Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Balancing Act: To Be or To Do

The tight rope walker must keep his focus and balance at ever step.  When stepping forward their foot must be centered, which takes concentration to avoid surrounding distractions.  They often carry a long pole or other objects, so that they can help to shift the weight from one side to the other while walking forward.  With each step the tight rope walker makes adjustments in their shifting weight, while never taking their focus off of the goal of reaching the other side.  If they fail to adjust their weight or take their eye off of the goal they will not merely miss the other side, they will fall to their painful destruction or death.

Life for many Christians, especially leaders, is a lot like this.  I am seeing, the older I get and the more I study, that balance is not always an easy thing to keep.  We must continually work at keeping balance.  One of the greatest areas of balance that people, leaders in particular, struggle with is the balance of being and doing.   In order to serve God's purpose and will within our lives we need both.  However, for many of us we struggle to find balance between the two.

This is not a new problem.  Our church has been studying the people who met Jesus this summer, and recently I was challenged by how many approached Jesus asking, "what must I (we) do to inherit eternal life."  Their minds were not away from desiring the goal of heaven, and in fact they were very focused on that goal.  However, they were looking at what "they" had to do.

 To the crowd that followed Jesus after the Feeding of the Five-Thousand, Jesus challenged them to stop seeking fulfillment in the temporary and put faith fully in Him.  To the Rich Man, who was already keeping the commands of God, Jesus challenged him to sell it all, help the poor, and follow.  In both of these instances Jesus took people from a place of what "we must do", to a place of giving up on self to follow and rely upon Him fully.

I think many of us in leadership easily get caught up in what I call "Doing Theology", some might even take it to the point of "Works Theology."  Don't get me wrong.  I am not saying that we think in order to be saved that we must do some great act.  I think that for most Evangelicals we know that faith saves us.  However, after we are saved many of us forget that we are to continually be with Jesus in order to do His work in the world.  We often live like we must do something great after coming to salvation, in order to prove that we are sincere in our following of Christ.

This "Doing Theology" may not develop overnight.  We may even find balance in life at times.  However, we feel the pressures of board members, church attendees, and even worse other pastors or leaders who are looking for measurable results.  Many churches promote the idea of faith and trust in Christ alone, while turning then to attendance numbers, finances, or other measurements that we often have little or no control over.  We easily get entangled in a web of thinking that success is only in numbers or money, and not merely in serving God faithfully where we are called. 

This can often drive us to do more and more.  In doing we can fill our time and calendars up quite quickly.  However, the results are that we find little benefit or blessing.  Sometimes we do the wrong things, the less important things that God wants us to.  Sometimes we are not really spending time with God to hear what he wants, and we do what we or others think is important.  Instead we are trying to measure up to some idea of success that we have built up, or worse yet that others have built up for us.   When we miss the goals that we or others have set for success it creates a dangerous spiral.  We try harder, and find ourselves wearing and burning out in own own power.

There are some who may struggle with not doing enough, because they simply want to spend time alone with God.  They may want to hole themselves up in their holy sanctuary and stay only in prayer. They remain in Bible study for hours each day, but never take the words into action in the world around them.  They never get out and help anyone, but instead simply want to "be with God".  This can put us off balance in the opposite way.   However, my experience is that many in ministry are not really struggling with too much time with God.  Most struggle to find enough time alone with God, in order to better serve Him.

Jesus said to "Go and make disciples of all nations"(Mt. 28:19).  I have heard this best described: "as you are going".  To me part of this means that we don't stop praying, seeking, and growing in our own lives in order to serve.  Instead, serving flows out of our own prayer, seeking, and growth.   We have to have the balance of "Being in Christ" and "Serving Christ." 

 I think sometimes today we (myself included) have to beware of putting the cart before the horse, in our growing servant oriented world.  Thinking we can get people involved with serving and lead them to Christ seems very noble, but if they never find Christ then we have missed our main goal.  Worse yet, in our own lives if doing can overshadow our own relationship with God.  We can do many good and even great things before people.   However, serving the work of the Kingdom, and forfeiting our own personal soul is a danger we cannot risk.  Paul warns of this saying: "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize," (1 Co. 9:27). 

I pray that God will help us to keep balance.  I pray that on your journey with Christ that we will be filled continually with the Holy Spirit, so that we can serve in power and strength that are not our own, for the mission we serve is not our own. 

I also pray that through the rambling of my own struggle on the journey of life that God may some how bless others to know they are not alone.   It is in Christ and His strength all things are truly possible.

Blessings on the journey with Christ.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tractors, Cars, Motorcycles, and The Holy Spirit

One of the things as ministers that we must do is to get to know and become a part of the communities in which God has placed us.  We live in a time when some bigger named speakers seem to be gathering following of ministers, who take their ideas and sometimes their very words home to their own churches.  However, we cannot simply copy the ideas or the words and expect the results gained for another church in another town.  The idea of franchising faith doesn’t quite work the same as franchising the fast food industry.  While it may appeal to some, it misses meeting the needs of the community we have been called.
What is needed by ministers in our world is to get to know the community in which God has placed us.  We cannot do this by sitting in our offices, or simply praying in the solitude of our sanctuaries.  We can only do this as we get involved with people in the community and make friends and acquaintances in the community.  We must spend some sincere time getting to know the people, their needs, and what appeals to them.  Then we can move beyond merely having a message to share, and into sharing faith in living with them.
This may mean that we will need to do some things that we would never have dreamed of doing.  We may find ourselves standing working alongside of a construction worker, when we have absolutely now talent at construction.  It may be that we will find ourselves sitting in a boat or in a chilly deer blind; even if we have never had the desire to get into the great outdoors before.  To be a part of a community means following the school sports, helping at the local food pantry, drinking coffee at the community hang out.
When planning outreach events we are not planning events for the people of the church, which sometimes is hard to convince some of our own regular attendees at times.  This may mean that we will find ourselves planning events for or alongside of local antique tractor clubs, car clubs, or even motorcycle clubs.   There could be any number of local groups that even small churches can work alongside of in doing community outreach events.  Through these kinds of events many people may come into contact with the love of Christ and Christian community in a new way.  Some may even come to be a part of your ministry over time.
The greatest need of any ministry is to let the Holy Spirit lead you.  We need to be sensitive as we plan and work with others to what God is telling you to do for your specific church.  This past summer I had was feeling led to reach out to our local farmers to show them that we care and pray for them on a regular basis.  I was praying about this when a retired farmer, whom I see nearly every day at a local coffee shop, approached me with the idea of a tractor show.  The end result was that two months later we had a joint service and picnic with a few area churches, with a tractor show.  We also had a time of prayer and blessing for the fall harvest.   Many people said they wanted to do it again next year.
Many of the people who came to the event were not regular attendees of any of our local churches, including the man who approached me with the idea.  Sometimes God answers our prayers even as we are praying.  If we are sure to seek God He will help us to see where the best areas of influence will be.  When the Spirit is moving even those we may not have thought of may be the very vessels that God will use to bring others in contact with Him.
Keep your eyes, heart, and mind open to where God is leading you to reach out in your community.  Who knows you may get to make some new friends, and have some great adventures as you serve the greater purpose of Kingdom building.

-        Blessings on the Journey with Christ

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Great Encouragement from: "Is Your Church Stuck or Just Small?" by Karl Vaters

I just read a very encouraging article, by Karl Vaters on his blog New Small Church.  It is very encouraging to many of us in the small or average sized churches.  He reminds us that the size we are may be the size God has called us to be.  He also reminds us to keep the focus on church health over church size.

You can read the article " Is Your Church Stuck or Just Small"  it will be a blessing to you.

-Keep strong on your journey serving Christ.
D.G. Shipton

Friday, May 30, 2014

We Love Ya, But

You go to the house of a family that you have missed from church for a few weeks.  In the back of your mind you are hopeful that you will hear about a recent vacation.  The conversation is pleasant, and they seem genuinely happy to see you.  However, in time the conversation is opened up and they share that they are seeking another church, or not planning to come back.  "You see pastor, its not you.  We love you, but we feel like we need to make a change."  You have probably felt the discouragement of these words.  It reminds me of the old Warner Brothers character that went around saying, "I love ya. Bye, bye."  You go home wondering what you or the church have done to offend the family, or what you could have done differently to have kept them from leaving.

Here are a few lines I have heard over the years, as I have spoken to people who talk with me about why they are leaving our church.  You have probably heard theses too.
  • "I love the church pastor, but we need more for our family than your church can offer."
  •  "I love you pastor, but there are people there that I know are doing (name the action)."
  •  "Pastor you are a wonderful pastor, but I just feel like I am not being fed."
  • "Pastor you and the people are so wonderful, but I don't like the changes with (music, schedules, or any variety of big or small changes are often listed)."

I could go on with this list, and you could probably list dozen's of situations like this.  I think that as ministers and leaders we must acknowledge there are usually deeper issues going on that they simply can not express.  I am starting to learn that people don't always know why they left.  I think that there is a stirring that is within them that is coming from deeper issue, and they leave over a feeling, which is often not easy for them to express.

Even if we are given opportunity to get some sort of exit interview they will likely share these ambiguous answers, which do not help us to improve our ministry.  If there is a weakness, we may not know, because they are unable to express their deeper feelings.  There may be situations of past changes, past ministers, or past friendship that prevent them from opening up to share with us.  It may be this past pain that also has kept them from the deeper relationship that would keep have helped them to remain connected.

There is also the reality that we who are in a small church cannot offer the big church perks.  It may frustrate us at times when some will leave without ever having sincerely offered to help the very ministries they desire.  This often only seems to put salt in our wounds.  However, we know that we can't do what those larger ministries do, and we shouldn't try.  God has created us and our church for the unique place we are in.  We can't imitate or pretend to be what we are not.  We can only offer the best we are, and seek what unique ministry God has for us.  We are not in competition with the big box church down the street.  We are all on the same team, with a focus on different areas.

This past week in a Bible study group we were talking about when people leave our church.  I am not talking about people storming out of the door, but rather people who have been fairly faithful or steady simply stop coming.  Some wondered if it was not important to chase them and at least ask why they left.  Others wondered if chasing people would only push them further.  One thing we came to realize in the discussion was that if they were not getting connected with others then chasing them with any success was a near impossibility.  If we hadn't connected to them deep enough before then chasing them wouldn't help, because we really didn't know them well enough for their trust to be open to us anyway. This does not mean that we shouldn't try to reconnect with them, but was a simple observation to the reality of such situations.

I never used to chase people when I started in ministry.  I had the belief that if someone wasn't happy with us then they likely left for a church more suited to their taste. If they had moved on to another church then I could deal with the sadness and loss, because they were at least still growing in faith.  If they had left because of a lack of deeper connection I felt that chasing them would either alienate them further, or waste a whole lot of time which could be better spent ministering to those who wanted to be there. Don't get me wrong I never tried to avoid, alienate, or wrote off people.  I usually stayed in polite contact passing information and inviting them to events.  I just didn't like going after people, who knew where we were, and had obviously chosen to go in a different direction.  I just refused go to their homes time and time again or call them over and over, if they showed no interest in responding.

Over the past eight years my view has changed, and I tend to chase people at least for a while.  In many cases life became busy, and the lack of deeper connection to others led to their drifting out of our church.  Some openly admitted that they were seeking some sort of feeling, and now that was filled they didn't feel the need for being a part of the church.  A few have actually shared some useful information about some minor problems in our church ministry that we have had to address over time. I still hurt when people leave, as I am sure any pastor of any church would.  After all we are the under-shepherds responsible for the fold.  We cannot help but feel the pain of a loss to the church, and the impact on the Kingdom of God.

We can do our best to make stronger connections in the future, and keep the door open to those who have left.  However, we must also remember that we can't make everyone happy, and we are not called to try that.  We are called to be God's hands and feet in witness to the world of His love.  People have different personalities, and respond to different things.  No one church can ever touch the heart of everyone that is why God has given us so many churches.  That is also why there are so many people who are lost and hungry for a real relationship with Him still around us.  Instead of worrying that we may not be the right fit for someone who goes to another church, maybe we should open our eyes to the five or ten people living nearby that go to no church at all.

Don't allow the discouragement of hearing someone say "I love ya pastor, but...", to create a painful stumbling block in your heart.  Instead remember that you are not alone.  Remember also that there were many whom Jesus could never get through to.  Care for those who will listen, and reach those who have yet to hear.  If you do get people to open up, be gracious and listen to areas that they may show you in your ministry that you can improve.  We all have room for improvement, since none of us has yet reached the perfection of heaven.  We all minister together with God's Spirit for His Kingdom.  He will help to carry us on His mission.

- Keep strong in your journey,
Daniel Shipton

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shut Up And Listen

I was reminded in a recent conversation with a friend, who was going through a difficult situation, that sometimes I need to stop myself, shut up and simply listen at times.  They were facing some difficult decisions, and internally they knew the right thing to do.  While they had come seeking advice it was not advice they wanted.  They wanted support, care, and someone to listen and help bear their need. Thankfully God gave me the wisdom to recognize what it was they really needed, and I could offer a supporting listening ear and a shoulder to lean on during their stress.

It may sound a bit cliche, but there really is an art to listening.  The art may really be in learning to simply shut up and listen.  We need to listen to know how and when to respond to those who are calling us for advice.   As ministry leaders we get called upon to give advice for a variety of reasons.  Many of the reasons people come is for spiritual guidance.  People also come for advice about which job to take, family decisions, and even medical decisions that have to be made.We are obviously not qualified to answer in many questions, and we should know when to refer people on to other experts.

There are times when guiding others when we are being asked for advice, but there are many times when we simply need to shut up and listen.  Much of a ministers time is spent advising, preaching, and teaching.  That is good, when someone is really seeking our sincere advice or comment.
However, being a good listener means knowing when we simply need to let them share what is on their heart and mind.  Often it is best to let someone talk out their situations, and give them minor guidance in seeking solutions. At other times it is far better to be quiet and listen, because while the person says they are wanting advice they are really not yet ready to listen to guidance.  If we have been listening well, then we will be ready to give a better response when the time is right. 

- D.G.Shipton


Monday, April 21, 2014

The Martha Syndrome

Jesus told Martha, "You are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)

Being a small-town pastor is a lot like running the mom and pop cafe in our village.  Every time I walk in for coffee the same man is in the back cooking the food. To keep the business running it takes full commitment, long hours, and a lot of hard work.  That leaves little time for pleasure, and requires a lot of focus.

Working through this past holiday weekend, I found myself being convicted by Jesus' words to Martha.   There was much to worry about with extra services, breakfasts, nursing home ministry, and some deep spiritual concerns for some of our congregation facing some tough issues.  I am like many pastors, seeing needs and concerns that need done I simply take it upon myself to get them done.

I sat alone Saturday evening, finding a few seconds of peace, and I wondered if I were simply falling under the Martha Syndrome.   I was so worried about everyone having a good worship and fellowship experience that I was missing the joy of simply enjoying Christ and His hope for us.

I think that many weekends, we who minister find ourselves more like Martha and less like Mary.  More worried about doing than simply being.  Never forget that we all need to spend our own time with Christ and refreshing.  We also need to enjoy the blessings of the worship even as we are called to help to lead it.

Serving on the journey,
Daniel Shipton