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Imagine that the following letter was written to the church board by a pastor who was unfairly terminated five years before …

September 29, 2017

Dear Board Member,

You probably hoped that you would never hear from me again, but I’m asking you, as a fellow member of God’s family, to read my letter below.

I will never forget the day you terminated me as pastor of Christ Church after twelve years of ministry.  It was the last Sunday in September 2012.

We had started a new series on the Sermon on the Mount.  My text that morning was Matthew 5:11-12:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

How ironic that after that particular service, you would ask to meet with me in my study and announce that I was being terminated immediately!

Since that meeting, I’ve had five years to reflect on what you did … and why … and I’d like to ask you five questions.  I’d welcome an answer … either through email or a letter … so we can all obtain some closure.

Here are my questions:

First, why was my termination so abrupt?

If you were unhappy with me or my ministry, why didn’t you ever talk to me about it directly?

If someone on the board had said to me, “Pastor, we think your preaching is unbiblical or unhelpful,” we could have discussed it openly.

If someone felt that the church wasn’t growing at the rate it should, we could have benefited from an honest dialogue.

If someone believed that I wasn’t the best fit for the future, you could have told me and I would have started looking for another ministry.

But when you fired me without warning … after I had just preached my heart out in two services … you not only damaged me and my family, but the entire congregation.

We could have resolved any issues as long as we did so together.  When you decided to deliberate in secret without ever seeking my input, you crossed a line.

How was I a threat to you or the congregation?  What danger did I pose?

Second, why didn’t you follow Jesus’ steps for correction in Matthew 18:15-17?

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

You never did that.

Then Jesus recommends adding one or two witnesses if His directive in verse 15 doesn’t work.

You never did that, either.

Then He said in verse 17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

You did do that.

You announced to the church that I had been dismissed as pastor, but you never followed Jesus’ directives in verses 15 and 16 about having private meetings first.

Even if I had committed adultery or stolen funds from the offering plate, you still should have worked the steps that Jesus outlined.

The church bylaws specified that was the process, not only for correcting the pastor, but also for correcting staff members, board members, and church members.

We used Matthew 18:15-17 when we corrected Steve, our associate pastor, in 2008.  We used it again when we corrected Bill, our fellow board member, in 2011.

Why did you feel that I was the exception to that longstanding guideline?

If you had followed our Savior’s directives, I might have sensed that something was wrong, and taken steps either to resolve the issues, or find another ministry.

But you never did.

Jesus says that when the steps are followed, you have “won your brother over.”

But when you don’t follow His steps, everyone loses.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve often wondered if you were exacting revenge on me for some mistake on my part.

If not, why did you blindside me?

Third, what did I do that deserved termination?

To this day, I still don’t know.

Our church was growing numerically.  Our giving improved five percent from the year before.  We had more small groups than at any time in the church’s history.

I thought we were doing well, and more importantly, I thought you thought we were doing well.

People were coming to faith in Christ.  We baptized five to ten people every quarter.  Many people told their family and friends about our church.

You never told me, “We should be growing at a more rapid rate,” or “We need more money to pay our bills.”  When the statistical reports were given at the monthly board meeting, not one board member ever said, “We should be doing better than this.”

Eighty to eighty-five percent of all churches aren’t growing, but Christ Church was in the top fifteen to twenty percent of churches nationwide as far as growth.

I don’t really know what else I could have done.  I worked fifty to sixty hours every week.  I gave the church my heart and soul.

When you announced my firing, I asked you what I had done wrong … but you didn’t tell me … at least, not to my face.

Five years later, I still wake up in the middle of the night, wondering what I did wrong … and how I could have avoided termination.

As hard as it might have been on you, I’d sleep much better today if you’d been honest with me five years ago.

But while you didn’t tell me why I was released, you did tell others.

Fourth, why was I hurried out of the church?

It takes a pastor at least a year to find a new ministry these days, but you only offered me two months of severance pay.

You told me to take it or leave it, without letting me pray about it, speak with my family, or consult with my network.

You told me to clean out my office in three days.

You didn’t permit me to preach a final sermon or say goodbye publicly.

You instituted a gag order on the staff and board not to talk about my departure in any way.

Why did you treat me like a pagan or a tax collector instead of your brother?

My wife and I suffered humiliation and shame from the way you handled matters.  Was that your intent?

Because of the way you treated me, there will be a cloud over me for the rest of my life.

Finally, why didn’t you protect my reputation after I left?

I’ve heard rumors since I left … ugly, nasty stories … about why I was really terminated.  I don’t know where these rumors originated, but I thought I’d recount several for you.

“He used the church credit card for personal purchases.”

Not true.

Who thought I did this?  Why didn’t you ask me about it personally?

I had a twelve-year track record of financial integrity.  Didn’t that count for anything?

“He seemed too friendly with the office manager.”

What does that mean?

We were friends, yes … every pastor wants to get along with his office manager, who can make or break his ministry.

But I have always loved and been faithful to my wife, as you well know.

Some of you seemed pretty friendly over the years with women who weren’t your wives.  Should I have called you out without any evidence?

If so, how would that square with Paul’s instructions toward church leaders suspected of wrongdoing in 1 Timothy 5:19-21?

“He made decisions without consulting the board.”

Which decisions?

Every pastor makes hundreds of decisions every week.  You never told me, “We want to be consulted on these specific issues.”  I used my best judgment … which seemed acceptable to the board for nearly my entire tenure … on every decision I made.

When did things change?

“He didn’t manage his family well.”

My wife and I have been happily married for 27 years.

Shana our daughter, and Brad our son, both attended nearly every church service and brought friends before they entered college.

They both earned undergraduate degrees … and both have solid jobs.

Even though they don’t live nearby, we see them several times a year, and our family is doing very well … as it always has.

Shana married a fine Christian man.  Brad still hasn’t found the right woman, but he’s doing great.

How did I fail as a husband or a father?

I’d like to know why you as godly leaders didn’t put a stop to those rumors when they were being circulated after my departure.

If I had heard such rumors about any of you, I would have put a stop to them immediately, and recommended that anyone concerned speak with you personally.

But I wasn’t afforded the same courtesy, was I?  Why not?

If I had to hazard a guess, is it because you wanted to harm my reputation so I couldn’t interfere in church life in the future?

But do you know how much pain you’ve caused us by not refuting those rumors, either privately or publicly?

We’ve not only lost friendships we enjoyed for years, but those rumors may have kept me from obtaining two ministry jobs where I was a finalist.

I could tell by the way the questions were slanted.

_______________

Since I left Christ Church five years ago:

*I’ve been forced to take a secular sales job that doesn’t pay even half of what I earned as a pastor.

*My wife has suffered from depression and anxiety attacks and attends church once a month … at best.

*I’m not involved as a church volunteer because whenever people hear I’m a former pastor, they shy away from me.

*My wife is still under the care of a Christian counselor.

But from what I’ve heard, Christ Church has suffered as well:

*Your attendance is less than half of what it was five years ago.

*The church staff has fallen from nine to three staffers.

*You’ve lost many good people … primarily because you never told them why you terminated their pastor.

*You’ve had three pastors in five years.

Was it worth it?

_______________

So if you had to do it over again:

*Would you fire me abruptly?

*Would you ignore the process Jesus specified in Matthew 18:15-17?

*Would you avoid giving me reasons for my dismissal?

*Would you still keep me from saying goodbye?

*Would you fail to protect my reputation?

If the answer to even one of those questions is “no,” then why don’t you contact me and admit your error?

I promise that I will forgive you.  That will benefit the congregation, you as individuals, and me and my family.

It could be a new beginning for everyone.

Many Christians believe that unity trumps everything, including truth.

But I believe the New Testament teaches that truth comes before unity.  In fact, I believe that unity is always based upon truth.

With that in mind, I’ve sent this letter via email to former and current church leaders, some of whom will undoubtedly contact you about it.

That’s why I call this an “open letter.”

I’ll let those leaders decide where to go from here.

I’m not about revenge but reconciliation.

How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing a church … especially in 2017 … can be very difficult indeed.

Maybe that’s why 80 to 85% of all churches are either stagnant or in decline.

The Lord permitted me to be the solo or senior pastor of four different churches … three in Silicon Valley, one across the bay from San Francisco.

All of the churches initially grew.

My second ministry grew and then shrank when we lost thirty people at once.  My last ministry grew slowly but steadily until we were the largest Protestant church in our city of 75,000 people.

So I’ve known a degree of success … but I’ve also known my share of heartache.

Many years ago, I came up with a theory about the kinds of pastors who grow churches.  I ran my theory by one of the world’s most brilliant church growth experts, and he told me that, in general, my theory was accurate.

Paul’s words about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:18 absolutely nail it:

“But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

We might say, “God has arranged the pastors in the body … just as he wanted them” as well.

Let’s break it down like this:

First, if a pastor’s primary gifting is in pastoring/shepherding, he will tend to pastor smaller churches.

I know someone who is a great pastor.  He really loves his people as individuals.  He becomes personally involved in their lives.  He counsels them and prays for them and hurts with them.

And I’d be surprised if his church has ever broken 150 people on a Sunday.

He’d like his church to grow, but knowing his people and their problems is far more important to him.

If a pastor wants to lead a growing ministry, he has to let others share the pastoring … but many pastors aren’t comfortable doing that.

The ratio in church growth circles is that one pastor can only care for 150 people.  If a church wants to grow beyond 150, they need to either hire another staff member or train more lay shepherds.

But if a pastor is dead set on being the church’s only shepherd … and many pastors are … then the church probably won’t grow past 150 … and may be considerably smaller.

The people who attend such a church often do so because they want the pastor’s attention.  They want to know him personally and have access to him whenever they need him.

So once the pastor tries to have others help with the pastoring, many sheep will resist.  They want their pastor!

Knowing this, I still struggled in this area in my last ministry.  As our church grew, I had less time to visit shut-ins, for example.  Even though I arranged for others to visit them, I kept telling myself, “Yes, but they want to see their pastor, too” … and I especially felt that way if they were seriously ill or near death’s door.

Sometimes, I just couldn’t let go … especially if I had already formed a bond with someone.

But the more I focused on pastoring people one-on-one, the more it drained me … and the more the church suffered.

Second, if a pastor’s primary gifting is in preaching/teaching, he will tend to pastor medium-sized churches.

My father-in-law once told me about two brothers who were both pastors.  One brother was a gifted teacher and pastored a church of several hundred people.  The other brother wasn’t as gifted a teacher but led a church of thousands … and was known all over Southern California.  (My father-in-law taught him in graduate school.)

Gifted teachers don’t necessarily pastor large churches.

They often try to lead through their teaching, but as insightful and practical as it may be, teaching alone usually isn’t enough to propel a church into becoming large.

If that pastor ends up on the radio … or his church has a Roku channel … or his church puts video of his sermon online … that can help the church to grow larger … at least for a while.

But gifted teachers want to spend their time studying and teaching as much as they can … and that won’t automatically grow a church.

Teaching was my primary gift.  My first church … which was very small … expected me to be a shepherd, so I was constantly frustrated.  I didn’t want to shoot the breeze with shut-ins every month.  (And the average age in that church was sixty.)

I was also expected to teach Sunday School … preach on Sunday mornings … preach on Sunday evenings … and teach on Wednesday nights.

And to do that well is nearly a full-time job.

When I was studying and teaching, I felt like I was doing what I was born to do.

When I was visiting shut-ins, I felt like I was wasting my time.

If the congregation had turned me loose to spend most of my time teaching, we might have grown … but some constantly griped, “He doesn’t visit enough.”

So I visited shut-ins during the day, visited newcomers at night … and resented it much of the time.

I’d handle things better if I had to do it over again, but at the time, all I wanted to do was study and teach.

And when I finally got into a situation where I had two full days a week to study … the church grew to the verge of becoming large.

Finally, if a pastor’s primary gifting is in leadership, he will tend to pastor a larger church.

I once heard Pastor Bill Hybels give a talk about ten kinds of leaders.

He said that the leaders who grow the large churches are great at putting together ministry teams.  The leader selects a team leader … gives him/her a charter … offers some training … and then turns the team loose.

Then the leader puts together another team … and another … and another.

While I sometimes did that, my wife … who was a staff member in my last church for many years … did that instinctively.  She just knew what to do.

Those who pastor larger churches also tend to be visionaries.  They know the direction they want the church to go in five and ten years.

That wasn’t me, either.

I usually knew the next thing to do, and with God’s help, the goal would become reality … eventually.

But five years out?  That was too fuzzy for me.

Teachers clearly see the past, and milk it for their illustrations and applications in preaching … but the future looks dim.

Leaders just as clearly see the future, and mobilize people and resources in that direction … but they’re not as great looking at the past.

There was once a famous pastor whose Sunday service was televised.  He wrote books and was involved in the culture wars.

I didn’t think he was all that great a preacher.  He preached in a robe … didn’t deal with issues in any depth … and didn’t say anything all that memorable.

But he must have been a great leader because he presided over a church that grew and grew.

Over the years, I’ve learned that most large congregations aren’t led by great teachers, but by great leaders.

The only time most of us see a pastor is when he is preaching a thirty to forty minute message on a Sunday.

What we don’t see is how they run the church all week long … and that’s what really determines the church’s growth.

Back in the late 1970s, Dr. Lloyd Oglivie was the senior pastor of Hollywood Presbyterian Church … yes, in Hollywood, California.

One of my best friends got married there one Saturday afternoon, and he invited me to be his best man.

During rehearsal time, I wandered backstage, and I saw a document I’ve never forgotten.

Dr. Oglivie took 115 church leaders on a retreat.  When the retreat was over, the leaders all signed their names to a covenant which spelled out the church’s direction.

That really impressed me.

The best church leaders get a vision from God … sell that vision to their staff, board, and key leaders … and then use those leaders to cast the vision to the rest of the church.

If you’d rather be shepherding the hurting … or teaching God’s Word … you might try and be a better leader, but eventually, you’ll revert to the way God made you to be.

God made me to be a teacher.

It energized me.  I worked hard at it, just as 1 Timothy 5:17-19 specifies.

But pastoring drained me … and leadership sometimes overwhelmed me.

_______________

Let me end this article with four thoughts about a pastor’s giftedness and conflict:

First, the greatest conflict a pastor experiences is inside his own spirit.

In my last ministry, I spent all day Thursday at home studying for my Sunday message.  I usually worked into the night, got up early on Friday (my day off), and finished just before noon.

Invariably, whenever someone from the church went into the hospital … or died … it was on Thursday or Friday.

I always went to visit the person or their family, but I’d be anxious to get back to my study.

Once I went into study mode, it was hard to switch to pastoring mode … and hard to switch back again.

But that’s the nature of church ministry.

Accept it, and you’ll do well.  Fight it … like I sometimes did … and it can take a toll on you.

Second, the pastors of growing churches have learned to focus on their primary giftedness and delegate the rest.

I took a class at Fuller Seminary where our professor told us that to be fulfilled in ministry, we needed to spend at least 70% of our time in the area of our giftedness.

We either needed to develop skills to do the other 30% of our job, or find gifted people and delegate assignments to them.

Back in the early 1990s, a well-known pastor suffered a breakdown.  He was spending half his time every week studying for messages, but his real gifting was in leadership and evangelism.

He persuaded his elders to let him rearrange his job description and his schedule so he could be who God made him to be.

The church did very well … that pastor is still there … and he’s influenced thousands of leaders for Christ since then.

The pastor needs to determine what he’s going to do, and then get the board to sign off on it.  It doesn’t mean the pastor is shirking his duties … it means he’s sharpening his focus.

And that’s when God can bless.

Third, church leaders need to be realistic about a pastor’s job description.

I recently read about a pastor who was contacted by a megachurch.  They sent him their job description, the pastor totaled up the hours … and they came to 82 hours a week.

And let me tell you … nearly every church expects their pastor to do many things that aren’t on the job description.

That’s a recipe for losing your marriage … turning off your kids to Christ … and heading for a breakdown or burnout.

Personally, I think a pastor should work 45 to 50 hours a week … and that’s counting all his work on Sunday.  (If it doesn’t count, why should the pastor show up?)

In my last ministry, I spent less than 50% of my time in the area of my giftedness … it drained me … and it eventually caught up with me.

Finally, pastors need to train and trust leaders before the pastor is ready for them to lead.

Here’s the stat that I learned:

A pastor needs to recruit and train leaders … and turn them loose when they’re 70% ready.

Not 100% … 70%.

But the more in control a pastor has to be, the harder it is for him to relinquish key ministry to someone else … especially if the pastor thinks he can do a better job.

Yes, some ministries will probably die using that idea, but many more will thrive because people like to own their ministries.

That’s why the pastor needs to focus on his primary giftedness before he does anything else.

What are your thoughts about what I’ve written?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted to walk out of church last Sunday morning.

All because of a song.

During last Sunday’s praise and worship time at the church Kim and I have been attending, I became very uncomfortable because we kept repeating the same phrase while singing a popular worship song called “King of My Heart.”

Two Sundays ago, the worship team led the congregation in singing this song.

And I noticed that one phrase was repeated 22 times:

“You are good, good, oh” … which means we sang the word “good” 44 times.

Then last Sunday, they sang the song once more!  (As the song was starting, I turned to Kim and said, “Oh, no, not again.”)

Just in case singing this phrase over and over was an aberration, I decided to go online and see if I could find a video of a praise and worship band singing the song.

I did.

By my count, they sang the phrase, “You are good, good, oh” 24 times … and the phrase “You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me go” 16 times … in the same song.

You might like this … but it drives me nuts … so much so that I wanted to run out of the service, get in my car, and drive … anywhere.

I remember when praise songs first came from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in the mid-1970s.  We’d sing a song twice and some older people would get upset, claiming that singing the song several times consisted of vain repetition.

What would they think now?

In a blog that’s usually devoted to resolving conflict, I may be creating more conflict than I’m helping to resolve … but I feel strongly about this issue even though some might consider me nit-picky, ungodly, or nearly heretical.

Since this isn’t the only song that relies on the repetition of certain phrases, why are Christians writing and singing songs with such repetitive lyrics?

I don’t know … so I’m going to make three guesses:

First, we need to repeat those phrases for God’s benefit.

But God knows He’s good.  He doesn’t need us to remind Him.

Yes, He likes it when we recite His attributes … whether in prayer or in song … but the biblical pattern is to recite many of His attributes at once, not just to focus on one.

For example, in 1 Timothy 1:17, Paul writes, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.”

Or in Jude 25, Jesus’ half-brother writes, “… to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord; before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.”

But do we have biblical evidence that God doesn’t like His people repeating phrases?

In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus said:

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

The song “King of My Heart” is certainly written as a prayer because it’s directed to God.   While I don’t think that singing “You are good, good, oh” necessarily rates as babbling, the constant repetition of phrases does seem to fall into the category of “many words.”

In light of Jesus’ instructions, can we at least think twice about singing so many phrases over and over?

We also have nearly zero examples in the Bible of such repetition during worship.  For example, we have 150 psalms, yet there is only one where I can detect a repetitive phrase … in Psalm 136 … where the phrase, “His love endures forever” is found at the end of all 26 verses.

But one example hardly a pattern makes.

I tell my wife that I love her all the time, and when I do, I try and do it with a degree of creativity.  But what would she think if I turned to her and said:

You are good, good, oh

You are good, good, oh

You are good, good, oh

You are good, good, oh

So why do we do that with God?  Could we even be boring Him?

Second, we need to repeat those phrases for our own benefit.

When we’re singing the phrase, “You are good, good, oh” repeatedly, I wonder if we’re doing it for ourselves.

Maybe we don’t really believe God is good, but if we sing it and sing it and sing it and sing it out aloud … and loudly … maybe we’ll start believing it.

But how many times do we need to sing that phrase before we do believe it?  8 times?  12?  16?

24 times?  Really?

I once attended a workshop led by one of America’s best-known worship leaders.  He told us that he would initially select the songs for the following Sunday, then submit them to his pastor, who would either approve his selections or cross out certain songs and replace them with others.

The worship leader told us that the previous Sunday, the pastor had crossed out all of the songs he proposed.

This is one I’d be tempted to cross out myself.

I think the song “King of My Heart” is an okay song (my apologies if it’s one of your favorites) … but if I were pastoring again, and the worship leader proposed that song to me, I’d say, “We’re singing the phrase ‘You are good, good, oh’ a maximum of 8 times, and ‘You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down’ 4 times, and that’s it.  If you can’t live with that, we’re not going to do it.”

I banned the song “Draw Me Close to You” at my last church because I felt the song didn’t appeal to men … and that leads me to my third guess:

Third, we need to repeat those phrases so we can feel something.

And this is what I think is really going on.

Without actually saying it, I believe that in many churches, the praise and worship time is considered to be the emotional time of the service, while the preaching is viewed as the intellectual part.

So during the emotional part of the service, it’s okay for any technique to be employed just so people feel that elusive “worship high” … an indication they’ve connected with God.

And repeating a phrase is one of those techniques.

On the video I watched online of a church’s worship band playing this song, I noticed that the song started quietly … built up to a place where the singers were nearly shouting, like in a power ballad … and then ended quietly.

Everyone had their eyes closed.  Some of the singers were going through various bodily gyrations with their hands raised.

The purpose of the song didn’t seem to involve reciting truth, but inciting feeling. 

Could we be using phrases like mantras?  Certainly transcendental meditation relies upon the repetition of words and phrases.

In his book Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow contrasts “old worship” (the kind many of us grew up with) with “new worship” (what he calls P&W … praise and worship):

“The old worship was formal, corporate, and emotionless.  The new worship is informal, individualistic, and touchy-feely.  The old worship was about coming together to extol God; the new worship is about coming together to experience God.  The target of worship has fallen half a meter – from the head to the heart.”

Maybe, as Murrow says, I respond negatively to songs like this because I’m a man.  He believes that praise and worship music “has harmed men’s worship more than it has helped.”  Murrow writes:

“Before P&W, Christians sang hymns about God.  But P&W songs are mostly sung to God.  The difference may seem subtle, yet it completely changes how worshipers relate to the Almighty.  P&W introduced a familiarity and intimacy with God that’s absent in many hymns.”  (“In the Garden” being a noted exception.)

Murrow then summarizes his observations:

“With hymns, God is out there.  He’s big.  Powerful.  Dangerous.  He’s a leader.  With P&W, God is at my side.  He’s close.  Intimate.  Safe.  He’s a lover.”

Murrow then puts his finger on how many men feel … including me:

“The great hymns summon men to the battlefield – but many of today’s P&W songs seem to be summoning men to the bedroom.  Some contain man-love imagery that’s plainly uncomfortable for men…. Lovey-dovey praise songs force a man to express his affection to God using words he would never, ever, ever say to another guy.  Even a guy he loves.  Even a guy named Jesus.”

His conclusion:

“The Bible never describes our love for God in such erotic terms.  The men of Scripture loved God, but they were never desperate for him or in love with him.  Men are looking for a male leader – not a male lover.”

My own view of worship is that:

*Every song should start with biblical truth and that our emotions should be a response to that truth.  There should never be a time when we’re simply emotional without engaging our minds.

One passage that can give us guidance is 1 Corinthians 14, where the context is public worship.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:15, “So what shall I do?  I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”

He adds in 14:19, “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

And then he adds in 14:20, “Brothers, stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”

*The preaching time should also be characterized by biblical truth first, emotion second.  As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say, preaching may be defined as “logic on fire!”

I’ve heard some mindless sermons that simply tried to engage people’s emotions, but also I’ve heard plenty of sermons that espoused truth but lacked any semblance of passion.

We need truth first … followed by emotion … in all of our worship experiences.

I love many … not all … of the old hymns, and I also love many of the newer praise and worship songs … although I have a bias for the songs from the 1990s.

But as I get older, I have to admit, I’m leaning more toward hymns with rich theology … and away from newer songs that are more emotional and repetitive.

_______________

My wife and I recently perused the book Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, written by William J. Petersen & Ardythe Petersen.

I’d read aloud the stories behind the writing of some of the songs to my wife, and then without looking at the lyrics, we’d just start singing them … including some I haven’t sung for 50 years.

And we’d cry …. and barely be able to get through some of them.

We know those songs so well because we sang them so many times in the past, even if we haven’t sung them for decades.

But those songs rarely if ever repeated the same phrase over and over again … unless we were singing “Deep and Wide” while using motions.

How about you?  Do you like singing the same phrases over and over?

And if so, how much is too much?

I’m curious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something didn’t happen at the last two Sunday services I attended … at two different churches … and it’s been bothering me … a lot.

Neither church made any mention of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in the wider Houston area, even though it’s been the top story in our nation for many days.

The crisis wasn’t mentioned in any prayer … during the announcements … or in either sermon.

And I wondered, “Why not?”

I’ve been noticing a trend in churches that greatly disturbs me … the ability we Christians have to block out what’s going on in the world around us … both during our services and our sermons.

I’m increasingly seeing churches … and pastors … who act like the entire world is encapsulated inside their congregation.

And personally, I think this makes us look foolish.

The trend is for pastors to designate the first half of their services to their worship/music director … who usually insists that the only way to worship God is to have the congregation stand and sing for at least thirty minutes.

Whatever happened to a meaningful public prayer … a heartfelt performance song … or interviews/testimonies involving people from the congregation?

They’ve disappeared … and I wonder why.

In my last two pastorates, I met every Monday night with the teams that planned our Sunday services.  It gave me the opportunity to present where I was going with the following Sunday’s sermon … solicit ideas from others … and make sure the services were characterized by CARE: creativity, authenticity, relevance, and excellence.

But in their place, we now have a half hour of non-creative, often inauthentic, and largely irrelevant songs done in an excellent manner.

I guess if a church is trying to shut out and separate itself from the world … and give people a weekly foretaste of heaven … that’s okay.

But I don’t think most churches that do that are going to reach very many people.

Many years ago, my wife and I were in Edinburgh on a Sunday morning, and we attended a Church of Scotland service.

We met in a darkened room with a minimal amount of light.

We sang psalms without any musical instruments.

The pastor preached on Mark 9:14-32, the story about Jesus casting out a demon from a little boy.  His exposition was top-notch … but he didn’t offer even one story or apply the message to our lives in any way.

Maybe that’s why I counted only 32 people in that service.

But that kind of irrelevance isn’t just found in somebody else’s culture … it’s in ours as well.

Several years ago, I was invited to attend a planning meeting with a pastor and a few of his key leaders.

I made an offhand comment about dealing with the issues of the day from a biblical viewpoint, and received pushback from everyone present, which startled me.

The upshot was, “We don’t talk about cultural issues in this church.  We don’t mention anything that might be controversial.  We leave those issues at home.  We’re only going to talk about our relationship with God and our relationship with each other.”

I countered by saying, “I believe that Jesus is Lord of our entire lives, and that means we need to relate His Lordship to what’s going on around us: in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools, and our country.”

But my plea fell on deaf ears.

John Stott is the closest we evangelicals have had to a pope over the past fifty years.  In his book on preaching titled Between Two Worlds, Stott recounts a conversation he once had with two university students in Great Britain.  Both students had been raised in a traditional Christian home, but had renounced their parents’ faith and their own upbringing.

One was an atheist, the other a self-proclaimed agnostic.

Stott asked them, “What had happened?  Was it that they no longer believed Christianity to be true?”

They replied, “No, that’s not our problem.  We’re not really interested to know whether Christianity is true…. What we want to know is not whether Christianity is true, but whether it’s relevant.  And frankly, we don’t see how it can be.”

Charles Spurgeon once said: “I know a minister who is great upon the ten toes of the beast, the four faces of the cherubim, the mystical meaning of badgers’ skins, and the typical bearings of the staves of the ark, and the windows of Solomon’s temple: but the sins of business men, the temptations of the times, and the needs of the age, he scarcely ever touches upon.”

In other words, he was totally irrelevant.

One might think that only small churches lack relevance, but that isn’t always the case.

I visited the largest church in my city several times a few years ago.  The pastor was preaching through Ephesians, and when he got to 5:22-33 … Paul’s passage on marriage … the pastor gave a solid exposition but failed to say anything about gay marriage even though it was the hottest topic in the land at the time.

Why couldn’t he at least say, “Moses … Jesus … and Paul all agree that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman?”

Instead, why did he punt on that issue?

Some might counter with, “He’s not going to change anyone’s mind on an issue like that.”

But why preach at all then?  Isn’t that what a preacher is supposed to do … change minds and hearts using God’s Word?  How limited do we think the Holy Spirit is?

John Stott … who wrote two entire books devoted to contemporary issues in the 1980s (including gay partnerships) … writes to preachers:

“On the whole, if I may generalize, we do not make sufficient demands on the congregation.  When they come to church, they have heard it all before.  They have known it since they were in junior Sunday School.  It is stale, boring and irrelevant.  It fails to ‘grab’ or excite them.  They can scarcely stifle their yawns.  They come with their problems, and they leave with their problems.  The sermon has not spoken to their need.”

I am not advocating that pastors comment on The Issue of the Week like many liberals do … but I am saying that we need to do a much better job of dealing with the issues that are on our people’s frontal lobes.

Pastor Bill Hybels once said something like this: “What’s on everyone’s minds?  Sex!  But what do we talk about?  Some obscure passage from Isaiah.”

(Which reminds me … over the past few years, as I’ve visited scores of churches, I can hardly remember any sermon that even mentioned sex.)

One of my favorite preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote that “the business of preaching is to relate the teaching of the Scriptures to what is happening in our own day.”

He was a biblical expositor par excellence … and usually preached to packed congregations.

Listen again to John Stott:

“My plea is that we treat them as real people with real questions; that we grapple in our sermons with real issues; and that we build bridges into the real world in which they live and love, work and play, laugh and weep, struggle and suffer, grow old and die.  We have to provoke them to think about their life in all its moods, to challenge them and to make Jesus Christ the Lord of every area of it, and to demonstrate his contemporary relevance.”

When was the last time your church mentioned issues that people are talking about like North Korea … sexual boundaries … marijuana use … divorce (even among Christians) … or how Christians should respond to our unorthodox president?

Just wondering.

For eighteen months, my wife and I attended a church in Peoria, Arizona called Christ’s Church of the Valley.

Pastor Don Wilson … the church’s founder … told the following story several times in his sermons.

He said that during World War 2, there was a church located next to a railroad track.  Sometimes, a train loaded with Jewish people on their way to a concentration camp went right by the church during Sunday morning worship.

As the train passed by, the cries of those who were incarcerated could be heard by those who attended that church.

Because those cries were so distressing, the congregation came up with a way to ignore them.

They decided to sing louder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christian leader Thom Rainer recently wrote a blog post lamenting the “epidemic” of pastoral terminations.  I offered comments about some of his points in my last article:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2017/08/25/thoughts-on-firing-a-pastor/

One church board member wrote the following in the “Comments” section:

“I appreciate this advice.  I have had to be part of a firing and it was not easy.  I wish I had these guidelines then.”

Let me tell you a story as to why church boards need such guidelines desperately.

During my first decade as a pastor, I met another pastor whose church was a half hour away from mine.  Whenever we had pastor’s lunches in our district, we would hang around afterwards and talk.  This pastor – I’ll call him Gene – became my friend.

Several years later, after preaching at his church one Easter, Gene got in his car and began a trip designed to interview prospective staff members the following day … but he never made it.

Instead, on a stretch of highway called “Blood Alley,” Gene’s vehicle was hit head on by a truck.  Gene was helicoptered to the county hospital.  The next day, I went to visit him.

His face was completely bandaged.  He could hardly speak, but at one point, he motioned for me to come closer, and he whispered, “Pray that I will preach again.”

Gene’s recuperation took a long time.  The glass from his windshield had penetrated his skin, and his face had to be surgically rebuilt.

Not long afterwards … and I can’t remember precisely how long … drugs were found inside his daughter’s suitcase at camp.  She vehemently denied that the drugs were hers, and Gene stood with her, but the church board claimed she was guilty, and demanded that she confess her sin publicly.  Gene chose to resign instead.

When I heard that Gene had quit after nine years as pastor, I called him right away.

I asked Gene what kind of severance he received, and he said that he received two weeks pay and a plaque.  After one month, his medical insurance would be canceled.

A short while later, the truth came out: the drugs did not belong to Gene’s daughter.  They belonged to another girl, who was afraid she would be caught with them and sent home … so she hid them in somebody else’s suitcase.

A year later, Gene and I met for lunch.  When I asked him why the board had pushed him out, he still had no idea.  I gave him a new book on pastoral termination, and after reading it, Gene felt he finally understood why he had been removed.

The church called a new pastor … someone I later got to know … and that pastor invited Gene back to the church and arranged for the congregation to apologize to Gene for the way he and his family were treated … a rare occurrence in Christian circles.

The Lord went on to bless Gene abundantly as he did pioneer work in a field not usually associated with Christians.

Let me make five observations about conflict training for boards from this story:

First, every church board needs to operate by a predetermined set of written guidelines before they even discuss their pastor’s future.

But many churches don’t have them.

If you’re a pastor, and your church doesn’t have those guidelines in place, and you’re under attack, it’s like going to court in a third world country.  You know going in you’re not going to be treated fairly.

Such guidelines are best written when people are thinking clearly because when even a few board members … who are supposedly selected for their spiritual lives … become irrational, they can harm their church … and their pastor … for years.

A board can’t create those guidelines when someone starts becoming upset with their pastor.  Their anxiety will cause them to ignore them completely.

Those guidelines should be found in two primary places: church bylaws … which should have a section specifying how to dismiss a pastor … and a special document that might be found in a church/board policy handbook.

However, in the case of Gene’s board, they didn’t have any such guidelines … and the outcome ended tragically.

Second, even when those documents are in place, many boards determine the result they want, and then choose the quickest pathway to achieving it.

Gene told me about a board member I’ll call Don who had undue influence with the board.  Don had money and was a district trustee.  Gene suspected that Don was behind his ouster … and he was probably right.

From what I know, Don used the situation with Gene’s daughter as a pretext to force Gene out.  (But didn’t Don even consider how much harm he would cause Gene’s daughter?)  At the very least, Don had to sign off on removing Gene from office.

And this is why many boards don’t use or want any written guidelines: they have a powerful board member whose influence supersedes any guidelines.

Such a person might ask, “Why use guidelines when you have me?”

In my third pastorate, the elders used to joke that each of them had one vote, but that I as pastor had five votes.

But the Dons who run church boards … even when they’re not the chairman … have ten votes … not because they’ve earned such power, but because the other board members won’t stand up to them.

Christians rightly lament the way that Jesus was mistreated when He stood before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod before He was crucified, and yet He was at least allowed to speak in His own defense.  Many pastors aren’t even accorded that privilege.

Third, the pastor is the only logical person to teach the board how to handle potential conflicts that concern him … but most won’t do it.

The pastor theoretically has more influence over individual board members than anyone else … and yet, when it comes to managing conflict, most pastors choose not to use that influence.

Years ago, when I served on a church staff, a couple of men in the church began to attack my pastor.  I went to a board meeting, told them what was happening, and asked for their help in stopping the verbal attacks.

The board voted 5-2 to do something … but the pastor was one of the “no” votes.  He was afraid that taking on the bullies would make things even worse.

Some pastors might have said, “Men, here’s what Scripture says about how to handle this situation … and here’s what our governing documents say … and I’d like you to read this book and discuss it at our next meeting.  Then we’ll create an action plan and deal with this biblically and courageously.”

But most pastors feel that it’s self-serving to make such suggestions … but I believe they’re wrong.

Whenever the pastor is under attack, the pastor needs to define the process that the board should use.  If he doesn’t, the board will make up their own process, and much of the time, they will blow their church sky high.

It’s right for a pastor to say, “This is how we do conflict around here.”  In fact, church boards are looking for that kind of leadership from their shepherd.  Yes, he can leave the outcome with them … but not the process.

And I believe if the board ignores that process, or short-circuits it altogether, the pastor has the responsibility to blow the whistle on them because the process will determine the product.

I believe all pastors must do the following three things to prepare their leaders for conflict:

First, the pastor must preach on biblical conflict management and resolution annually.

When Paul writes to the church in Rome … or Corinth … or Thessalonica … and he specifies how to address conflicts … he’s addressing those entire congregations.  It is the responsibility of every believer to become a church conflict practitioner.

Second, the pastor must train the official board and staff on biblical conflict management at least annually.

He can do this before or during a board meeting annually.  Or he can do this as part of a regular retreat.

The pastor could even invite a church conflict expert to do that training.

But if the pastor doesn’t take the initiative, it will never happen.

Finally, the pastor needs to make sure that every board member owns a copy of a great book on church conflict … and that they consult it on occasion.

These are the five books that I most recommend:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2015/05/06/five-essential-books-on-pastor-church-conflict/

When the board gets stuck on a conflict during the year … presumably one that doesn’t involve the pastor … the pastor could ask, “What does Leas … or Steinke … or Haugk say about this?”

The problem is that when church leaders become anxious, they look for shortcuts.  The pastor has to teach his leaders, “Let’s look for the best long-term solution, not the quickest short-term one.  These books will help us do just that.”

Fourth, board members need to seek outside counsel when it comes to offering a departing pastor a severance package.

My friend Gene was given two weeks salary and a plaque as his reward for nine years of committed service.

That’s not just heartless … that’s evil.

But where could the board turn for counsel?

I discovered that in Gene’s case, the district knew about the false accusation against his daughter, but chose to do nothing.  They could have insisted that the pastor receive a generous and just severance package, but it wasn’t their practice to interfere in pastor-church conflicts … or so they claimed.

So where can church boards turn for information about pastoral severance?

A few years ago, sensing there is almost nothing about this topic in print, I decided to write an article about severance packages for pastors.  It’s now become my second most viewed article concerning pastoral termination:

https://blog.restoringkingdombuilders.org/2014/02/24/why-give-a-terminated-pastor-a-severance-package/

I have heard stories how my article has expanded the thinking of church boards, and for that, I am grateful.

In fact, sometimes I’ll notice that the article has been viewed 20 or 30 times in a day, an indication that it may be circulating among board members.

I commend every church board member who reads the article because they’re trying to learn what to do … unlike Gene’s board, which treated their pastor with utter contempt.

As the board member quoted at the beginning of this article admitted in the fuller comment I quoted in my last post, church boards usually treat their pastor the way they treat others in the business world.

What they forget is that God called their pastor to their church.

Finally, church boards often want guidance, but don’t know where to find it.

Several months ago, I had the privilege of consulting with three different church boards about their pastors.

I was referred to each board by the same Christian leader.

One board really listened to me and took my counsel to heart.  They made a change and secured an intentional interim pastor who later wrote me and thanked me for my counsel.  Things were looking up for them.

Another board chairman contacted me but didn’t agree with my counsel.  The last I heard, trouble was looking for his church.

While I don’t claim to be infallible, people like me …. who serve as outside consultants … can save a church time, money, and heartache just by considering another perspective.

Last year, I helped a pastor on the East Coast face down the bullies in his church.  He told me, “Jim, you have the best stuff on pastor-church conflict on the internet.”

I don’t know how to evaluate his observation, but I do know this: most church boards who struggle with their pastor need someone to listen to them … to guide them … and to advise them … and if they have to turn online for help, I hope my writings prove beneficial.

The boards that go it alone are the ones who cause the most damage to their church and pastor.

The boards that seek conflict training and outside expertise are the ones who cause the least damage.

How well trained is your church’s board in conflict resolution?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friend sent me a link to a blog article by Christian leadership expert Thom Rainer yesterday.  His article was addressed to church leaders and titled, “Before You Fire Your Pastor.”

Here’s the article:

http://thomrainer.com/2017/08/before-you-fire-your-pastor/

In his concise way, Rainer shares eight “admonitions” to church leaders who are thinking about terminating their pastor.

To me, these were the highlights … followed by my own thoughts:

“You are about to make a decision that will shape your church, the pastor, and the pastor’s family for years to come.”

I don’t think most boards think about the pastor and his family much when they push him out.  They’re thinking primarily of the comfort level of the group they’ve been working with to get rid of him.

Since the board’s decision will impact their church for “years to come,” why not do an all-church assessment by an outside consultant first?  If the pastor really isn’t a fit, that will be made clear in the assessment, and the pastor and board can discuss a peaceful departure and transition … possibly mediated by the consultant.

Of course, the assessment might show that the board is the problem.  And that might be the main reason why boards are afraid of assessments.  I suggested calling in an outside consultant on two occasions several months before I left my last ministry, but nothing ever happened.

“Understand fully the consequence to your congregation. A church is marked once it fires a pastor. Members leave. Potential guests stay away. Morale is decimated. The church has to go through a prolonged period of healing where it cannot have much of an outward focus.”

Church conflict expert Peter Steinke says that it takes a church two to five years to heal after a moderate to severe conflict, and by definition, forcing out a pastor almost always constitutes a severe conflict.

Many times, the very individuals who pushed out the pastor end up leaving during the healing period.  Maybe they thought the church would get better without the pastor … and with them in charge … but when it doesn’t work that way, they bail.

Outreach usually dies after a pastor leaves … especially if the departing pastor was outreach-oriented.

“Consider the church’s reputation in the community. You are about to receive the label: ‘The church that fired their pastor.’ That will be your identity for some time.”

Most leaders who push out a pastor have never been in a church before where a pastoral termination occurred.  They don’t have any idea what happens inside a congregation after a pastor leaves.  They’re assuming they can handle any and all crises.  But without their pastor to guide them, they’re liable to make a mess of things.

Some people in my previous church tried to ruin my reputation after I left, and it stung.  (Some friends still won’t tell us what really transpired after my departure.)  But the church has suffered as well.

Reminds me of a post a friend put on Facebook several days ago: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves” … one for the pastor, one for the church.

“Let your pastor know why… he was being fired…. I am amazed how many pastors have no idea why they are being let go. That is cowardly. That is not Christ-like.”

There’s a simple explanation for this omission: most of the time, there isn’t a good reason for sending the pastor packing.  The reasons are more subjective than objective, highlight board members’ personal preferences rather than the pastor’s stubborn sinfulness, and don’t sound convincing when uttered in public.

I still don’t really know why I was pushed out of my last ministry.  After thinking about it for nearly eight years, I’ve concluded that it boiled down to personal revenge on the part of three individuals who spread their feelings to others.  But if that’s truly the case, who is ever going to admit it?  Maybe that’s why I have never heard directly from anyone who pushed me out at the end of 2009.

“Be generous. If your church does make the decision to fire your pastor, please be generous with severance and benefits. Don’t treat your pastor like a secular organization might treat an employee. Show the world Christian compassion and generosity.”

Sad to say, there are boards that look for every reason not to give their pastor a generous severance.  I remember one board that referred the pastor’s severance to the congregation hoping they would turn it down.

With some leaders, once they know a pastor is going to leave, he’s no longer worth anything to them anymore.  He’s dead weight.  (This is exhibited by the fact that after the pastor leaves, those who forced him out will never contact him again.)  They offer their pastor a token severance … threaten to pull it back if he doesn’t agree to their terms immediately … and send him and his family into the night with an exit that seems designed by the enemy.

The longer a pastor’s tenure at a church, the more committed he’s been to his congregation, and the more worthy he is of a generous severance package.  But since it takes at least a year to find a new ministry these days … and usually longer … the board has to factor that reality into their creation of any severance package.

After I read Rainer’s article, I perused the comments, and ran across this admission:

“I appreciate this advice. I have had to be part of a firing and it was not easy. I wish I had these guidelines then. The one part we did decent was giving the pastor in question a long run away to find new employment and kept his benefits going in the transition. I really think we could have done more, but it was something. Often I think this idea of helping pastors launch into another ministry or even transition to a vocation outside full time Christian service is foreign to elders or boards because it is rare in business fields unless you are a high c-level executive with contractual basis. Thus they balk at the idea thinking it bad business or poor stewardship. Finding a role in another church takes time. Often churches are slow to hire, for good reason, so we should reflect Jesus’ generosity when we have to fire someone understanding they can’t just walk into another job next door.”

Here is the phrase that sticks out most to me: “I wish I had these guidelines then.”

What can you and I do to help pastors and boards handle their conflicts in a more biblical, just, and Christlike way?

That’s my topic for next time.

“That sounds like a good idea, but looking at the budget, we just don’t have the money.”

How many times have church leaders uttered those words when someone … the pastor, a staff member, a team leader … proposed a new ministry?

According to church conflict expert Peter Steinke, money concerns cause more conflicts in churches than anything else.

Conflicts emerge most often because congregational giving falls short of meeting the annual budget.  And then the attitude becomes, “We can’t spend any money because we’re behind on the budget.  Maybe when we’re meeting or exceeding the budget, then we can talk about doing something else.”

But that attitude guarantees that the church won’t meet its budget.

When I was a teenager, I attended a church that had a two board system.

The elders were the spiritual leaders, and the deacons ran the facility and finances.

That system was guaranteed to make sure that nothing ever got done.

Why not?

The elders were chosen because of their walk with the Lord … while the deacons were chosen because of their business sense.

The elders would invariably propose, discuss, and agree on a proposal, like, “We want to have a special seminar this fall to emphasize healthy marriages.  We’ve contacted an expert in this area who has agreed to do a three-hour seminar for $500.”

Then they’d kick the decision to the deacons, who would veto it, claiming, “Since we’re behind on the budget, we don’t have the money.”

I heard that song and dance over and over again.

This is the most likely reason why so many churches in the 1970s and 1980s moved away from the two board system and instituted a one board system instead.

But even under the one board system, the same argument keeps coming up.

Why?

Because there are people on every board that believe that money is more important than ministry.

They won’t ever say that.  It sounds unspiritual.  But that’s how they behave.

And in the process, such people keep their church from expanding Christ’s kingdom in their community.

Let me share five principles defining the relationship between ministry and money:

First, money is a tool for ministry rather than the reason a church exists.

Churches don’t exist to raise and hoard money.

Churches exist to worship God, teach Scripture, and meet the spiritual needs of people in their community.

And money is one of many tools a church can use to fulfill those purposes.

But sometimes it only takes one person on the church board or staff to sabotage a church’s reason for being.

I once pastored a congregation where someone donated a six-figure gift to the ministry.

Even though we were behind on our budget, I wanted to use some of those funds for ministry.

The money wasn’t donated so we could hoard it or gain interest on the principal. The money was given for ministry … so I made a proposal to reach an entirely new demographic.

But someone on the board wanted to set aside those funds to put a new roof on one of the buildings … in five years.

Yes, a church needs to be a good steward of its facilities.

But church buildings aren’t going to stand before God someday, while every person in that community will.

Only people last forever.

Conflicts occur in churches where the pastor has a vision for ministry, while others have a vision for maintenance.

Second, a church budget is a servant, not a master.

I have lived by a budget for most of my married life.  I budget our tithe … our taxes … our house payment … our savings … and funds for our business.

I don’t consult that budget every week.  I consult it every day … usually several times.

But there are times when things arise that aren’t budgeted, but I do them anyway.

Several weeks ago, my wife wanted us to go away for our 42nd wedding anniversary.  I told her it sounded good, but I preferred to go away for just one night … and I had that budgeted.

But she wanted to go away two nights … and miss a day of work at our business … meaning we’d have to pay extra funds for employees.

I tried to reason with her, but she finally asked me, “When do I get a day off around here?”

She was right … and I relented.  Sometimes investing in your marriage is far more important than saving a few dollars.

But I have been in churches where once a budget category has been spent, that’s it … you can’t spend any more for the rest of the year.

In one church, the funds for refreshments between services dissipated during the summer.

That refreshment time was crucial to our ministry.  People stayed for goodies after the first service and arrived early for goodies before the second service.

And most of the time, our guests stayed as well … and that was our best time to connect with them all week.

If counting beans was most important, we’d pull the refreshments altogether … and lose our best opportunity to meet newcomers.

When I heard that the funds were gone, it didn’t phase me.  I told the person running the refreshments to keep doing them.  REACHING NEWCOMERS IS THE ONLY WAY ANY CHURCH CAN GROW.

But a board member … without authorization or discussion … went to the person running refreshments and told them that the goodies had to stop because we didn’t have the money.

Is the budget a master or a servant?

That board member believed it was a master.

I believed it was a servant.

I still do.

When the budget becomes a church’s master, then Jesus isn’t.

Third, a church has to prioritize outreach or it simply won’t grow.

And outreach costs money.

In fact, a church has to invest funds in outreach continually … and wisely … if it ever hopes to grow numerically.

Show me a church’s budget and I can tell you whether or not they plan on growing.

If they budget most of their money for facilities, salaries, missions, and education … maintenance items … then they don’t intend to grow.

But if they budget a generous amount of money for meaningful worship, creative marketing, special events, need-meeting seminars, tasty refreshments, and community projects, then they’re at least planning to grow.

If a church budgets for outreach, but giving doesn’t meet the budget, some will say, “Let’s get rid of outreach for the rest of the year.”

But when church leaders are serious about growth, they’ll say, “Either we need to raise more money or we need to cut other categories … anywhere but outreach.”

A homely story.

Let’s say Bill and Joanne get married, and they can barely make ends meet financially.

And then Joanne gets pregnant.

Are they going to say, “Okay, let’s have this baby, but we’re going to spend the same amount of money we spent before the baby arrived?”

No … they’re going to do whatever it takes to provide well for their child … and that includes trusting God to expand their budget.

God sends lost children to churches He knows will provide for them … and steers them clear of churches that put budgets before people.

Money flows toward churches that make plans to reach their community … and away from churches that focus only on themselves.

And you can take that last statement to the bank.

Fourth, God honors churches that take divinely-sanctioned risks.

Twenty-five years ago … around the time of our 17th wedding anniversary … my wife and I began talking about going to Europe for our twentieth anniversary.

We decided to save money for three years to make that dream a reality.

But along the way, it didn’t look like the trip was going to come off, so I told Kim, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to do this financially.”

She responded, “I’m going whether you go or not.”

We began doing research … watching Rick Steves’ videos … and talking to others who had been to Europe.

Then we visited a travel agent.  (Remember those?)

I can’t explain it, but everything came together financially, and on the morning of our twentieth anniversary, we found ourselves at the Schilthorn in Switzerland … high up in the Alps.

I’ve been to Europe many times since, and it all started with my wife believing that somehow … in some way … we were going to go!

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus commended the servant who invested his talents for gain, but condemned the servant who buried his talent in the sand.

Sad to say, most churches bury their financial talents in the sand.

May I share one reason why that’s so?

It’s the misplaced pride of the pastor.

My wife and I attended a church north of Phoenix, Arizona, for eighteen months called Christ’s Church of the Valley.

Every summer, the pastor took his key leaders away for a weekend to visit a church … sometimes out-of-state … that was effectively reaching people for Christ.  (Such a trip costs money!)

Every time they returned, they had their thinking expanded … and came home with a boatload of ideas.

While we attended there, the church became the tenth largest church in the United States.

Rather than act like he had it all together, the pastor wanted to learn from other pastors and churches … and incorporate their best ideas into his ministry.

The church took many risks.  Many paid off … and some did not … but so what?  That’s the nature of risk-taking.

I heard about a church that gave out annual awards.  They gave an award every year to the person who took the biggest risk … and failed.

Why did they do that?

Because they wanted to highlight, “This is a church where we take risks.”

How risk-taking is your church?

Finally, a church needs to let God make their decisions, not money.

In his book Money, Sex and Power, Richard Foster writes the most memorable paragraph I’ve ever read about Christians and money:

“The Christian is given the high calling of using mammon without serving mammon.  We are using mammon when we allow God to determine our economic decisions.  We are serving mammon when we allow mammon to determine our economic decisions.  We simply must decide who is going to make our decisions – God or mammon…. If money determines what we do or do not do, then money is our boss.  If God determines what we do or do not do, then God is our boss.”

If it’s true that 85% of all churches are stagnating or shrinking, my guess is that most of those churches let money make their decisions.

It takes great faith to trust God over money.  As Jesus said, we can’t serve both.  But whenever church leaders say, “We can’t do that … we don’t have the money,” they’re confessing that money makes the decisions in their church.

And how can God bless such a church?

Now here’s the irony:

Pastors preach to their congregations, “The Bible teaches that God’s people should give a tithe of their income to the Lord’s work.  Even if you don’t have the money, just start tithing, and the Lord will bless you in many ways … including your finances.”

It takes faith to believe that God will take care of you if you give ten percent of your income to Him, doesn’t it?

And yet more often than not, those same leaders want congregational members to demonstrate faith in the way they manage their incomes but demonstrate faithlessness in the way they manage their church’s income.

There is nothing more exciting than for a church to focus on a God-given dream designed to reach others for Christ.

There is nothing more miserable than for a church to focus all its energies and finances on itself.

Focus on money … and the church will go downhill.

Focus on ministry … and the church will come alive.

Does your church focus on ministry or money?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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