Archives For Ministry

On June 10, 2013

Churches Shaped By Mission

NT Wright on “Church Shaped by Mission” from Fuller Theological Seminary on Vimeo.

If you lead or serve in a local church, than this post is for you. Hold off on watching the video above for a second.

Last week I was in a meeting of a group of ministers and seminary professors who were trying to figure out how churches and seminaries can work better together for training future ministers.

It was an incredible meeting, and kudos to our seminaries for caring enough to ask the question, “How can we do better?” One of the more interesting parts of the conversation came when one of the ministers was talking about the tension between the ideal and the real. The way he said it was that he was, “I learned in seminary to be suspicious of anything that worked. Because pragmatic or practical ministry involves compromise and using methods that are less than ideal.”

And immediately we all knew what he meant.

I mean can we really say that the Cross “worked?” Isn’t Christianity a faith about dying to ourselves? Should we really compromise in order to be more effective?

But the problem is that in order to lead a local church you have to compromise and learn to work pragmatically. You are dealing with real people with problems that don’t come in textbook formats. And you learn quickly in ministry that for all your preparations and theories that the local church isn’t a laboratory. And that what works in theory doesn’t always work in practice.

So back to this video. This video is from the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright teaching at Fuller Seminary a few years ago. They were asking him about this exact thing, he was talking to preachers from churches from a hundred different traditions, who were basically wanting to know how to do we hold this tension between the ideal and the real?

I love his answer.

Keep the ideal in mind. Remember that there is a new Heaven and a New Earth coming, and remember what that vision for the future looks like, because that’s more than just the Christian hope. That’s the Christian mission.

It is the mission that should inform every church.

Let’s just hopefully and pragmatically stumble toward that.

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inspireality-navy

During the month of March, we’ve dedicated Thursdays to talking about mentoring, why it’s important and how to go about doing it. Today’s post is by a man who’s worked hard to mentor younger ministers, as well as get mentoring. Jim is the preacher at the Crestview Church of Christ, and is one of the best ministers and encouragers I know. Jim consistently writes great content for leadership/ministry at his blog over at www.godhungry.org. You can follow him on Twitter here. And I highly recommend checking out his blog here.

Meet Jim:

For much of my adult life I have desired to be mentored. As a young minister, it was very clear to me that I had much to learn. Consequently, I was very intentional about seeking out people from whom I could learn. Over the years I have gained from the following:

  • Several trusted ministers who were very patient as I came to them again and again with my questions and difficult situations. Some of these people have been a very important part of my life for many years.
  • Relationships that I had for a particular season of ministry. That is, for a season I learned from these people and stayed in contact.
  • Occasional coffees and lunches with particular people. These were more than conversations. I often came to these moments with numerous questions I needed to ask.
  • Individuals through their biographies and autobiographies. At other times, I saturated myself with the writings of Henri Nouwen, N.T. Wright, Gordon MacDonald, John R.W. Stott, C. S. Lewis, etc.For many years I wouldn’t have used the word “mentor” to describe what I needed from these people. I just knew that I had much to learn from others.As you read this note, I want to ask you:

Are you being mentored by anyone?

As you think about this question, know that I continue to be mentored by others. I am still intentional about learning from others. I look for people from whom I can learn.

Are you willing to be mentored?

The following are a few questions that might be helpful in reflecting on this:

  • Who am I learning from right now?
  • Am I serious about growing and changing?
  • Do I really listen to trusted people?
  • Is there anyone in my life with whom I talk and then actually follow through on something that person suggested?
  • Am I serious about moving from “What shall I do?” to “What kind of person wilI I be?”Look for someone from whom you can learn. Ask to spend some time with that person. Go prepared. Ask good questions. Listen. Write down what you wish to remember. Listen to this person’s words and watch this person’s manner. Be fully present when you are with this person.

Are you investing in anyone else’s life?

First, I am not talking about someone who might be presumptuous and think someone would be blessed just to spend time with him. Blessing someone through a mentoring relationship works best when that person is living out of the soul, not the ego.

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All this month on Inspi(re)ality we’ve been talking about the importance of churches having vision, and practical ways to help get there. Last week, I sat down with Josh Ross, the preaching minister at the Sycamore View Church of Christ. They’ve just rolled out a new vision for their church,  and so I was asking him about what this process had looked like for them.

In the Interview I asked Josh 6 questions:

1. What led you and your church leadership to casting a vision at your church?

2. How did you and the church leadership go about forming and casting the vision?

3. How did you communicate to the church at large about the vision?

4. Your vision is called “Restore” Why that language?

5. Have you seen any differences in your church since launching a new vision?

6. What about the preacher of 100 member church? What suggestions do you have for them to help cast a vision in their context?

What I love about Josh and Sycamore View is the way that they love their city, and have communicated an externally focused vision. For examples on the testimonies Josh was talking about in the video, here are some links to the videos they’ve used to communicate their vision repeatedly. 

You can follow Josh on Twitter, and look for his upcoming book (that I highly recommend) called Scarred Faith.

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inspireality-navy

“When I was a child I thought as a I child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.” -Paul

When I first started working at a church, I was pretty set on wearing jeans to the office. And I didn’t want anyone to ever use the word “professional” to describe me. Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

And I understand the reasoning for not wanting to be a “professional” in ministry, but too often what we really mean is not being mature. So I’ve asked my friend Steven Hovater to talk about what it looks like to serve a church “professionally.”

Steven lives in Tullahoma Tennessee with his wife Kelly and three rowdy daughters. He values community, discipleship, and the creative work of God, so these things tend to show up in his preaching at the Church of Christ at Cedar Lane

Here’s Steven:

I get it. You didn’t go into ministry for the regular hours, tidy dress code, and opportunities to be an amateur accountant. You don’t see your primary work as being done at a desk, and you hate going to meetings.

Further, I get that there are good reasons for not wanting to let the secular world dictate what ministry looks like. There are good reasons that ministry should look differently than jobs molded by the pragmatic production cultures of twentieth century America. Those cultures don’t have a place for wasting time by lavishing care on widows and orphans. Nor do they honor prophets who speak truth, even when it brings the house down, nor time for stewing over a text, or listening to a problem that will remain unsolved. We cannot allow ministry to become about acquiring respect on the terms of the world. We’re not simply “employees”, and the church is never simply our “employer”. Ministers should always come to work dressed in a little camel hair, with a packed lunch of locusts. We should always be at least weird enough to remind the church that the normal world is broken. I get that, and so I want you to know that I’m with you in your struggle against The Man. Fight on, Brother/Sister. Fight on.

But…

We still need to have a little talk about what it means to be a professional in ministry. We don’t talk about it enough. Maybe it’s because of our desire to avoid being too secular for reasons like those outlined above. Or maybe we have bought into a set of old assumptions. For instance, in some corners of the church, ministers still try to maintain the impenetrable holy facades and suicidal workloads from a set of unquestioned professional expectations inherited from the last century.

For whatever reason, we often fail to engage in balanced discussions of our professional expectations. And yet, failing to describe our professional expectations and ethics never prevents those expectations from existing. Instead, it leaves those expectations to grow wild in all their conflict-generating splendor. Or, having successfully hidden ourselves in unquestionable priestly garments, we fail to meet reasonable, baseline obligations. When we do that, we foster frustrations that can eventually undo our partnerships with God’s people. Worse, we may abuse the church’s willingness to support us, thus wasting decades of holy time and thousands of consecrated dollars doing bad work in the name of God. A healthy professionalism honors our calling from God and our partnership with the church by translating the concept of being good stewards into concrete expectations and behaviors.

And so, the big question is: “What marks a healthy professionalism among ministers?” This deserves a much broader discussion, but let me suggest four commitments that can begin to form the core:

1. The commitment to doing your job with excellence, and improving over time. God has gifted you with raw talents and skills that can be used in your ministry. You are absolutely ethically responsible for making use of those gifts as well as you can. Beyond that, it is important to continually refine your capacities so that you’re not only giving God your best right now, but making sure that your entire body of work will demonstrate intentional growth. Part of ministry is encouraging people to be intentional about growing. Model that. Don’t just be a steward of the gift you already have, but what that gift could turn into.

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On January 17, 2013

Inspi(re)ality: Before You Go

inspireality-navy

One of the conversations I have at least once a week, is with a minister thinking about leaving their church to go to a new church. I always refer them to Wade Hodges ebooks. Wade is the preaching minster at the Preston Road Church of Christ and for this blog series he adapted the following from his ebook: Before You Go: A Few Sneaky-Good Questions Every Minister Should Answer Before Moving to a New Church.

Last week he talked about when the right time to leave a church is, adapted from his book When to Leave. If you’re interested in purchasing both. You can download both When To Leave and Before You Go as one ebook here.

Here’s Wade:

How Do You Know When You’ve Found The Right One?

“Every time I fall in love I feel a little sick to my stomach. I’m going to marry the one who makes me the sickest.”-Someone Funny

“You’ll know when you know.”-A Four-Time Divorcee

In Before You Go, I spend quite a bit of time coaching readers on to how to tell if a church isn’t a good fit, rather than helping them figure out which one is the right fit. My goal in writing it was to help ministers avoid making unwise decisions, due either to lack of information about the church or lack of personal insight.

Still, the question remains: How do you know when you’ve found the right church and can celebrate saying “yes” to a great new opportunity?

It depends on what we mean by the “right” church. “Right” doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t mean trouble-free. It doesn’t mean you won’t be in for a few unpleasant surprises a couple of weeks after you’ve unpacked the moving van.

However . . .

If they have a vision based on an honest assessment of their strengths, weaknesses, and history and you can’t help but feel attracted to their vision because of your strengths, weaknesses, and history, then it may be the right church for you.

If it’s obvious they’re not looking for you to be the solution to their problems, but rather are looking for someone like you to come strengthen their team with your specific gifts, then it may be the right church for you…

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On January 11, 2013

Well Done Dr. Neller

Dr. Ken Neller

The most influential people in my life have been more humble than they should have been.

Last night, one of the people who has shaped me the most passed away of a sudden heart attack. Ken Neller was a Bible professor at Harding University. He was one of the most academically accomplished people I’d met. Everyone knew he was brilliant, but not because he let you know that.

I remember how I was preaching in Chapel on Galatians, and I took him to lunch to talk about it. I remember him talking about the Grace of God in that book, and feeling like I was hearing something that was true in the deepest sense of the word. I remember taking my Greek final and him telling me that my translation reminded him an awful lot of the NIV. I remember him talking about never cheating your family to serve the church. I remember taking his preparations for ministry class (what he called the Marry and Bury class) and him telling us that the Kingdom of God was alive and well today, and we could serve it by these practical ways of serving the local church.

He taught me how to do ministerial finances, how to do weddings and funerals and how to read the Bible. He taught me how to use redaction criticism to write a sermon, but to never say redaction criticism in one. But the greatest lesson he taught me was one that only really makes sense now.

He was teaching us about how each of us have a canon within a canon. That is, everyone who reads the Bible, privileges certain verses over others, and it’s important to acknowledge which passages we lean into. Because, he said, this will affect the way you do ministry and the way you view God.

And that’s when he told us something that has blessed me every since.

He told our class that his hermeneutical center, the verse that meant the most to him was Matthew 25:21. When Jesus tells his people Well done, my good and faithful servant.

And then Dr. Neller teared up.

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inspireality-navy
One of the questions I get asked often is by young ministers who are thinking of leaving their current church for greener pastures. I always refer them to Wade Hodges ebooks. Wade is the preaching minster at the Preston Road Church of Christ and for this blog series he adapted the following from his ebook When To Leave: How To Know It’s Time To Move On (Before You Stay Way Too Long)

Meet Wade:

How I Stayed Way Too Long (Twice)

Once upon a time there was a pastor who moved to a small church when he was 25 years old and stayed there for 40 years until he retired.

No, this isn’t the beginning of a pastoral fairy tale. I can think of several pastors, like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Bob Russell, who have served only one church throughout their distinguished careers. Warren and Hybels started the churches they currently serve. Russell moved to his church as a young preacher and during his forty year tenure helped it grow from 120 members into one of the largest churches in America.

I admire those guys.

For the longest time, I aspired to be one of them.

When I signed on to work with my first church at the tender age of 23, I had Bob Russell in mind as I dreamed of helping a struggling church of 75 people become one of the largest churches in the world during my 40 year career.

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The average person visits a church website 5 or 6 times before they actually attend the church. Maybe they want to make sure there won’t be snakes or kool-aid, but more likely, they want to know if this church has them in mind at all. They want to know if this church is welcoming to guests.

Last month, we made this promo video for the Highland Church sermon series that is starting this week. If you are a member at Highland, feel free to share this video online or email it to invite your friends. If you live in Abilene, we’d love to invite you to join us as we study through Jesus’ teachings on how to live the best life. Here’s our invitation to you:

This is the time of year when a lot of us are trying to change. It’s when we go after the latest fad diet or the most recent personal development book. Now is when we think about change. This year as you are thinking about your future, join us as we look at what Jesus says the best life really looks like.

For the next few months at the Highland Church of Christ, we are going to be looking at Jesus’ most famous sermon. It’s called the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s changed the course of human history! It is Jesus telling us what it looks like to live fully human. It’s filled with practical wisdom on what it looks like to live the good life. Jesus talks about everything from our relationships and how to deal with anger, to the danger of religion and how to not let the things that we own become things that own us.

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On December 18, 2012

Names #6: Changing Names

CT PreachingThis is the last post in this short series about names in the book of Genesis. I know that whole idea might sound strange, but it’s something I’ve been rolling around in my mind for a while, because I’m convinced that our names matter more than we think they do. I think our language to describe the world and ourselves matter a lot to God.

That why Genesis talks a lot about names. Because a name is a story, and if we don’t name well, we might not tell the story we are wanting to tell.

For example…

Did you ever wonder why God changes people’s names? Does this strike anybody else as bizarre? And it happens all the time in the Bible, especially in Genesis. Like when God comes to Abram and Sarai, these people who’ve had their names for 70 years, and he’s like “Let’s add an H” in there.

Or what about Jacob? God comes to this guy who is one of the worst heroes in ancient literature (He’s kind of a jerk, he’s selfish and he’s always trying to get ahead) and God tells him that he’s going to change his name to Israel.

To which I would say, can’t we go with something that sounds more normal like…Gary or Robert?

But I’ll come back to this.

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On December 11, 2012

Names #5: The Towers We Build

In the 18th century, there was a Spanish philosopher named Miguel de Unamuno who came up with one of the best questions to illustrate the human condition. This was the question: If you had to choose between creating amazing works of art that would last forever and would make the world a better place, but you would remain anonymous; or you could become a famous, world renown artist and painter but your works would be totally forgotten. Which would you choose?

Insignificant fame or Anonymous blessing?

So this is a series on a small theme in the book of Genesis. Namely, that Genesis cares a lot about names. Apparently the Bible cares a lot about the language we use to describe the world and each other.

Last week I talked about how after the fall in Genesis, Adam and Eve try to find their own names, independent of God. But what happens when that stops just being a problem for a couple of people and starts to be the way the whole world operates?

Just eight chapters later, Genesis tells us about how the how the whole world was speaking the same language. And they all got together because they wanted to build a tower. Which actually sounds like a pretty good idea. I mean we build towers all the time. But Genesis is telling us something here. They are trying to exceed the limitations of being human. They are trying to be gods.

The real reason they wanted to build a tower was because they wanted to “make a name for themselves.” (The actual Hebrew here is Donald Trump).

Now think about this for a second. They aren’t actually concerned about the project they are building. Their real goal is to be important. Their real goal isn’t the tower, but to justify their existence.

And God doesn’t like that goal at all.

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