Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2011

Seventeen months ago, my wife and I chose to leave a church that we loved – with a few people trying to push us out the door.  When we left, we knew that it was possible that our careers in church ministry were over.  What kind of steps can a pastoral couple take to heal after such a devastating experience?

Here is an excerpt from the last chapter of my book, which is nearly complete:

I have been told on good authority that it takes pastors one to three years to heal after an involuntarily termination.  As is my nature, there were times when I tried to hurry my healing along.  I discovered that if I experienced the depths of depression on a particular day, I would probably feel better the next day, but if I tried to force myself to feel better one day, I’d pay for it with depression the following day.  While I don’t consider myself an expert in this area – more like a survivor – here are seven steps that helped our healing along:

*We did little that was productive for the first couple months.  (We were both fortunate that we didn’t have to work for the first few months.)  I think I wrote three pages on this book.  Kim spent time reading and sleeping.  Since we didn’t expect much out of ourselves, we didn’t have to worry about expectations.  This time was important for slowing down our bodies and our minds so we could heal.

*We didn’t force ourselves to attend church services initially.  We didn’t have an aversion to church like some pastors and their wives have after leaving a church, but there was still pain involved because Kim wasn’t serving and I wasn’t preaching.  We missed a few Sundays over the first three months or so but have hardly missed any since then.  We needed to be in a church where we felt safe, and to be honest, some of the churches we visited felt anything but safe.  While some churches continue to debate the propriety of reaching seekers in a worship service, many churches do not realize how many Christians in their congregations are in great pain.  It took us six months to find a church because we tried to find a church where we would feel safe and still receive ministry.

*We took the time to grieve.  If Kim felt like getting angry, I let her express herself.  If I felt like crying, she encouraged it.  We both had mini-meltdowns – times when we would go on a rant for three to five minutes – but they never lasted long.  Almost every memorable occasion hurts during the first year: Super Bowl Sunday, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, and Christmas.  If our marriage had already been strained, the ugly emotions that we constantly felt could have ended our relationship, but because we’ve always allowed each other to be human, our relationship grew stronger, not weaker.

*We both saw a counselor.  When you come to a new community, it’s difficult to find a good counselor right away.  We sought referrals from several churches and finally settled on a woman who really cared about us.  She and her husband had been in a parachurch ministry a few years previously and left in an involuntary manner as we had.  The counseling gave us a place to talk about our negative feelings and receive back the assurance that we were normal people who had been through an extraordinary crisis.

*We talked about what happened – a lot.  We never tried to tell each other, “I don’t want to hear about the past anymore!”  One time, we’d be driving to church and Kim would say, “I still can’t believe that this happened.”  Another time, we’d take a walk around our neighborhood and I would share an insight with Kim about what happened in our former ministry.  Rather than hush each other into silence, we allowed each other the freedom to share or not share as we saw fit.  It’s been sixteen months since we left our former church, and although we still refer to matters on occasion, we’re much more focused now on our future ministry.

*I wrote about what happened to us.  I’ve been working on this book for more than a year.  People have asked me, “Isn’t it difficult to rehearse the pain you’ve gone through?”  There are times when my intestines get tied in knots, but on the whole, writing has been very therapeutic for me.  It’s how I figure things out.  I’m able to take events and conversations and perspectives that have crowded into my brain and let go of them through the simple exercise of putting things on paper.  While I’ve had some rough days, I recommend writing as a way of telling your story and clearing out your brain.  There is catharsis through the written word.

One year after we left, I also started writing this blog concerning pastors and conflict.  For years, all these thoughts have been rattling around in my head, and now I have an outlet for sharing them.  And the funny thing is that the more I write, the more ideas are generated.

*We began dreaming about the future.  We went out together every week and reviewed all of our options for the future.  Could I pastor again?  If so, would I be a senior pastor?  An associate?  An interim pastor?  If not, could I teach in a seminary or Bible college?  Would we prefer to go overseas for a year or two?  We came to believe that God was calling us to begin a new ministry designed to help pastors who experience involuntary terminations, but we had no illusions that it would be easy.  We came up with a unique name – Restoring Kingdom Builders – and slowly but surely began assembling various aspects of the ministry.

One day, I asked a man who has counseled many pastors, “How do you know when you’ve been healed?”  He told me to look for three markers: first, you need to grieve your losses; second, you need to forgive your enemies; finally, you need to become involved in a local church once more.  From my experience, this is sound advice – but it’s easier to hear than to live.

Read Full Post »

Do pastors ever intentionally target specific individuals in the congregation when they preach?

Yes.

And in the process, they also provoke conflict.

When I first started preaching, I was only nineteen.  When I prepared a sermon, I was just trying to put together some coherent thoughts based on the Bible so I could fill the half hour or so I had been assigned.  It wouldn’t have dawned on me to scold anyone in particular from the pulpit.  I had a hard enough time just trying to make sense.

As time went on, I became more issue-oriented when I preached.  If I detected a topic that wasn’t being addressed in our church, I’d talk about that.  My thoughts were centered on content, not people.

But that all changed when I became a pastor.

I was 27 years old in a church where the average age was sixty.  (Doesn’t sound so old anymore.)  When I stood up to speak, I looked out on a congregation of … 30-40 people.  I quickly got to know them all, and I didn’t like some of them.  (You wouldn’t have, either, but that’s another story.)

These people were ultra-fundamentalists, hyper-critics who wanted the church to go back in time three decades.  The music reflected that, as did the way the church was governed.  I grew not to like some of those growling faces when I got up to present the Word of God.

So when I prepared a message at home – and I spoke three times a week – I’d say to myself, “So-and-so really needs to hear this point.  I will tailor it to her specifically.”  Then I’d go to church and let it fly.

Only much of the time, whenever I aimed a portion of the message at someone … they didn’t show up!

For example, whenever I got on people for not attending church on a regular basis, I was saying that to people WHO WERE ALREADY IN ATTENDANCE!  (The people who weren’t there never heard the message anyway.)

There were other times when I’d say something for the benefit of one person, and I’d look out, and they’d be asleep, or talking to someone, or not paying attention, and I’d realize that I had just wasted my time.

And, of course, even if they heard me loud and clear, they probably thought I was talking to someone else, not them!

So it didn’t take me long to learn that preaching to one person was a colossal waste of time.  Maybe it was therapeutic for me, but it didn’t do anything to visibly change the person I was “aiming” at.  Besides, how would I even know when my missives had hit the mark?

One of my preaching mentors – and he was definitely old school – advised me to target specific people in the congregation when I spoke.  He did it, and he felt he had success with it, but after a while, I could not bring myself to do it anymore.

I should have learned from the last pastor that I served under as a youth pastor.

The pastor was gone one Sunday.  At the end of the service, some kind of praise anthem was sung, and a few people raised their hands to the Lord.  As I recall, some of those people were in the choir.  Handraising was not done at our church.  It was a practice imported from those divisive charismatic churches, and we weren’t about to become charismatic!

So when the pastor returned home, he was informed – probably by those same people from my first church – that handraising occurred in our church last Sunday!  Oh my!

So what did the pastor do?  He prepared a sermon for the following Sunday about controversial issues in the church, ticking off some examples … and then mentioned handraising.

Uh oh.

That was strategic product placement, wasn’t it?

Suddenly, the congregation was divided.  You were either for handraising or against it.  No middle ground.

Those against it stayed at the church.  Those for it began making for the exits.

Years later, I had breakfast with the pastor.  We got to talking about his handraising sermon.  He told me candidly that he never should have highlighted that issue.  He said, “People just wanted to express their love for the Lord.”  And he was right.

As the years went on, whenever I prepared a message, the faces of certain people would naturally flit through my brain.  It happens to every speaker.  We don’t want to speak to a mass of people, but to individuals.  And it helps if we speak to certain individuals, not those we don’t like or those we think are stuck in sin, but those who are hurting.

As I worked on a message, sometimes I would write down the names of a few people in the church on my worksheet, not because I wanted to “nail them” with the message, but because I sincerely wanted to help them advance in their walk with Christ.  I would ask myself, “What kind of applications would free them to live for Jesus?”

As the congregations I spoke to increased in size, I no longer tried to aim a message at any one person.  Why aim at one when dozens more needed help?

But from time-to-time, I believed that God wanted me to say something that I knew might offend certain people in the church.  Although I’d ask the Lord what He wanted me to do, most of the time, I said it anyway.  I subscribed to the philosophy of teacher extraordinaire Stephen Brown:

When in doubt, say it.

Why?  Brown believed that would usually be the most interesting and memorable part of the message.  And while many pastors try not to offend anyone in their message, my top two spiritual gifts are teaching and prophecy.  The gift of prophecy leads me toward saying the hard thing rather than shying away from it.  But I always tried to do it with grace rather than with rancor.

In fact, my preaching philosophy comes from John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  I tried to preach the truth with grace.  Rather than bind people, I wanted to liberate them.

Our pastor speaks to several thousand people every Sunday.  His applications seem to be aimed at the congregation as a whole.  He has a big enough staff that they can handle the problem situations.  And if he’s having problems with a church leader, he’ll probably call them into his office during the week and deal with the situation in private.

That’s the way it should be done.

So do pastors sometimes aim part of a message at certain individuals in a church?

My guess is that the younger the pastor, and the smaller the church, the more it’s done.  But the older the pastor, and the larger the church, the less it’s done.

Let me conclude with this thought: while pastors can be controversial when they preach – just teaching what the Bible says provokes controversy in our culture – they should never deliver a message in anger or aim a message at a particular person.

When a pastor gets worked up, he raises the conflict level in his church.  When he remains calm, he brings the conflict level down.

This Sunday, listen carefully to your pastor’s message.  If part of his preaching seems like it was aimed at you, he didn’t do it on purpose.  He may not even know you.

That’s the Holy Spirit.

Read Full Post »

I recently shared with you five of my favorite contemporary Christian songs (I went back and added video links to each song in the previous blog):

Number 10: “Little Pilgrim” by Love Song

Number 9: “A Rose is a Rose” by Susan Ashton

Number 8: “Asleep in the Light” by Keith Green

Number 7: “Irish Day” by Iona

Number 6: “My Glorious” by Delirious?

My song choices are a bit dated, not because there isn’t some great Christian music out there today, but because I haven’t been exposed to it.  (I’m taking recommendations.)  So I tend to stick with the artists who have put together the soundtrack to my soul.

Let’s continue the countdown to:

Number 5: “Two Sets of Jones'” by Big Tent Revival

I know little about this group, just that they wrote a story-song that has touched my heart for the last 15 years or so.

When I pastored a church in Santa Clara, our music team was supposed to present a performance song (or two) every Sunday morning.  One Thursday night at rehearsal, the song that was selected to follow that Sunday’s message just wasn’t coming together, and nobody knew what to do.

Four people got their heads together and suggested that the song “Two Sets of Jones'” be played over the speakers with the four individuals playing two couples while doing a pantomine to the song.  I knew nothing about this until I was done preaching the following Sunday.  The music started playing – the song was totally new to me – and the acting began.  It was phenomenal.  The congregation was deeply moved.  (Multi-sensory presentations always bring an additional dimension to any song.)

The song contrasts two married couples named Jones: a wealthy couple without the Lord, and a poor couple with the Lord.  The song is done in a country-folk arrangement with great simplicity and power.  When I heard the song come onto Christian radio several years later, I had to pull off the side of the road.  Too many tears in my eyes.

Original video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omMDWcAaW88

Number 4: “Falling at Your Feet” by Bono and Daniel Lanois.  Unless you’ve purchased the soundtrack to the film Million Dollar Hotel – and most of you haven’t – you’ve probably never heard this song.  Of all places, I heard it playing one night at a bar (I was eating there) inside the International Terminal at San Francisco Airport.

Behind an unconventional melody, the song’s Dylanesque lyrics list a variety of items in the universe: everyone who needs a friend, every face spoiled by beauty (great line), every prisoner in the maze, every eye closed by a bruise … and all are “falling at your feet.”  Who does the possessive pronoun “your” refer to?  The last few lines make it clear:

In whom shall I trust

How might I be still

Teach me to surrender

Not my will, thy will

Jagger.  Springsteen.  Madonna.  Eminem.  Britney.  None of them would ever sing “not my will, thy will.”  (Bono sings “If it be your will” in U2’s song Yahweh as well.)  Even though Bono lives by the motto, “I reserve the right to remain ridiculous” (and sometimes succeeds), U2’s songs move me deeply in my spirit like nobody else’s.  The Beatles made me tap my foot and sing along.  U2 makes me want to go out and change the world – pausing at times to worship Jesus.

By the way, you can’t find the version of this song with Bono on iTunes – only on the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack.  While neither one of these live performances measure up to the studio version of the song, you can at least get an idea of how the song goes.  By the way, Daniel Lanois is a great music producer who has been involved with U2 for decades – and an incredible artist in his own right.

Bono and Daniel Lanois live version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieax3GWgqlk&feature=related

Discovery Gospel Choir version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjD2AKBymDQ&feature=related

Number 3: “The Days Are Young” by Chuck Girard.  The founding member of Love Song (the first great contemporary Christian group ever) struck out as a solo artist with his self-titled album in 1975.  While he was recording it in the LA area, the adult youth leaders from our church invited Chuck to sing and play at a Christmas banquet for our youth group in Santa Ana.  As I recall, Chuck continually declined, but they were persistent, and Chuck and his wife Karen finally agreed to come.  (Kim and I got to sit with the Girards at the head table and we talked during dinner, but Chuck didn’t recall it when we spoke with him a year ago.) Chuck played nine songs for us, some of them from his new album, including “Sometimes Alleluia.”  The performance was taped onto a cassette.  I ended up with it but loaned it out so many times that I have no idea where it is today.  When “Sometimes Alleluia” ended up in our hymn book a few years later, it was a sign that contemporary Christian music had finally come of age.

This song is on Chuck’s free-flowing worship album called Voice of the Wind.  Right after it came out, I began having all kinds of abdominal pain (unrelated to the album), and after visiting the doctor for some tests, I had some potentially serious symptoms and thought I might have a life-altering condition.  Before going to bed at night, I would put this CD on, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to hear these lyrics wedded with a brisk, joyful melody:

And the days are young

And the days are clear

And I feel you holdin’ on to me my Lord

And I can chase the wind

And I can dance and I can sing

And I can smile again

And the days are young

Those are hopeful lyrics when you’re not sure how many days you have left!  (BTW, I ended up having a painful condition but not a terminal one.  It’s possible the abdominal pain was caused by inadvertently hearing a Michael Bolton song somewhere.)

By the way, have you ever noticed how many influential Christian leaders/singers have “Chuck” as their first name?  Colson, Swindoll, Smith, Girard – and my favorite of all, Chuckie Spurgeon.

iTunes preview: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/voice-of-the-wind/id162098147

Here is:

Number 2: “Seize the Day” by Carolyn Arends.  On her first album, I Can Hear You, this Christian singer-songwriter from Surrey, BC (spent three nights there a few years ago) writes about how we should invest every moment of our lives doing what matters most, no matter what the critics say.  I love the chorus:

Seize the day

Seize whatever you can

‘Cause life slips away just like hourglass sand

Seize the day

And pray for grace from God’s hand

And nothing will stand in your way

Seize the day

This song came out in 1995, the year of our twentieth wedding anniversary.  My wife and I had talked a lot about taking a trip to Europe to mark the occasion, and as the date got closer, I threatened to back out for various reasons.  My wife told me she was going whether I went or not, so I decided to “seize the day” and go – and I’m glad I did!  It’s a short life, as James 4:14 reminds us, so we need to live life to the fullest.  Pursue those dreams you’ve been putting off – you may never get another chance.

This was the song I asked to be sung at our final Sunday in our former church.  It was done very, very well.  Carpe diem.

Original video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lmqtYR5tJo (her first video; sound isn’t the greatest)

Number 1: “History Maker” by Delirious?  These guys have so many great, great songs: “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” “I’m Not Ashamed,” “Shout to the North,” “What a Friend I’ve Found,” “God You Are My God,” and so many others.  To me, they’re the house band of heaven, even though they recently broke up (for all the right reasons).  This song, from their first album King of Fools, is the most inspiring contemporary Christian song I’ve ever heard, a true U2-type anthem.  Lead singer Martin Smith belts out the chorus:

I’m gonna be a history maker in this land

I’m gonna be a speaker of truth to all mankind

I’m gonna stand, I’m gonna run

Into your arms, into your arms again

Which Christian doesn’t want to make history for Jesus?  This song perfectly encapsulates that desire in an infectious manner.

Fan video version (but uses original studio song) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ce41TInGoc4&NR=1

Willow Creek Church version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loyq_JCjZJY (I was there and met the band members afterward!)

Hillsong London version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0C2ckPqvJZU&feature=related

Honorable mention: “I Will Listen” and “How Beautiful” by Twila Paris; “What a Friend I’ve Found” and “I’m Not Ashamed” by Delirious?; “I Will be There” and “World of Mine” from the incomparable Phil Keaggy; “Hold Me Jesus” by Rich Mullins; “More to This Life” by Steven Curtis Chapman; “There is a Redeemer” by Keith Green; “Before There Was Time” by Caedmon’s Call.

I will include my favorite U2 spiritually-oriented songs in a separate list sometime in the future.

Since I love music so much, I’ll put together some more lists in the future.  But I’d love to hear about your favorite Christian songs!

Read Full Post »

Okay, I know that this is supposed to be a blog about pastors and conflict, but I’ve always wanted to write an article about my favorite Christian songs (and artists).  Since the topics on this blog can get kind of heavy at times, I thought I’d lighten it up a bit by sharing with you ten songs performed by Christian artists that mean a lot to me.  I’ll count down songs ten through six today and follow up with songs five through one another time.

I believe that a great song is one that is (a) well-written, (b) authentically sung, (c) powerfully performed, (d) lyrically engaging, and (e) either moves you to tears or inspires you to take action.  Here are ten Christian songs that do that for me:

Number 10: “Little Pilgrim” by Love Song.  Back in the early 1970s, there wasn’t really a genre like “contemporary Christian music.”  Other than Larry Norman and some other stray artists, most of the relevant-sounding Christian music was originating from Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa.  I was blessed to be present in Calvary’s small, original church building on a summer evening in 1970 when Chuck Girard and Tommy Coomes played “Front Seat, Back Seat,” a song they had just written.  I loved the song as well as the artists, and when Lovesong came out with their self-titled album, there wasn’t anything like it in the Christian world.

“Little Pilgrim” is the last song on their second album.  It’s the story of a spritual seeker who looks for meaning in life in all the wrong places …

‘Til you’re resting in the arms of the only one who can help you

‘Til you give your heart and your soul and your body and your mind and your life to the Lord

I heard lead singer Chuck Girard sing this song many times in the 1970s and heard him sing it again last May at Calvary Chapel Phoenix on Lovesong’s last tour.  After the subject of his song wanders all over creation, Chuck ends the song this way:

And it’s a glad thing to realize

That you’re not alone no more

That you found your way back home

Back home

Love Song often ended their concerts with this song.  I wonder how many people came to Christ after hearing it.  It drives me into the arms of Jesus every single time.

Live version, introduction by Bill Hybels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSsckEGG2Mw

Number 9, Number 9: “A Rose is a Rose” by Susan Ashton.  Although she didn’t write her own songs, Susan Ashton had a knack for choosing great material (much of it from songwriter Wayne Kirkpatrick).  On her self-titled third album, this last song describes a person whose confidence is so shot that she can’t get the jeers of critics out of her ears.  While it’s not explicitly a “Christian” song – God isn’t mentioned anywhere in the lyrics – it’s the kind of thing that a good friend would say to someone who wants to give up on life.

You’re at a standstill, you’re at an impasse

Your mountain of dreams, seems harder to climb

By those who have made you feel like an outcast

Cause you dare to be different, so they’re drawing a line

While most of the song is performed on piano, a killer violin picks up during the first chorus and continues playing throughout the song.  These words in the final verse always touch me:

To deal with the scoffers, that’s part of the bargain

They heckle from back rows and they bark at the moon

Their flowers are fading in time’s bitter garden

But yours is only beginning to bloom

If you’ve never heard this song, check out the sample on iTunes.  It’s worth it.  If American Idol ever discovered it … well, never mind … they won’t.

Fan video version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mftgkJgMrMI&feature=related (voice is speeded up a little)

Number 8: “Asleep in the Light” by Keith Green.  In my mind, this song is like putting the words of Jeremiah the prophet to music.  It’s a scathing indictment of the church of Jesus sung in both an angry and tender voice.  When the song came out, I couldn’t stop listening to it.  One Sunday morning, when I was a youth pastor and had a chance to preach, I read the lyrics during my message because (a) there was no way I would be allowed to play the song in church, and (b) if the song had been done live, I might have been fired.  Why the commotion?  In an intense, passionate voice, Keith Green sings:

The world is sleeping in the dark

That the church just can’t fight

Cause it’s asleep in the light

How can you be so dead

When you’ve been so well fed

Jesus rose from the grave,

And you, you can’t even get out of bed

This song is especially powerful when viewed with the picture that inspired it: a hoarde of people drowning while those on the pier above them leisurely enjoy life, oblivious to those below.

Fan video version: http://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=ApuMzfYlcjiy79wG5AfucLdG2vAI?p=keith+green+asleep+in+the+light&fr=my-myy&toggle=1&cop=&ei=UTF-8

Number 7: “Irish Day” by Iona.  It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Irish music: U2, Van Morrison, the Corrs, Enya, and Enya’s older sister Moya Brennan, who is a believer.  (I even like “The Unicorn Song” by the Irish Rovers.)  Iona is a Christian group that specializes in progressive rock.  They do something that few other artists do: they sing about the way that the Christian faith came to their country.  This song is about Columba who first brought the gospel to the British Isles.  It’s beautifully played and sung and includes lyrics like these:

Here before my time

Walked men of faith and truth

In a land that was dark

They followed the way

Bringing sweet light

On an Irish day

If you love the Celtic sound, you’ll love this band – which is getting ready to put out their latest CD in a couple months.  They’re touring Europe right now.  I would love to see them in concert someday.

Original studio version: http://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=A0oGdS4a6bRN2GEA4LdXNyoA?p=iona+irish+day&fr2=sb-top&fr=my-myy&type_param=

Number 6: “My Glorious” by Delirious?  This British band revolutionized Christian music by merging rock with worship.  Their lyrics can be quirky and they sound more like U2 than U2 does at times.  Like Bono’s band, they write soaring anthems that can be sung in arenas – or churches.  Toward the end of their existence, they became impassioned about both missions and social justice issues (sorry, Glenn Beck).

This praise anthem from their classic worship-oriented CD Glo rocks hard but is so fun to sing that I’ll continue to sing it both in this life and the one to come:

God is bigger than the air I breathe

The world we’ll leave

God will save the day and all will say

My glorious!  My glorious!

Sounds kind of like “my precious” but I consciously try to put Gollum out of my mind.

Fan video with studio version http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play?p=delirious%20my%20glorious&tnr=21&vid=767831114951&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts2.mm.bing.net%2Fvideos%2Fthumbnail.aspx%3Fq%3D767831114951%26id%3Dd0733f76bc4ebc7ac5a3ca379b0ad3ff%26bid%3Dr%252fgNzSgSRBfA%252bA%26bn%3DThumb%26url%3Dhttp%253a%252f%252fwww.youtube.com%252fwatch%253fv%253doE_03DLrlwQ&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DoE_03DLrlwQ&sigr=11aouko0e&newfp=1&tit=Delirious%3F+-%26%2339%3BMy+Glorious%26%2339%3B

Live version (Russia?) http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play?p=delirious%20my%20glorious&tnr=21&vid=720196797039&l=276&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts2.mm.bing.net%2Fvideos%2Fthumbnail.aspx%3Fq%3D720196797039%26id%3D3ba385ae3ae12ab6971714571f94235a%26bid%3DMKiTId4SZJtZ5g%26bn%3DThumb%26url%3Dhttp%253a%252f%252fwww.youtube.com%252fwatch%253fv%253dHZ1FXkCa6lA&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DHZ1FXkCa6lA&sigr=11a7bvqh3&newfp=1&tit=Delirious%3F+-+My+Glorious

I’d love to hear from you about your favorite contemporary Christian songs as well.  Feel free to share …

Read Full Post »

The following article is from Chapter 11 of the book I’m writing. The chapter parallels the way that Jesus’ enemies “terminated” Him with the way that pastors are often terminated today. Thanks for reading:

It is my contention that there are a host of similarities between the way that Jesus was cruelly terminated and the way that many pastors are unjustly treated in our day.  In fact, a case can be made that the steps leading to the crucifixion of Jesus are replicated on a regular basis in churches throughout the world.  While some parallels are inexact – for example, pastors lack Jesus’ perfect character and miracle-working power – the unoriginal devil uses the same template today to destroy spiritual leaders as He did in our Savior’s time.  Why change your methodology when it’s been working so well?

In re-reading The Gospels recently, I believe that the single verse that best describes Satan’s strategy in attacking a leader is Mark 14:27.  The night before His death, Jesus quoted from Zechariah 13:7 and told His disciples, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’”  While the devil sometimes picks off a stray sheep or two – and even provokes some sheep to fight each other – he knows that the single best way to slaughter an entire flock is to eliminate their leader.  Without their shepherd, the sheep wander off toward cliffs, fail to find nourishing pastures, and become prey for wolves.

Let me share some parallels between the way that Jesus was mistreated twenty centuries ago and the way that many pastors are mistreated today.

First, the enemies of Jesus were threatened by Him.  Before Jesus came on the scene, the Pharisees and chief priests and elders were the unquestioned spiritual authorities in Israel as well as the undisputed arbiters of Jewish law.  But in one of the first of many clashes with Israel’s leaders, Jesus publicly challenged their authority inside a synagogue on the Sabbath in Capernaum.  Jesus met a man there with a shriveled hand.  Although healing on the Sabbath was considered to be work and a violation of the popular interpretation of the Law, Jesus turned His attention toward the Pharisees before addressing His patient.  Showing His awareness of their presence, Jesus asked them in Luke 6:9, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”  The Pharisees chose to remain silent rather than engage Jesus in dialogue.  After looking them directly in the eyes, Jesus instantly restored the man’s hand to health.

Jesus committed a good deed that Sabbath day.  He cared much more for the spirit of the law than its letter.  While the Pharisees lived by their extra-biblical, legalistic codes, Jesus consistently behaved within the true meaning of God’s law.  In the Father’s eyes, Jesus only did good while in the Pharisees’ eyes, Jesus only did evil.  But who did Jesus work for: the Father or the Pharisees?  He served His Father alone.  Because He could have healed the man on any other day, Jesus’ attitude got Him into trouble with the religious authorities.  They began to worry that He might gradually come to displace them as leaders in Israel.

Jesus not only threatened the authority of the Jewish leaders by spurning their man-made laws, He also threatened their influence via a scathing public indictment (Matthew 23), castigating them for practices like hypocrisy, narcissism, vanity, majoring on minors, and being obsessed with their spiritual images.  And in Luke 13:17, after healing a woman with spinal issues on the Sabbath (once again in a synagogue), the synagogue ruler angrily told those in attendance, “There are six days for work.  So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”  But Jesus did not back down, accusing His opponents of being “hypocrites” who lead their animals to water on the Sabbath while prohibiting supernatural deliverance for hurting people.  Luke concludes, “When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing” (Luke 13:17).

Most of all, according to John 11:48, Jesus threatened their very survival.  After Jesus raised Lazarus, the Sanhedrin concluded, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation,” referring either to Jerusalem itself or the temple.  In other words, if Jesus kept attracting a large following, He might put the Jewish leaders out of business altogether, rendering them irrelevant.  Due to their scarcity mentality, they couldn’t let that happen.  While John the Baptist nobly proclaimed, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30), their sentiment was, “We must become greater; He must become nonexistent.”

While Jesus and the Jewish leaders contended for the soul of their nation, many pastors and church leaders fight for control of a congregation.  There are people in every church who have been there for years – especially charter members – and who sense that their influence is being displaced as the pastor’s influence increases.  When that happens, it’s not uncommon for these people to band together and strike back.

Next, the enemies of Jesus plotted to destroy Him.  It is simply amazing to read how many times in the Gospels we are given insight into the real motives of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus.  While their decisions were made in the dark, they later fully came into the light.  For example, after Jesus healed the lame man at the Bethesda pool on the Sabbath, John tells us that “the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).  John 7:1 tells us that Jesus purposely stayed away from Judea “because the Jews there were waiting to take his life.” The attitude of the leaders became so well known that some of the people in Jerusalem began to ask in John 7:25, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill?”  Jesus Himself told the Jewish leaders that He knew about their hostility toward Him in John 8:40 when He said, “As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.”  After Jesus declared that “before Abraham was born, I am!” the Jewish leaders “picked up stones to stone him” but Jesus slipped away from the temple area (John 8:58-59).

Finally, after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we’re told about the Sanhedrin that “from that day on they plotted to take his life” (John 11:53). They were even so enraged at the miracle Jesus performed on Lazarus that “the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him (John 12:10-11).”  During the last week of Jesus’ life, Luke tells us, “Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him” (Luke 19:47).

The New Testament writers never tell us that anyone at this point was trying to kill Peter, or James, or Thomas – just Jesus.  In the same way, no one in a local church bands together to eliminate the small group director, or the children’s fourth grade teacher, or the office manager.  No, if they go after anyone, a group always goes after the pastor.

When I use the word “destroy,” I am not for a moment suggesting that the enemies of a pastor in church settings wish to kill him as they did Jesus.  While that sort of thing has happened – and I have some news stories in my files as evidence – it’s extremely rare.  It’s much more common for individuals and groups to try and harm a pastor’s reputation, remove him from office, or damage his career.  Rediger writes that “it is frightening, as well as embarrassing, to see how many religious leaders are willing to destroy careers, congregations, and missions in the name of theological cleansing, or whatever the source of their vexation.”  Greenfield ads, “In some cases, the commitment to do harm, to tear down, to destroy could be seen as just short of murder, because the evil actions are intended to kill the leader’s ministry, career, position in the church, and even his health.”

In my mind, it is often very simple to determine which side in a “religious war” represents the devil and which side represents the Lord. In a word, Satan majors in destruction (I Peter 5:8) while Jesus majors in redemption (Titus 2:13-14).

Read Full Post »

One of my favorite Peanuts comic strip series involved the time that Lucy (in her psychiatrist role) decided to help Charlie Brown overcome his faults by highlighting them all.  She obtained a camera and began taking pictures of everything he was doing wrong.  Then she invited him to her house and displayed his faults on slides.  After several weeks of this torture, poor Charlie couldn’t take it anymore.  He let out a blood-curdling scream after which Lucy told him, “Wait until you get my bill.”  In the final strip, after lamenting Lucy’s huge charges, Charlie turns toward us and says, “And I still have the same faults.”

How would you handle such an assault?

Pretend you’re ten years old, and one day your mother gives you a list of 22 shortcomings in your life.  How would you deal with that?  Try and improve?  Or give up on life?

Imagine you’re nineteen and your boyfriend or girlfriend claims that the 17 faults in your life constitute the reasons why they never want to see you again.  How would you survive such rejection?

Surmise that you’re twenty-eight and your boss says you’re fired.  When you ask why, he details 13 ways in which you were incompetent.  How would you avoid spending the next two weeks in a mental hospital?

Most human beings are emotionally fragile, no matter how confidently we present ourselves in public.  Psalm 103:14 says that the Lord “knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”  Dr. Archibald Hart believes that you have good self-esteem if you don’t hate yourself.  Studies repeatedly show that the vast majority of Americans – as many as ninety percent – struggle with accepting themselves as they are.  (Donald Trump excepted.)

Yes, we’re stronger than we think, and yes, criticism can ultimately help make us better people.  But the way someone criticizes us can either destroy us or heal us.

If someone is trying to heal us through criticism, they will bring up our faults one at a time.  Over the course of a lifetime, we all learn about our weaknesses from a variety of individuals: parents, siblings, friends, teachers, employers, spouses, and even children.  This pace allows us to receive our faults and work on them over the years.

But if someone wants to destroy us, they will dump all our faults on us at once.  Sometimes this is cruelly called “clearing the air” or “gunnysacking.”  This is what happens to many pastors when a party in the church becomes determined to expel him from their midst.

Let me be the first one to say that pastors have their flaws – some of them personal, others related to their profession.  Most pastors work on their flaws by enlisting the power of God’s Spirit to change them.  A small percentage of pastors – usually those with personality disorders – are blind to their faults and blame others for all their problems.  These are the pastors who cause major problems in ministry.

Pastors have just as many flaws as anybody else.  Nowhere does the Bible say that those who teach Scripture have entered a sinless state.  In fact, pastors may be just more adept at covering up their faults.  The smaller the church, the more people know about their pastor’s marriage, finances, children, hobbies, relationships – and faults.  While this makes the whole pastor-people relationship ultimately healthier (because we’re all trying to live in community together), it can backfire overnight if some party uses this proximity as ammunition against the minister.

I am not talking theory.  This happened to me in the second church I served as pastor.

A group of seniors in that church had a Sunday School class.  It was led by a former pastor who felt insignificant.  He began complaining about church practices that he did not like.  His complaints soon went viral, and before anyone knew it, the whole class revolted against the pastor: me.

The class recruited a few others and held a “secret meeting.”  They made a list of all my faults, both as a person and as a pastor.  (My wife said they missed a few.)  They then turned their guns on her and our two children (our son was nine, our daughter six).  They wrote down every fault that came to mind.  Seventeen people against one.

The group then appointed two representatives and scheduled a meeting with two elders.  The intent of the representatives was to present The List to the elders, hoping they would agree with the complaints and terminate my employment.

One complaint was that the wife of our band’s drummer wore short skirts and that I should have prevented her from doing so.  Someone else complained that my wife’s slip was showing one Sunday.  God has mercifully helped me to forget most of the complaints, but they were all that petty.

To their credit, the elders didn’t let the reps read their entire list at once.  After each complaint, an elder offered a response, which took all the fun out of the exercise.

Why would professing Christians sit around and pick at another person – much less a pastor – that way?  Why create The List?

For starters, The List indicates the lack of a single impeachable offense.  If a pastor committed homicide in the church lobby, no one would complain that he doesn’t keep his car clean.  If surveillance videos showed a pastor stealing money from the offering plate, no would would mention that he went home five minutes early last Tuesday.  The List is a confession that a group cannot nail the pastor with any moral or spiritual felonies, so they resort to nitpicking, hoping the sheer quantity of charges will substitute for their lack of quality.

Second, The List is a signal that the group wants to end their relationship with the pastor.  Want to end your marriage?  Tell your spouse every wrong thing they’ve ever done to you.  Want to get fired?  Tell your boss every problem you have with her management.  The List is a prelude to destroying a relationship.  In this case, it’s an admission that the group believes the pastor is irredeemable.  But does Jesus want us to give up on people that soon?

Of course, we have to wonder: rather than “doing the piranha” on a spiritual leader, why doesn’t a group leave the church en masse instead?  Because … if they can force the pastor out, they’ll stay.  But if they can’t, then they’ll leave.  In my case, because the board stood behind me 100%, my critics all left – and formed a new church a mile away.

Next, The List demonstrates a lack of courage.  When Christians sit in a room together and tick off a pastor’s faults, they are silently confessing that they all lack the guts to confront him in private.  Jesus didn’t exclude spiritual leaders from His directives in Matthew 18:15-20 to go to a brother in private if he sins – and a pastor is a brother.  If you believe your pastor has a glaring fault, then talk to him privately, humbly, and lovingly.  When a group gather to create The List, they implicitly confess that they are interested in power, not love.

When a group gets together specifically to demonize one individual, people say things they would never say to the pastor’s face.  Groups that do this are famous for exaggerating the pastor’s alleged misbehavior.  When the pastor isn’t present to defend himself against the charges, then every accusation makes him look guilty.  Who will defend him when the meeting’s purpose is to accuse him?

I once had a teacher at Biola named Mr. Ebeling.  While he could be a cranky old guy, he used to say, “If Christians would just read their Bibles!”  He was right.  Where in Scripture do we find a group of Christians who gather together to detail the faults of any spiritual leader?

Finally, The List demonstrates that people have become malicious.  Revelation 12:10 says that Satan is “the accuser of the brethren.”  He’s the one who continually goes to God and says, “You call Jim one of your children?  Look what he just did!”  (And I keep him quite busy.)  But what does Jesus do?  He defends us.  He protects us.  He may have to chasten us, but He does it because He loves us.  Most of all, He forgives us.  We are His own.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love “keeps no record of wrongs.”  Christian love does not keep lists of offenses against other Christians.  (That’s what politicians do to each other.)  Love deals with each offense as it happens, never to destroy a brother or sister, but always to bring them back to God.

Here is a project: write down five things you like about your pastor and his ministry.  List all five in an email or note and send it to your pastor.  Better still, send him one commendation per week.  (Remember the wisdom of sharing five compliments for every criticism?)

Why not counteract The List with one of your own?

Read Full Post »

From time-to-time, I plan on posting sections from the book I’m writing about the conflict my wife and I experienced in our last church ministry. After writing about 420 double-spaced pages (with lots of footnotes to bolster my opinions), I still hope to finish the book soon before inviting friends to review it. Here is an excerpt about the difficulty we experienced – and most pastors and their wives experience – after we left our church and community. Realize that this is still in draft form and not in final form. As always, thanks for reading!

Throughout this process, family and friends encouraged us to “let go” and “move on with your lives.”  It has not been easy to do so.  People wanted us to move on out of their own anxiety or because they saw how much pain we were experiencing. One of the challenges I faced when I moved to Arizona is that I wanted to know why the conflict happened.  When many pastors are forced to exit a church, they are able to put the conflict behind them and move on with their lives, but I found that difficult if not impossible.  My analytical brain could not rest until it uncovered the truth about our sensitive situation. The first few months after we moved to Arizona, I was still angry, but as the months wore on, I was more puzzled than anything.  Why did our opponents do what they did?  Based on the destructive aftermath, it just didn’t make any sense to me.

When Kim’s brother Ian was only eighteen, he was killed by a drunk driver.  Kim had never experienced the death of a close loved one before and it really shook her up.  In a sense, her whole faith was dismantled, even though it was rebuilt even stronger later on.  But there were certain actions that she had to take proactively so that healing could begin.  We drove to her brother’s gravesite at Forest Lawn.  We visited the very spot where he was killed.  Kim flew from San Jose to Los Angeles on several occasions to be with her family as they pursued a civil suit against the person who was driving when Ian was killed.  After Kim had done her investigative work, she was finally able to release the injustice committed into God’s hands, but it took her eighteen months to do so.

I operated on the same basis.  After six months or so, I still had unanswered questions about what happened, so I contacted a few of my friends – some of whom still attended the church – and asked them about certain details.  However, some of them interpreted my puzzlement as bitterness and wanted me to “let go” and “move on.”  While I understood the reason for their counsel, I couldn’t move on until I had most of my questions answered.  After we met with some friends from the church in early August, and after consulting with several Christian counselors who specialize in helping pastors with forced exits, I was finally able to be at peace about the events that occurred eight months after our final Sunday.  Writing this book has also been therapeutic for me because it has allowed me to rid my brain of a host of issues and allowed me to regain perspective. But I still have occasional flare-ups of anger and have come to accept them as part of the healing process.

You can’t short-circuit these kinds of feelings.  It’s like trying to hurry up grief after a divorce or the death of a loved one. You have to drink the cup of suffering dry.  You can only put it all behind you when you’re ready, not when others want you to be ready.  Kim and I would go for a few days and be in good spirits, but then something would remind us of what happened and we’d both go into depression for a day or two.  For example, although we enjoyed marked improvement in emotional health after we passed the one-year mark, we then had to move forty minutes away from our place in Surprise toward Phoenix to be closer to Kim’s work.  The move cost us time, energy, money (we lost a deposit on a rental), and possessions (we broke a few things), and the whole moving event triggered negative emotions that we hoped had disappeared: “Why is this the fourth house we’ve lived in over the past fourteen months?  Why do we have to haul all our possessions around again?  Will we ever be able to buy a house and feel settled?  When will we return to the kind of life we once knew?”

Back in Arizona, Kim and I had to engage in a project we had never attempted before: try and find a church home.  While we stayed home a few Sundays – mostly due to physical or emotional exhaustion – we found the process of visiting churches to be extremely daunting.  We perused church websites to determine which churches to visit, but we went to most of them only once.  Nearly every church we visited had edgy music (which we liked), and the music was usually skillfully played and sung, but we often didn’t feel like singing praises to the Lord.  Many of the songs that were presented were taken directly from passages in the Psalms, but the lyrics included verses that praised God and excluded those verses that expressed doubt or anger (like in the imprecatory psalms).  Believe it or not, the way I felt emotionally, I would have welcomed singing some imprecatory psalms from time-to-time, although I’m sure I would have been in the minority!  It seems like most churches want everyone in the congregation to feel good after the worship time without realizing how some people are feeling before worship starts.  In my view, Christian worship times miss the variety of emotions expressed in the Psalter.  We encourage praise and joy but do not want anything to do with depression and anger.  Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the music of people like Bob Dylan or Van Morrison.  They know how to express a range of emotion through their lyrics, voices, and instruments.  For months, I’ve been drawn to Bob Dylan’s music because, as I listen to him sing (or croak), it seems like Bob understands what I’m going through, while a great many believers do not.  With a few exceptions, most of today’s Christian music doesn’t acknowledge pain or suffering very well.  I realize that singing psalms of lament won’t necessarily help a church to grow, but there must be a reason why so many people don’t sing during worship times. Maybe in many cases, they just don’t feel like singing lyrics that fail to reflect their present state of mind.

It was also difficult for me to hear other pastors teach.  While most of them delivered their messages in a competent style, at times I was appalled at the interpretations of Scripture that I heard given from the pulpit.  (Doesn’t anyone own or consult biblical commentaries anymore?)  One staff pastor preached on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 and had absolutely no clue what the words really meant or how the passage was structured.  Like many pastors, he read the passage aloud and then said whatever he wanted to say about it.  He went straight to application without ever dealing with interpretation.  But more than anything, I’ve had a tough time listening to pastors ignore Scripture while highlighting their own ideas as if what they have to say is more important than what God says.  My wife and I now attend a mega church, not because it’s large, but because the pastor is an excellent preacher and he knows what he’s doing when he teaches.  (It’s a good thing that pastors don’t speak to other pastors on a regular basis.  We can be a tough audience.)

When I first left our former church, I didn’t want to preach anymore.  Over time, I have come to accept the fact that I may never preach again, at least as my primary calling.  Last Sunday, our pastor talked about the recent death of his father, and recounted how whenever he had a conversation with him, his dad always told him two things: love your wife and preach the Word.  When I heard that, I got choked up.  I have always loved my wife.  I miss preaching the Word.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: