priorities of the early church. It is a church that, at it’s core, has the same purpose and focus of the church in the 2nd chapter of Acts.

Characteristics of an Old-Fashioned Church

   42  And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43  Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44  Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45  and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46  So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (NKJV)

1.  Doctrine. The church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Vs. 42). Several translations choose the word “teaching” instead of the word “doctrine,” but they can be used interchangeably. The apostles taught the people the Word of God. An old-fashioned church focuses on teaching God’s Word accurately, consistently, and thoroughly. The apostles knew that it matters what you believe, so they led the people to believe God’s Word and sought to teach how Jesus the Messiah was revealed throughout the Old Testament.

2.  Fellowship. The word koinonia in the original language was used several times by the Apostle Paul, but Luke used it only once in Acts 2. The word is usually translated “fellowship” and it indicates that the early believers had an uniquely close relationship because of their connection through the Gospel. Their “fellowship” served as a witness to the world that something was different about them that greatly affected their relationships.

3.  Obedience. The early church continued in “the breaking of bread” (Vs. 42).  Many scholars believe this included observing the Lord’s Supper together. Although the Passover meal was a long-standing Jewish tradition, connecting the symbols of the bread and juice to the body and blood of Jesus was new. Jesus told the apostles to continue the practice so they obeyed this new command.

4. Evangelism. The passage tells us that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Vs. 47). This tells us that they were sharing their faith on a regular basis. Many modern church problems could be solved if church members would regain a passion for sharing their faith with those who need to hear the Gospel.

I fear that many churches today do not possess these first four Biblical characteristics. Instead of teaching doctrine, they teach the opinions of man or woman. Instead of experiencing fellowship, they experience conflict and division. Instead of obeying all the applicable commands of the Word of God, they pick and choose the preferable commands that best fit their compromising lifestyle. Instead of focusing outwardly on those who need to hear the Gospel, they focus inwardly on their own wants and wishes.

Is it any wonder that many modern churches are not experiencing a mighty move of God’s Spirit like the churches in the Book of Acts? May God help us possess these vital characteristics of an old-fashioned church.

5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

In similar posts I wrote about 6 Things I Hated Hearing as a Pastor followed by 7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor. In today’s post I want to explore 5 Things I Hated DOING as a Pastor. Keep in mind that I loved being a pastor and I loved most the tasks that came along with the position, but I didn’t love everything.

5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

1. Preaching on difficult topics. I preached on marriage, divorce, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, abortion, tithing, racism, prejudice, laziness, gossip, and numerous other difficult subjects, but I didn’t love doing it. As a pastor, I preferred to preach about Jesus and the encouraging passages that abound, but I knew that I was accountable to God to preach the whole Bible even when the topics were not popular or culturally acceptable.

…even when the topics were not popular or culturally acceptable.”

2. Visiting new parents in the hospital. I didn’t really hate visiting new parents, but it always felt a little awkward. I felt better visiting when the mother and the father were both present or when my wife could join me. As their pastor, I wanted to let them know that we celebrated with them on the birth of their child, but at the same time, I wanted to respect their need for privacy. As a man, I was certain that I didn’t understand everything that the new mother was going through physically and emotionally, so I wanted to give her space for rest and healing.

3. Addressing church conflict. When I faced conflict during my early years of ministry I simply prayed and hoped that it would go away. As the pastor, I began to realize that I had to lean into conflict and work towards reconciliation, but it was something that I always dreaded.

…I began to realize that I had to lean into conflict…”

4. Asking for help. In the perfect church world, all the church members would jump in and volunteer when needed. Since that rarely happened, I often had to personally ask people for help.

5. Administering church discipline. The Bible clearly teaches that there are times when church discipline is required. The purpose of discipline is to help the offender discover his sin and his need for repentance. Even when church discipline was appropriate and best, it was always very difficult.

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Reboot or Rebuild the Church

When the pandemic began, most of us assumed that our churches would just bounce back to “normal” shortly after the Covid-19 restrictions lifted. Much like turning our internet modem off and then back on when we experience connection issues, we thought the church would simply “reboot.” But, a reboot has not happened and it may never happen.

LifeWay Research indicates that only 50-70% of pre-Covid attendees had returned to in-person church activities by August, 2021. According to researcher, Scott McConnell, “worship attendance is improving, but there is still a large gap between today’s in-person attendance and pre-COVID levels.” The percentage is higher when online participation is included, but those numbers are difficult to track. As we move forward, we will not be able to simply reboot; we will have to rebuild!

We will not be able to simply reboot; we will have to rebuild!

That’s easy to recognize, but how do we have a “rebuild” mindset? What does that even mean? Here are seven key elements of rebuilding.

7 Keys to Rebuild the Church

  1. Outreach. We must continue to reach out to those who have never attended our church. Many communities are growing and new prospects are moving in regularly. Even in non-growing communities, there are people who need Christ. Some of them are experiencing grief related to the pandemic and are more spiritually open than ever.
  2. In-reach. Don’t give up on members and former attendees who haven’t returned to church. Without being pushy or assigning blame, reach out to them. Help them take small steps back to church. Maintain safety measures for those who are at risk and/or have concerns related to their health.
  3. Ministry. Provide pastoral ministry to all church members. That’s fairly easy for those in attendance, but challenging for those who have not returned. If the church is small, you can print off the membership role and call a few members each day to check on them. When you call, ask if they have needs and prayer concerns. Write down what they share and pray for them over the phone. When you call them in future, check your notes and ask them about the things they shared on the last call. If the church is larger, you can share this ministry with the deacons, Sunday School teachers, or form a special phone team. A safe, personal touch matters more than ever!
  4. Assimilation. Be prepared when new people attend and others return. In addition to all the normal assimilation basics, give priority to cleanliness and safety. We will never just “go back to normal” after living through a pandemic. Masks, hand sanitizer, bleach, and personal space changes are here to stay.
  5. Creativity. Don’t pretend the pandemic is over. The truth is, long after it is over, it will not be “over.” Be creative in providing options in worship and other church ministries. Make sure that those who are extra cautious are made to feel welcome and treated with respect.
  6. Technology. Technology is not the Devil! We’ve learned so much about technology during the pandemic, and reached new people as a result. We should continue to improve and expand our use of technology, even as our in-person attendance increases.
  7. Focus. Specifically, focus on Jesus! People need Jesus! Preach Jesus! Sing about Jesus! Pray in Jesus’ name! Walk with Jesus! Love Jesus! Model Jesus! People need Jesus!

“…focus on Jesus! Preach Jesus! Sing about Jesus! Pray in Jesus’ name!…People need Jesus!”

Bonus Tip: Don’t give up!

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10, ESV).