Monday, January 14, 2019

What I Wish I Knew When I Became a Pastor

Sunday evening I celebrated a pastor's installation. There was a beautiful covenant between pastor and church, and God's presence and blessing was there. I pray it is a long successful pastorate in our flagship church here.
But as that happened, I thought about recent and older conversations I have had, successes and failures, and what I have learned. So I am trying to write down the things I didn't know when I started pastoring. I know there have been books written about this. I'm not writing a whole book. But this is what I have seen in ministry that I want those with and following me to hear.
It's a simple list, colored by my life, education and experiences. I am in my 50s, have been married since 1989, parent a teenager and newlywed young adult, have a B.A. and 2 graduate degrees, and have ministered in a hospital as chaplain, 3 YMCA as afterschool director, and 3 churches. A child of laymen, I volunteered and had leadership roles in my home church, 2 college churches and seminary church. I received an excellent education from men I still honor, and had two great pastors while in school.
My first pastoral role was head of a church school and daycare. I had a 1 year interim that was a blessing, and have pastored where I am for 22 years.

But there were things I needed to learn. Some of this was taught in school (marked *), but learning how important it was came later. I pray that my words and lessons might make your journey better.

  1. Jesus' language is love*. Most of a pastor's mistakes include forgetting that at some point. I did not understand how important it is in what you do, how you treat and work with others. Whether all together or in conflict, seeing blessing or experiencing trials, letting Christ's love rule your thoughts, words and actions is ALWAYS a priority. 
  2. The pastor's job is to pray, pastor, preach,  disciple, administer and equip*. These things have no backup. If you don't do them or get them done, your church will suffer. Even if these aren't all your strengths, you have to do make sure they are done well. 
  3. You are not the Lone Ranger*. Work with your people, your leaders, other pastors, your community, denomination and others God leads you to. Get to know them, listen to them, learn from them, and cooperate for the good of the Church and Kingdom. 
  4. Your learning never ends*. Keep reading, keep listening, keep learning. But assimilate what you learn into your ministry, call and context with your people- don't just come home preaching someone else's message.
  5. Pay the bills at home before becoming the big person somewhere else. Don't do your hobby- it evangelism, singing, another job or politics- to the neglect of your church. 
  6. You cannot be Rick, Andy or Steven. But you can learn from them, as well as others. Meet and get to know the pastors in your community, mission group and denomination. A wise man can learn from a fool, but a fool cannot learn from anyone. Do not be the person who thinks they know it all. They end up preaching to the people who don't know better. 
  7. Your church will accept a lot if you just love them and help them love Jesus. But you should not be satisfied with that. Continue to improve. Strengthen your weaknesses and build on your strengths.
  8. If you find folks who love God passionately, love others generously, or accomplish things repeatedly, hang on to those folks. Everyone is loved by God, and should be loved by the church. But those who succeed, those who care strongly (in word and action), and those who are head over heels in love with Christ are few and far between. If a church is led by folks who have trouble making ends meet, being on time and appropriate, loving others to Christ, and getting things completed, that will affect what the church can do. You can help people find Christ, but character is a different matter. Those who work with God in outstanding churches have outstanding laypeople, be it 5 or 500. I am fortunate to have the best collection of leaders and almost-leaders our church has had in these days. 
  9. There is no time clock. But you need to outwork your best leaders. You need appropriate rest, sabbath and retreat. But you also need to invest 45-60 hours in ministry (25-40 if part-time) and work smart. Enable leaders & others, use technology, get better to be more effective- but put in the work. 
  10. Accept God's grace and forgiveness as peace and motivation. You don't have to do it all, but do have to keep pushing forward to the calling of Christ. Do not spend time kicking yourself. Repent regularly, accept forgiveness, and go on living more like Christ because of your failure.
What do you think? Share your ideas and suggestions. Maybe together we can write a book!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Send Troublesome Givers to Eastside, Please!

I have a question, and perhaps need suggestions from Pastors...

I got a note from a respected "help the churches" group yesterday telling me that 31% of my giving was going to come at the end of the calendar year.

Earlier, I also received a note about how all the churches are scared giving will drop because there is less tax incentive to give. Apparently the IRS tax policies change how much people give.

I also see how some churches are scared when their $50,000 a year giver gets upset about something.
So my question is- Where are those difficult and particular givers?
My second question- Can you send us some of them?

I pastor a small church in eastern Gastonia, NC, just 20 minutes from the Charlotte airport. We have a nice building, but welcome anyone who wants to come into our church. We Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples and Let God Change Us. We help all sorts of folks in different ways, and let just anybody come in.
But I haven't found any of the folks mentioned.
- My people (well, most of them) give their tithes to support the work of the Kingdom, not for some tax benefit. We could use folks wanting a tax benefit to give.

- Our folks also give when they get income. We could use an extra push from someone who only gives once in a while. Send me one of those.

- Our folks are working people, or on fixed incomes. We only have 4-5 that have what you might call a "professional" position. No one gives $50,000. We could use one of those.

So I guess I will keep doing what I can to Love God and Others, Make Disciples and Ask God to Change me. If you can tell me how to get these other folks, please share. But if you need to get rid of someone who only gives for the tax benefit, or who just gives at the end of the year, or who gets upset after giving a lot, send them to us. We'll love them and let God change them, too! :)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Miracles and Discipleship

Many of us look for a miracle. We look to be healed, freed, enriched, find success, change relationships, friends and relatives. We may couch it in prayer, "wishes," a trip to Harrah's Casino or lottery ticket purchases. We may try a get-rich-quick business, getting all our friends to buy or give for us, or even using guilt to get what we feel we want or need. We may take a pill, a smoke or something else to help us get to the point where we get what we want or need, or can live with not getting it.
Don't get me wrong. I am a Nazarene pastor. We believe in miracles- I mean, we just saw a category 4 hurricane hit Charlotte as a tropical depression! More than that, I have seen people miraculously healed of disease, addiction, depression and sickness. I am not even close to understanding that, but I keep preaching and praying about it.
But I also think we need to differentiate between a miracle and not doing our part. I think we too often look for a miracle when what we need is to be obedient to God and God's word, and/or to work hard. We would probably see more miracles today if we had more people who gave themselves completely to God then did the things the Bible tells us to about how we live.
Steven Furtick talks about the Joshua 10 moment- when God's people marched all night, fought all day, then watched and prayed for God to work. Too often, we seem to march a few feet, complain a little, and expect God to answer our prayers/wishes immediately. I think our lives lived for Christ are a big part of our witness and "a righteous person's" effective prayers for God to work.
I love football. Part of what I love is that it rewards those who are talented, but even more rewards those who take what they are given, work together and put out their best effort. Alabama Coach Bear Bryant once said that if he could get an "85%" player to play above his level, he could probably beat a "95%" player who did not. That is the truth, and Bryant and Coach Nick Saban, among others, have proved it for years.
This Sunday's truncated message at Eastside was on Proverbs, which is basically a guide for disciplined living as a response to God's grace. I feel we need to truly ask and believe for God to work, but we also need to make reasonable, healthy choices with our lives.
A Nazarene colleague gave this perspective.: "If someone wants to be healed. I recommend you quit drinking pop, eat a clean diet and stop sitting around and start exercising. In three months, you'll feel like a new person. You can heal yourself from all kinds of ailments and prevent new ones. Just listen to your body and take some good medical advice. I just saw a young couple in my church healed from obesity and sleep apnea because they have lost a combined 160 lbs pounds by exercising and cleaning up their diet. I can talk about healing, I just think it comes through a variety of means... "
Are you looking for miracles, or giving your all to God, doing your best, and asking God to do what's needed?
Excuse me, I need to get on my knees and then get to work...