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Archive for June, 2013

Meet Pete.

Pete works for a high tech company in a major American city.  He’s 32-years old, has a Master’s degree in computer programming, and is married with one child.

Oh, yes … Pete has also been a Christian for less than two years.

Some of Pete’s co-workers know he’s a Christian.   He attends a prayer meeting during lunch time on Wednesdays, and he’s had to turn down a few social invitations on Sundays because he takes his family to church.

Pete has been growing in his new-found faith, but something happened at work yesterday that’s really bothering him.

During a break, someone brought up the topic of gay marriage.  Pete tried to avoid the discussion, but before he could leave the room, his boss said, “Hey, Pete, you’re a Christian, aren’t you?  What does your church think about gay marriage?”

Pete sat there tongue-tied.  He honestly didn’t know.

Coming from a secular background, Pete’s family automatically took the positions of their political party on every moral/social issue imaginable.  On those rare occasions when Pete’s family did discuss a controversial issue, they spent most of their time ridiculing those who didn’t agree with their views.

Pete knew what his family of origin thought about gay marriage – but he didn’t know where his church family stood.

Why not?

Because his pastor never said anything about it.  Not once.

Since Pete didn’t know what his church or pastor believed about the issue, he was uncertain where he himself stood.  So when Pete got home, he went online to find out what Christians believe about gay marriage, but what he read just confused him even more.

He asked a church friend about the subject, but his friend said, “I honestly don’t know where we stand on that one.  But personally, I’m all for it.”

So Pete sent his pastor an email, asking him where the church stood on gay marriage.  The pastor replied, “This issue is so divisive that we have decided not to discuss it.”

When Pete went back to work the next day, he candidly told his boss, “You know, I don’t know where my church stands on gay marriage.”  Pete’s boss said, “Well, I’m all for it, and here’s why …”

I chose gay marriage in this post merely to illustrate a point: since many pastors are afraid to speak on anything controversial, the culture is capturing Christian hearts and minds by default.

Let me make four points about this:

First, Christians want to hear their pastor’s position on relevant moral and social issues.

Back in the 1990s, I pastored a seeker-targeted church in Silicon Valley.  People were always asking me what my views were on the issues of the day.  I’d share with them positions informed by Scripture, but sometimes I’d wonder if they’d leave the church over what I’d said.  In nearly every case, they stayed.

One year, I was in the bookstore at Willow Creek Community Church, and I noticed that Bill Hybels had preached a 3-sermon series called Our Modern Moral Trifecta.  I bought the series and went home to listen how he handled sermons on abortion, racism, and homosexuality.  His sermons were biblical, practical, sensitive … and edgy.  In my mind, Hybels hit the ball out of the park with each message.

Did addressing those topics empty out the church?  Hardly.  Willow was the largest church in America at the time.  In the same way, Pastor Don Wilson touched on a variety of cultural issues at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix when my wife and I attended there from 2010-2012 … and the church grew into the stratosphere.

I only visited the Crystal Cathedral one time – in February 2000.  That morning, Robert Schuller spoke on the seventh commandment – “Thou shalt not commit adultery” – and he absolutely nailed that message.  I know that Schuller had a reputation for soft-pedaling tough issues, but that morning, I was proud of him for telling it like it is.  People want the truth.

Look, I know there are some issues we probably shouldn’t touch … mostly because the Bible doesn’t touch on them.  For example, in 36 years of ministry, I don’t think I’ve ever said anything about gun control … although if I pastored in Newtown, Connecticut, I might be forced into taking a position on that subject.

But if the Bible is clear about an issue – and it’s clear on marriage (Moses, Jesus, and Paul all agree on its essence) – then we can speak about it with boldness.

Second, a pastor may only have to speak on a controversial issue once.

I don’t want to attend a church where the pastor is ripping on abortion or condemning the government all the time.  Even if you agree with the pastor, it’s wearying.  If some pastors are thinking, “I won’t preach about moral/social issues because some people are going to insist I speak about them regularly,” then I understand the reluctance to address them.

But if a pastor speaks on a moral/social issue once – and really does his homework – that may be the only time he ever has to speak about it … and homework may include making sure there is a consensus among the governing leaders on that topic.

After Bill Hybels spoke on abortion, churchgoers could not only buy the tape (now CD) of his message, they could also buy a booklet that covered the same ground.  If anybody in the church asked, “What is the pastor’s position on abortion?”, they would simply be directed to the bookstore.  Since Hybels had already gone on record about abortion, he didn’t need to deal with it repeatedly … and those who knew his position could represent him accurately.

I tried to include at least one culturally relevant topic inside a series maybe 3-4 times a year.  For example, when I did a series on tough theological questions, I dealt with the New Atheists.  I’d announce the topic ahead of time, and if people didn’t want to come that Sunday, that was their decision.

But if a pastor is going to speak about a controversial issue, he really needs to know his stuff.  When I spoke about intelligent design at my last church, I studied more for that message than any I’ve ever given.  Although the message was long, I remember receiving applause from the congregation when I was done … not because they were glad I was finished, but because they knew I cared enough about them to do my homework.  (An atheist became a theist that day.)

And after that Sunday, if anybody ever asked me, “Jim, what do you think about intelligent design?”, I could give them a copy of my manuscript or send them to the bookstore to buy the CD.  Nowadays people can go to their church’s website and watch an archived video message or download a podcast.

People want their questions addressed.  They want the nuances.  They want to represent Christ well, both at home and in the culture.  Seems to me that’s part of equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry.

Third, there are some issues that pastors cannot ignore.

When the Bay Area was hit by a massive earthquake on Tuesday, October 17, 1989, the area was also hit by scores of aftershocks afterwards.  The earthquake was the only issue on anybody’s mind.  So when Sunday came, I preached on Psalm 46, which begins: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way …”  People needed assurance that God was still sovereign after that quake.

After 9/11 – which happened on a Tuesday as well – it wasn’t time to say, “Well, we were in Ephesians 3 last week, so we’re in Ephesians 4 this week.”  A shaken group needed to know that God was still in control, so we talked about the differences between Christians and Muslims and how what happened fit into God’s ultimate plan.

On occasion, pastors have to address the issues that are foremost on people’s minds.  For example, during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal in 1999, some churches openly talked about that issue because topics like leadership character and moral outrage were being discussed all over the country.

Six weeks before the vote on Proposition 8 in California, I preached on Jesus’ view of marriage from Matthew 19.  Although some people didn’t like what Jesus said … or what I said … I felt that God was compelling me to preach on the issue even though our community was a gay haven.  As Paul asked in Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Scripture, Jesus, and the Christian church have a unified position on marriage.  If pastors don’t let their people know where they stand on this issue, they’ll turn to NPR or Rush Limbaugh or MSNBC or Michael Savage for their information instead of the Word of God … and they’ll take a political position rather than a biblical one.

Every church in America is going to have to take a position on gay marriage, one way or the other.  Isn’t it better for pastors to lead the way than to lead from behind?

Finally, pastors need to speak on tough issues with a gracious tone.

I grew up in fundamentalist churches.  There’s a tone that fundamentalists preachers use that I despise.  It’s condescending, sanctimonious, and condemning.  They don’t say “we” but “you.”  They act like they’re perfect and you’re a mess.

If a pastor is going to speak on a controversial topic using that kind of tone … forget it.

But where the Bible is clear, let’s preach boldly but lovingly.  Where the Bible is silent, let’s preach humbly … but let’s not shy away from topics because they’re controversial.

Pastors once spoke freely about heterosexual marriage.  It was the most benign of topics.  Because marriage has now become a topic of dispute, are we going to avoid it because it might provoke some opposition?

But we can’t shut our Bibles when people need a word from God.  Read Matthew 22-23.  Jesus never shied away from discussing any issue … and He always based His positions in the Word of God.

Pastors should feel confident and free enough to speak on any topic … because the Petes attending our churches need to know God’s viewpoints on today’s issues.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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Last Saturday night, my wife and I attended a birthday party for my oldest friend.  We first met nearly half a century ago!

During the party, I spoke with a woman who had been in my youth group at the second church I served as youth pastor.  I asked her how the church we had both attended was doing.

She said, “The church went downhill for years.  I was hoping they wouldn’t sell the property and put houses on it.  But they finally sold the building to another church.”

That church we attended was going downhill when I was there more than three decades ago.  Although the property encompassed nearly a city block, there were large cracks in the parking lot … the rooms were dark and scary (one room looked like a mausoleum) … and some rather unsavory people were running the church.

Why do churches like that one slowly die?

There’s been a lot of research done on church pathology.  I recall terms like social strangulation … St. John’s Syndrome … and koinonitis, to name just a few.

But one of the biggest reasons that churches start to die is that they stop taking risks.

Risk taking is required when a church begins:

*It’s risky for a pastor to start a church.  What if nobody comes to the first service?

*It’s risky for the pastor to recruit a core group.  What if those people are incompetent or unspiritual?

*It’s risky for the church to sign a lease for their first meeting place.  What if offerings don’t cover the costs?

*It’s risky for the church to secure an office and purchase office equipment.  What if the church can’t make the payments?

*It’s risky for the church to try and pay the pastor’s full-time salary.  Will they lose him if they can’t?

*It’s risky for the church to hire staff.  What if they don’t work out?

*It’s risky for a church to raise money … buy land … hire an architect … battle city government and neighbors … do a capital campaign … buy furnishings … and wait for a building to be completed.  What if the church doesn’t grow?

But whenever I think of taking risks for God, I think of Hebrews 11.  Most of the men and women mentioned in that passage heard a word from God and then did unprecedented things … risking their reputations (Noah), families (Abraham), positions (Moses), and lives (Rahab) because they believed in the promises of a big, big God.  As Hebrews 11:6 puts it:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Without faith … which I believe is acting on a word from God … we cannot please God.

God places His hand of blessing on those who do please Him … and removes that same hand from those who don’t.

Even when we believe that God is leading us to do something great for Him, risk taking doesn’t always work.  Sometimes:

*New church plants don’t make it.

*Staff members bomb out.

*Churches split and can’t pay their mortgages.

*Pastors implode morally or relationally and leave their ministries.

But even though these are all possibilities, most churches never do anything significant for Christ unless they take some major risks.

In fact, if you view a graph of a church’s history, you’ll find that whenever a church enjoys a significant period of growth, it’s because they stepped out in faith and took some risks.

I have a pastor friend who leads a church that God is blessing … and the church engaged in risk taking all along the way:

*The church hired my friend even though it was his first pastorate.

*The church kept going even though they were leasing a commercial building at an exorbitant price.

*The church had the opportunity to buy an existing church building nearby for $5 million … and raised the funds in one month.

*The church has grown to the point where they had to knock out the side walls so they could accommodate more people.

*The church added a third service … and the last time I attended there, the place was so packed my wife and I had to squeeze into the last row.

In many churches, the leaders would have said, “It’s not the right time … we don’t have the money … we’re not sure this is going to work … let’s wait until the economy improves” … and like Israel standing at Kadesh Barnea, they would have missed their God-given opportunity and chosen fear over faith.

But they chose to trust God instead, and the Lord has rewarded them with a healthy, growing ministry.

I wish I had learned this principle sooner.  In my first decade of ministry, the two churches I led as pastor took zero risks.  Both our faith and our God were small.  We existed for ourselves … and were slowly dying.

But when we realized how big God is … and that He wants His people to reach unbelievers for Jesus … everything changed.

What kind of faith-risks should pastors consider?

*Start another service.  Reach a different demographic.  Change the music and the feel of the service.  It might take six months to a year to pull it off, but it gives a church a sense of momentum.

*Hire that needed staff member.  Okay, maybe you don’t have the money in this year’s budget, but if it’s the right person, they’ll pay for themselves after a year or two.  Just do it.

*Be edgier in your preaching.  Start sharing how you really feel.  Be more prophetic, touching on both church and cultural sins.  People will remember what you say longer and better when you’re authentic.

*Start another church.  Four years ago, I attended a service at Holy Trinity Brompton in London where Nicky Gumbel is the pastor.  The church bought an old cathedral in Brighton and was recruiting a core group that Sunday to move from London to Brighton to reach people for Christ in that resistant city by the sea.  I was moved to tears and was so excited I felt like joining that core group!

*Make a difference somewhere else.  Build a well in Africa … construct a church building in Mexico … buy a jeep for a missionary in Brazil … go and train pastors in a Third World country.

These are just some ideas, but realize this: both you and your church will sense excitement … and feel God’s blessing … when you take a risk and step out in faith.

However, pastors instinctively know that if and when they attempt to do something great for God, they will have to battle the naysayers and joysuckers who want to keep things the way they are.

Listen to them, and your church will wander in the ecclesiastical wilderness.

Listen to God, and you just may enter the Promised Land.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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Today’s guest blogger is Pastor Rick Rehmert, who has pastored for years in the Midwest.  Rick is currently serving a church as an interim pastor.  Thanks, Rick!

The fall, the splash, and then the desperate cry for help – an adult is drowning.  This is a terrifying scene.  Most “would be” rescuers jump in immediately.  The experienced rescuers hesitate.

As pastor, I am by nature a rescuer.  I am the proverbial dysfunctional preacher with a need to be the hero.  How this has cost me!  I don’t know exactly when it started but somewhere along the way I confused my need for validation with another’s need for life changing transformation.  This confusion, once erased, has led me to the truth: “understand what is.”

The experienced rescuer learns to observe more than just the person needing rescue.  What are the hazards?  How deep is the water?  How strong is the current?  What materials are at hand?  What is the best way to get the person out of trouble?  Is the one drowning capable of drowning him?  He observes “what is.”

Unlike the watery scene imagined above, the pastor usually has more time to assess a crisis before jumping in to solve it.  Belaying that jump can be the difference between a rescue and a double drowning.

What do I mean by “understand what is?”  This statement comes from the recognition that God is already rescuing and I must work in concert with Him.  He may be bringing a person to the end of themselves.  If I interrupt what He is doing, I risk His discipline.

Understanding must precede action.  Reacting is “jumping in” without a clear picture of what is really going on and what a rescue would affect.  Connecting the what, why, and how is vital.  Prayer and biblical insight is our best tool.  Good questions are also good tools.  Before we “fix it,” we need to know what broke, how it broke, and why it needs to be put back together.

The most common crisis in many churches is the unhappy member who threatens to leave.  They can be big givers or well connected or whatever.  The emergency is clear: they are upset.  “Would be” rescuers jump in but wise pastors do not.  They hesitate by asking: Why are they upset and threatening to leave?  What happened?  Explore the scene; secure a mutual understanding of the event in question.  Is this response appropriate?  If not, what would be appropriate?  And why is this not what we are seeing?

Water rescues are risky.  Church rescues are as well.  Most unhappy members do not leave over heresy or immorality; they leave because they lose power – the power to take the church down with them.  This may be a time when the pastor needs to “understand what is” and simply watch.  He will learn so much in such a short manner of time as he prayerfully takes inventory.  God will give him insight and wisdom.  His questions will pierce to the heart of the matter.  He just may become the tool God uses to jump in.  And when He does – His splash will be good for everybody.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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Sometimes when I’m reading, I run across a comment that makes me stop and think long and hard.

That’s how I felt when I ran across this statement from Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander in their book Extreme Church Makeover:

“If I had to determine the spiritual health of a church on only one issue, I would find out if the governing board of the church consisted of people coming together to persuade each other of their own independent will or spiritually mature children of God coming together to collectively discern the will of God.”

In a nutshell, the authors are asking:

Are the members of the governing board first asking God about church direction, or are they first asking each other?

I’ve worked with boards that run the gamut on this question.  Here’s what I’ve noticed:

First, a spiritually mature board takes time to listen to God’s Word.

The church I pastored in the 90s did this at every meeting.  The chairman would choose a passage … some of them a bit on the long side … and he’d read it to us.  We’d discuss it afterward.

This simple act was a way of saying: “This board … and this church … are under the authority of the Word of God.  Before we do anything else … and before we talk among ourselves … we want to hear what God is saying to us.”

But I’ve also sat on boards where the Bible wasn’t read, or if it was, it was done hurriedly.  It’s like saying, “Let’s give God a nod but get right to the good stuff … our ideas.”

It seems to me that if a board is serious about Scripture, it will gravitate in the direction of fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission.

And its members will listen to what the Spirit is saying to their church.

Second, a spiritually mature board takes time to pray unhurriedly.

This may seem like a given, but I’ve sat in board meetings where we barely prayed at all.  I distinctly remember one meeting where neither the chairman nor anybody else prayed to open the meeting.

That meeting didn’t go well … and no wonder.  We didn’t invite God’s presence or direction into our time.

But I’ve been in many meetings where all the board members prayed before starting the meeting … everybody prayed at the conclusion of the meeting … and we’d stop and pray anytime we got stuck on an issue.

I’ve heard excuses for not doing this like “we can pray as individuals at home” or “we have such a packed agenda that we need to start immediately.”

But if the board is truly composed of a church’s most spiritual people, wouldn’t they want to ask God for His intervention in church life?

Didn’t Jesus tell His disciples, “Apart from me, you can do nothing?”

And that’s what happens when a board doesn’t take time to pray: nothing.

Third, a spiritually mature board values transparency concerning each person’s spiritual progress.

This can be done in conjunction with Scripture reading and prayer, but it’s essential … because only a board that’s growing spiritually can lead a church that’s growing spiritually and numerically.

As the Book of Malachi clearly specifies, as the leaders go, so go God’s people.

It seems to me there are three levels of sharing that go on between spiritual leaders:

Level One: how I’m doing at work

Level Two: how I’m doing with my family

Level Three: how I’m doing emotionally, morally, and spiritually

Most boards feel free to discuss Level One, especially if board members attend their meeting right after work.

Some board members will discuss certain family issues … especially the need for healing if a family member is physically ill.

But few if any board members will discuss their spiritual, moral, or emotional lives with each other … and yet Level Three represents the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth.

I once worked with a board where we had monthly meetings to discuss church issues … and weekly meetings to discuss our own spiritual growth.  The longer we met together, the more transparent we became with each other … and the more bonded we ended up becoming.

So when we came to do “board business,” decisions came quickly because we knew each other so well.

Finally, a spiritually mature board sets aside personal agendas and seeks God’s agenda for their church.

I once worked with a board member who had a dream: he wanted to see a worship center on the front lawn of our church’s property.

Our church at the time didn’t have a proper worship center, having met in a fellowship hall and a small gymnasium in the past.

This man was so influential that several of the buildings were named after members of his family!

But as God got ahold of his heart, he gave up his dream and chose to follow the Lord’s dream for that church instead.

And to do that, he pledged to follow the leadership of his pastor.

A prominent pastor once told me that several members of his governing board would meet in a restaurant before the official board meeting … and that was the real meeting.

Then they came to the official meeting and imposed their wills on everybody else.

That’s the exact opposite of what Anderson and Mylander are saying.

They believe that if board members say, “Our will be done,” that church is headed for disaster.

But if board members say, “Your will be done, Lord,” that church has a far greater chance to succeed.

In your church, do you think your board members are saying:

“Our will be done?”

or

“Lord, your will be done?”

Why don’t you take the time to find out?

Because the answer to those questions may well determine your church’s future … as well as your own spiritual growth.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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“We’re on a mission from God.”

Those immortal words from the film The Blues Brothers – a movie I’ve only seen in edited form on TV – perfectly describe in succinct form what the church of Jesus Christ is all about.

God has given His people an assignment: to “make disciples of all nations.”

The assignment is not to hold worship services … or to preach sermons … or to construct buildings … or to fashion a church budget … or to create a shelter from the world for our kids … or to have a small group ministry.

Those are all means to one end: to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission.

Jesus’ final words to His disciples are found in various forms in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; and Acts 1:8.

We worship God … listen to sermons … construct buildings … have youth groups and small groups and men’s groups and women’s groups … so we can make disciples of all nations.

And we do that by going … baptizing … and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20).

Most pastors know that carrying out the Great Commission is their divine assignment.

But from what I see and hear, most churches have flunked their assignment.  They aren’t making disciples … they aren’t baptizing new converts … and if they are teaching them Jesus’ words, their efforts have little to do with Christ’s divine mission.

In some cases, the pastor is the problem.  During my first few years as a pastor, I focused on helping believers grow spiritually – expecting they would share their faith with their network and eventually bring them to church.

But it never happened.

One year, I baptized one convert.

I asked myself, “What’s wrong with us?”  But in reality, I needed to ask “What’s wrong with me?”

Because in many ways, I was the problem.  I didn’t preach or prioritize the Great Commission at all … and our church was slowly dying.

Like many pastors, I was blocking the Great Commission in our church.

But once I realized my omission on the Commission, I changed my ways.  We built our church around Christ’s assignment and things changed dramatically.

But in talking to many pastors over the years, I realize that most know their God-given assignment, and want their church to go in that direction.

But when they try, they meet resistance.  In fact, this is the point at which many pastors are terminated.

Why?  Because the governing leaders and key opinion makers have another agenda for their church … and it’s not the Great Commission.

They want more and deeper Bible study.

They want to be doctrinally pure.

They want all of their family members … as well as their friends … to be happy.

They want to meet the budget.

They want to have a clean building.

While these are all worthwhile goals, they are not the Commission … they are possible means to the Commission.

But for some reason, most churches are willing to stop far short of actually winning people to Christ.

In fact, far too many of them are willing to make sure that the Commission is never fully implemented in their assembly.

Like one woman told a pastor friend: “I’d rather go to hell than to follow your leadership.”

Let me just say it: there are people in our churches who put their own personal agenda … and often the agenda of their friends … ahead of Christ’s agenda for their church.

When I attended the Catalyst seminar for Christian leaders several years ago, either Andy Stanley or Craig Groschel – I don’t remember which – told pastors:

“You cannot let anybody block the Great Commission in your church.”

I wholeheartedly agree with that statement.

In fact, they suggested that pastors remove anybody who is blocking the Great Commission in their church.

Recently I spent some time with a group of pastors who shared the same story over and over.  They said:

“We wanted to reach our community for Christ, but one longtime member … one bully … one board member … one faction … stood in our way.  As long as they were successful, the church didn’t go anywhere.

But when we wouldn’t meet their demands … when we confronted their misbehavior … when we removed them from office … when they left the church … that’s when the church took off.”

As I read Paul’s letters, I get the impression there were many professing believers who were blocking the Great Commission in their churches … like Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:19-2) … and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17-18) … and Alexander the metalworker (2 Tim. 4:14) … and the feuding women Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3).

When Paul wrote about these Commission blockers, he expressed a sense of urgency, as if he were saying, “Resolve these issues as soon as possible so you can resume your evangelistic efforts.”

I recently met with a longtime pastor friend for a meal.  As we discussed these kinds of people, he said, “Jim, I just don’t put up with it anymore.”

As the late Howard Hendricks used to say, may his tribe increase.

23 years ago, I came to a board meeting at the church I was pastoring with a radical proposal:

I suggested that we sell our church property and start over again in a different location.

As I described what we could become and the people we could reach, the two oldest board members caught the vision … for which I will always be grateful.

They said to me:

“Jim, we failed to reach our generation for Christ … but we want to do everything we can to help you reach your generation for Christ.”

And they did … sacrificing time and energy and money for the Great Commission.

Rather than block my proposal, they embraced it and led interference for me every step of the way.

And I will never, ever forget them for it.

We eventually did sell our property and start a new church, and in five years, we baptized 100 people … a far cry from one per year!

I don’t like saying it this way, but I’m going to say it anyway:

The pastor is the professional.  He’s been called by God … trained and certified and examined in countless ways … and he’s specially gifted to lead a church.

The governing board members are at best amateurs who lack God’s call … who lack special training …who haven’t been certified … and lack their pastor’s giftedness.

The factions inside the church may be vocal … and they may be loud … and they may claim, “The pastor hurt my feelings” … but they have no idea how to lead a church.

So I’m going to follow my pastor’s leadership … not that of the board or any faction – even if they are my friends.

This is the choice we all have.  In football parlance:

Am I going to block the plays my pastor calls, or am I going to block for the plays my pastor calls?

And if I can’t block for him, I’ll find another team where I can block for that pastor.

But one thing’s for sure: I never want to block the Great Commission from happening in my church.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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Several weeks ago, I was invited to attend an all-day Doctor of Ministry class at my seminary.

The first half of the class dealt with turning around a church, while the second half focused on conflict resolution.

As I came to understand, turnarounds often require conflict resolution.

Our instructor – a veteran pastor and conflict resolution practitioner – told us that in one church, 14 leaders were involved in sexual immorality.

You read that right: 14.

If there is a God … and if He is holy as Scripture indicates … and if He longs to bless His people … then how could He bless that church?

He couldn’t … and only a process involving individual and corporate repentance and reconciliation could help that group turn things around.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), including pastors, governing leaders, staff members, and average churchgoers.

When we confess our sins to God as individuals, He forgives us every time (1 John 1:9).

But sometimes churches tolerate the sins in their midst, and in those cases, God cannot and will not bless that church until they deal with those sins.

Having been in church ministry for nearly four decades, I’ve seen some sins that churches rarely deal with.  Let me list a few of the ones I’ve witnessed:

First, many churches do not protect their pastor from attacks.

While serving in my third staff position, my pastor was mercilessly assaulted verbally.  The attacks were undeserved, cruel, and personal.

My pastor called to tell me that he was so upset by these attacks that he couldn’t study for his Sunday message.  It was open season on him.

So I asked the deacon chairman if I could attend their next meeting.  I said, “Your pastor is under attack.  If you have a problem with something he’s doing or saying, then tell him yourself.  But if not, you need to protect him from these attacks.”

The deacons voted 5-2 to do something to protect their pastor … and then did nothing.

But the deacons weren’t the only ones responsible.  The malcontents became bold with their complaints and spread them throughout the church.

If just a few of the people who heard the complaints had challenged them … or reported them to the pastor or various board members … or to several of the opinion makers in the church … this whole sorry episode could have been avoided.

My pastor was never the same after he endured the attacks … and the after effects stayed with the church for years.

Just as Israel in the wilderness sinned by complaining against Moses and Aaron, so too thousands of congregations cannot move forward until they admit:

“Lord, forgive us for sinning against our pastor by not protecting him from slander and character assassination.”

Second, many churches tolerate … and even revel … in malicious gossip.

My first pastorate was in a small church in Silicon Valley.  It didn’t take long for me to size up what happened if certain women didn’t like what their pastor did or said.

There were four middle-aged women who had plenty of time on their hands.  The locations of their houses roughly formed an invisible square.

They talked on the phone a lot … and seemed to delight in running down people at every possible opportunity.

For most of my ministry life, I have tried to apply the truths of Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 to gossips:

“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you – for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.”

In other words, since I’ve said unkind things about others, I need to be gracious when others are unkind toward me.

But one woman in particular could be nasty.  She didn’t just talk about other people – she tried to destroy them with her tongue.

All I had to do was listen to the way she talked about others to know how she talked about me.

Since these women were more than twice my age, my wife and I tried to love on them as much as possible.

But church leaders … most of them males … knew how destructive these women were, yet would not speak to them about this issue.

It’s not necessarily a sin to talk about others … but it is a sin to talk about them maliciously.

For that reason, many churches need to admit:

“Lord, forgive us for tolerating malicious gossip in our midst.”

Third, some churches tolerate sexual immorality.

I was once a staff member in a church where sexual immorality was rampant.

Let’s just say that some of the activities at church parties weren’t condoned by Scripture.

When this behavior finally leaked out, I couldn’t believe it … because many of the participants were leaders and teachers … and even people who had led and taught me.

This misbehavior had to be known by many people … but people maintained silence for a long time.

When somebody finally spoke up and told the pastor, he took immediate action … and the perpetrators all left the church.

But how can God bless a church where key leaders are fooling around with impunity?

Some churches need to confess:

“Lord, forgive us for tolerating sexual immorality in our midst.”

Fourth, most churches don’t take Christ’s Great Commission seriously.

If it’s true that only 15% of all churches are growing – and that 85% of churches are stagnating or declining – it’s easy to see why:

Most churches exist only for themselves.

I recently held some conversations with a church in another state.  They claimed they wanted to reach out to unbelievers in their community but refused to make any changes in their worship service.

But if and when guests do visit, they can immediately sense that the service is designed for those who are already there … and that they are excluded by default.

And if they feel that way, they won’t be back.

I honestly believe that most Christians either think there isn’t a hell or that the unbelievers they know aren’t going there.

And since nobody is spiritually lost, let’s just make church for us!

And that’s how most churches act.  They’re stuck in survival mode because they don’t take Matthew 28:18-20 seriously.

But most churches need to admit:

“Lord, forgive us for being apathetic toward lost people … and empower all of us to bring people to Christ.”

Finally, some churches need to deal with painful memories.

I’m currently reading a book by Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander called Extreme Church Makeover.

The subtitle tells it all: “A biblical plan to help your church achieve unity and freedom in Christ.”

The authors state that most churches try to ignore their past, but “if leaders sweep repeated offenses under the rug, they will soon trip over them.”

They observe: “If the leaders bury the painful past and refuse to discuss it, they cut themselves off from God’s blessings for today and tomorrow.”

They go on: “Some of Satan’s favorite deceptions are that darkness is safer than light, that hidden things are better not discussed, and that pain has no permanent resolution.  Misguided leaders see painful church memories as something embarrassing that should be ignored, thus allowing the sores to fester instead of heal.”

Many families have experienced a traumatic event in their past.  They refuse to discuss it because they don’t want to relive the pain.  But those painful memories linger in the minds of sensitive family members.  The family remains quietly or openly fractured until they finally face their past and seek healing … which usually requires some degree of confession and forgiveness.

Church families often behave the same way.

Anderson and Mylander ask:

“Is it really possible that Satan can take advantage of a church corporately because of painful memories?”

They go on: “We believe he can.  It is not the memory itself that gives the enemy an advantage over us, but rather the lack of forgiveness. . . . because refusing corporate forgiveness allows Satan to have access to the church.”

I have only scratched the surface of sins that churches in our day tolerate.  (Read Jesus’ words to the churches in Revelation 2-3 for some eye-opening divine evaluations.)

What are some church sins that you’ve noticed?

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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I love music.

My mom tells me that when I was two years old, I would sing at the top of my lungs while she pushed me around Safeway in a grocery cart.

I had a little phonograph, and I would listen to my records over and over … like “Romper Room Do Bee” or “Punchy the Clown” or “How Much is That Doggy in the Window?”

Even now … while I’m writing this article … Bach is playing gently in the background.

But when I attend worship services at my church, I don’t always sing … and from looking around, I can tell that many people feel just like me.

Why do so many Christians NOT sing in church?

Should we automatically conclude that they aren’t spiritual?

Let me speak for myself:

First, I don’t always feel like singing.  I’ve always been someone who believes that you don’t wait for positive feelings and then do something … you do the right thing and then positive feelings will follow.

When I was a pastor, I didn’t always feel like singing during worship … but I did.

But now that I’m not a pastor, people aren’t taking their cues from me … and I find that both refreshing and liberating.

After experiencing traumatic events at the hands of professing Christians several years ago, it was a struggle for me just to attend a worship service for months.

When I finally found a seat, I didn’t want to stand up … or clap my hands … or sing loudly.

My heart had been broken.  When I tried to sing, all I could do was utter soft, muffled sounds.

My guess is that scores of people want to sing during worship time, but their hearts have been broken, too … and they just don’t feel like it.

Can we cut them some slack?

I think of the final words to the song “The Sound of Music: “My heart will be blessed with the sound of music, and I’ll sing once more.”

Those whose hearts are broken may very well sing again if we just let God heal their hearts first.

Second, I can’t sing certain phrases or songs.  Some worship songs are written as love songs to the Lord, and I’m uncomfortable with them.

For example, I cringe every time we used to sing “Draw Me Close to You.”  As a guy, I don’t like singing about “the warmth of your embrace” to Jesus … and I am not alone.

I was recently in a service where we were asked to sing a song that, in my view, was poorly written and not conducive to worship.  I would have felt silly singing that song … so I didn’t sing it at all.

Remember the old hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”  It’s a classic … but the phrase “emptied himself of all but love” (referring to Jesus’ incarnation) is theologically unsound … so I always hummed over those words rather than sing them.

I’m not trying to be critical, but to sing with integrity, and that means there are some phrases … and songs … that I just can’t sing.

Third, singing wears me out.  While I sang in Boy’s Glee Club for a few years in Jr. High, I am not a trained singer.  Even though I’ll listen to hours of music during the week, I rarely sing along … and if I do, it’ll be just a few bars.

For 167 hours every week, I don’t sing … and then I come to church, where the congregation is asked to sing 4 or 5 or 6 songs.

The people on the stage love to sing … that’s why they’re up there.  I admire their ability and enthusiasm.

But I don’t want to sing 6 songs during worship.  3 is optimal … and 4 is stretching it.

So after 3 or 4 songs, I’m done.  My throat is starting to hurt … I don’t feel like clapping anymore … and I’d like to sit down.

I love the Lord, and I love to worship Him, so I don’t think I’m being unspiritual.

But I’m human, and I have limits … and so do others.

So if you see me sitting down or not singing, it’s not a protest … I’m conserving my energy so I can listen to the sermon.

Finally, I’d rather listen to others play and sing than to sing myself.  That’s what happened at our church yesterday.  I chose to be silent and focus on the words rather than sing them myself.

The best church services I’ve ever attended were at Bay Horizons Church in Silicon Valley during the 1990s.  We’d sing two worship songs at the beginning of the service and then have two performance songs later on … usually ending with one more worship song at the end of the service.

For me, that was the optimal use of music during worship.  Because we started with just two worship songs, I could sing with my entire being, knowing that was all that would be asked of me.

And then I could sit back and listen to gifted musicians back a gifted vocalist with a song that would almost always touch my heart.

This approach is certainly biblical.  The Psalms were the hymnbook of ancient Israel, and many of them were written in the first person, while others were meant to be sung by a congregation.

I know the trend today is for the congregation to sing and for gifted vocalists to sing only on the worship team.

But as I’ve written before, I’d remember those performance songs months or years later … and I would always look forward to them.

In their book Setting Your Church Free, Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander write:

“Why do some people never sing in church – not even a joyful noise?  Some, of course, have perfectly normal reasons.  They may not know the words or the tune, or some may be tone deaf or feel socially inhibited.  But others are being spiritually inhibited from singing hymns and choruses of praise to God. . . . The evil one does not like praise music.  David played the harp and the evil spirit departed from Saul.”

I love my Savior Jesus and Christian music, but I don’t always want to sing.  Does that make me less spiritual?

How many times are we told that Jesus sang?  Just once … after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30).

As a man, a veteran believer, and a former pastor, I don’t pretend to speak for everybody else in the church.

But I’ve tried to lay out four reasons why I don’t always sing in church, and my guess is that many others would resonate with what I’ve written.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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