Monday, November 10, 2008

Leading In The Journey of Church Life

Where does responsibility lie for direction, mission, vision, and more? We live in a world that is rapidly becoming obsessed with front line managers, due to poor upper management in the church. Jesus Himself was on the front lines in much of His ministry. The fact is that for many of us in smaller church leadership we are always in a front line leadership role, even if we don’t want it. We will likely never have the luxury of some larger church leaders who are in their offices with several people to go through to get to them. This doesn’t change the fact that we still must lead the people before us.

In change and direction God will usually give us the lead, and in fact we will likely be the first to see needed direction and change for the churches we lead. In leadership the “Trickle Down Theory” still has a vital place. I have been reminded of my leadership roles, by God in recent weeks.

Our church has been going through a rebuilding process, since my decision last spring to make a staffing change. Some left and some remained angry and concerned for quite some time. We have also had an influx of newer people, which has filled that gap of those who left. Now I have felt the need to work to unite the new and the old. I am realizing that I am the catalyst to bring them together.

God has led me back to Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a front line leader, but he was also behind the scenes. Much like Moses he would go about encouraging people, but God directed in their lives long before the other leaders or the people. Moses was the go between, and in battle he let the people fight, while he remained in prayer and held his hands to God. Trust me he was in the battle, and was the greatest encourager to those below who could see his hands held high.

Nehemiah was impressed upon by God to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The wall was a foundation for the Jews. It meant security, hope, a future, and a uniting home for their nation. Jerusalem was their capital of faith and national unity, and the wall meant the capital was secure. Nehemiah led the direction to rebuild the wall, and rebuild the people. The wall took only a few months to build under the direction and encouragement of Nehemiah. Yet, the reforms of the people took over twelve years.

To be united as God’s people Nehemiah led the people in national and spiritual reform. He implemented policy and gave spiritual direction to the people lost in their way. This is much of the goal of a pastor today, even in smaller churches. We are given the vision and we must lead in the necessary change.

I gave the following illustration in church yesterday. I disassembled a large wooden cross we keep in storage, and I gave various screws, supports, a drill, a battery, and a bit for driving screws out to people of all ages through out our church. Then to illustrate the leadership’s need in direction and the plan, I held a large paper with the words “THE PLAN” written on one side. The back of the paper was blank, but I called people up one by one with their parts. I asked some if they could see the plan to what I was building, and a few recognized what it was, and said yes. Others said it’s blank, and I shared two valuable points about leading. One, the leaders often sees what others have yet to envision. Secondly, those who have been somewhere with God before can see clearly where we are going.
I had planned to help them reassemble this cross, but a 5th grade boy took the drill and said, “We’ve got it. You need to let us do it.”
While I shared the importance of teamwork, and how the city worked under Nehemiah’s encouragement the group of people ranging from preschool to middle age built the cross behind me. It took about ten minutes to assemble the cross and stand, but the people got the point. I was reminded in the midst of all of this of a valuable point too. The people have to take up the cause, just as that fifth grader said. We must lead, and we must be going through encouraging and directing, but the people must take up the cause of Christ.
Jesus was on the front lines, but he was also behind the disciples directing, teaching, and leading them to do far more than he could do alone. We must be taking the time to hear God’s direction, and we must lead the people to carry out the vision He has given. God has called you and me as leaders to lead in His cause, for His glory.

- Keep up the journey with Jesus today.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Get to know your neighbors

I have mentioned before that in a small town, or community everyone is your neighbor. Sometimes getting to know them is easy. You can open your church up through activities on the lawn or in your parking lot. Our church regularly hosts events several times a year in our yard.
In the fall we host "Trunk or Treat", which many churches do. It really makes your church facility and family more open to the people right around you all the time.

One of the best, yet old fashioned ways to get to know my neighbor's is over a cup of coffe at the local deli, or the local gas station. I can see anywhere from 10 to 50 people in less than an hour, while I read the paper and drink coffee. Some may not see this as important, but I can think of no where else I would rather be.

I enjoy visiting at local sporting events too. It aslo boost the joy of young people when they know their minister cares enough to visit and watch one of their games. This isn't just teens either, infact attending children's events can often be very meaningful to them.

Say hello to one and all, and make contacts everyday that you can.

- Keep on your journey with Jesus today.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Perfect Sunday

It was Sunday morning, the highlight of the week. Everything had built up to this day. The pastor arrived about an hour and a half before the Sunday School was scheduled to begin, and with in minutes members of the church began to drift into the church facility. There were many things to be done, before the official start to the day. Some of the members went to the sanctuary to pray for the day, the church, and the needs of the community. Teachers were preparing for classes, as they made sure classrooms were ready to teach the expected students. Soon the worship leader and team were gathered to pray and harmonize in preparation for the services later in the morning.

The Sunday School hour came, and the classes filled with bounding children who were excited to learn. The teens came with open eyes to share their hearts and souls, while studying God's Word. The Adults met and discussed everything from the past week's news to deep theology, as they sipped coffee and tea. All the classes concluded with times of sharing and prayer for the needs of one another.

In the sanctuary the worship team played melodious harmony, as people came in with expectant hearts. Everyone worshipped in comfort, and excitement of being in God's House for the most holy day of the week. The minster soon rose to preach and draw the souls of one and all to deep growing relationships with the Lord. While the last songs brought the worship to a crescendo, many gathered to pray at the altar with the several people who had come to open their needs to the Lord in this loving environment. People took time in leaving the church, as they visited and shared their lives with one another, praising one another for God's work in their lives, and setting up times to get together through out the week ahead.

I'll let you know that I am one of the best coaches in football too, well at least in my fantasy league. In the world of fantasy we can imagine a perfect place where everything goes great, all worship and Bible studies are a blessing to one and all; and the pastor has full support of everyone with no fires to put out anywhere in their ministry. However, fantasy can only last in the brief moments somewhere between sleep and unreality. We all live in a real world, and I am sure I lost your into this fantasy at members arriving early to the church, let alone attentive and awake Sunday School attendees.

Sometimes we just have to share our reality with a trusted comrade or prayer team, so that we can make it through the times we face in our ministry. We may need a short break from our reality by heading to a favorite fishing hole, taking a walk, or hitting some balls down the links. Somewhere though we must face our reality with the only one who really understands, and really can guide us through what we face. We need to get serious and spend time with our Great Shepherd and Lord.

As the old hymn Turn Your Eye's Upon Jesus reminds we must refocus the heart from the heat we face to the guidance of God in all our ways. We may find help in books, other ministers, and many other places, but only God can help us face whatever the reality of our ministry is before us. Never forget He has called us, and He has been there in His own ministry. Take up the Bible, and spend some time in prayer. Be overwhelmed in the arms of the Lord, and carry on in His work before you.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Risk of A Minister’s Heart

When I was about ten years old I was helping my mother in the kitchen, as we prepared a meal. I enjoy cooking, and always have. This particular day I was helping to peel potatoes, and cut them up for dinner. While cutting through the potato I managed to cut the end of my left ring finger. The slice went fairly deep, and we washed it, cleaned out any thing that might cause infection, put ointment and a Band-aide over the wound. More than twenty-five years have passed since the accident of cutting my finger, and yet when ever I look at the tip of my finger I see a straight line indented permanently into the skin. The wound healed and my finger works fine, yet a scare remains.

I have on my body other scares from other incidents through out life. Most scares are minor, and were caused by accident; some even from my own stupidity in my younger years. I have two scares, one upon each ankle which was intentionally put upon my body. You might ask why someone would intentionally have scars put upon their body. In my case they were surgically placed there, when in my preteen years a doctor rebuilt arches into both of my feet. You see I had been born with fallen arches, and the doctor had to operate to change the form of my body, so that I would walk better in latter years.

Healing of wounds, whether surgical or accident, take time. Some wounds heal, and are hardly noticeable to the eye. Other wounds will leave a scar that can be seen to remind us of what happened so long ago. Some healing, like my finger will leave little pain to remind us, although they may feel funny when rubbed just a certain way. Other wounds, as with my ankles, may heal and the scar may not be sensitive, but under the surface may remain sensitive the rest of our lives. If I put too much strain on my ankles, or do get hit near where the surgery took place it sends pain to my body to remind me of what was done so many years ago.

The healing of emotional and spiritual wounds is a lot like this too. We may go through a situation, which was not planned, and end up with a scar deep in our heart and soul. While the old saying is, “Time heals all wounds”, we all know that time often doesn’t heal completely. O we can bury ourselves in living our lives, and we can get over the initial pain or suffering. However, when someone says something just a certain way, or a situation comes up that is similar to where we were hurt those feeling of pain come to mind and we hurt a little again.

One of the things in ministry that I have heard, and have come to realize is that we as ministers risk being hurt. We can not minister to others, if we are not willing to be rejected, forgotten, torn down, disregarded, or hurt in some other way. After a time of hurt we may need to reflect, grow, and overcome. Yet in time we will feel the need to minister to others, and put our lives on the line of getting hurt again. It is part of caring for others, and being open to them.

Our church has been through some hurt in the past six months. I made a decision, which was not accidental, but more surgical in nature. I felt I could not recommend the keeping of a staff position, a position which was in place before my arrival two years ago. The end result was arguments from various people in the church, and an eventual split of several people. It was painful, and I wish the separation never would have happened. I know the change of position was needed, but I and the church would have done far better with out the fall out. Wounds were formed in my life, in many individuals, and with-in the church as a whole. Big decisions in smaller churches often have larger impact, simply because everyone is interconnected, and often interrelated.

The church is healing, and beginning to pull together and grow again. We know there is a long road ahead, but we are following God’s lead to where He wants our congregation to be going in the future. We have given the past few months as healing, and now are desire to reach out more. Some who left have begun a new work in our area, and are now talking and reopening friendships with those who remain in the church.

A recent suggestion from one of our church leaders was to offer our facility to the new ministry work, as a fundraising space for their church. Most of my leaders felt that this was a good gesture of Christian friendship and love. I have no idea whether they will really be open to doing something with us, but I see in the leaders here a desire to help healing, by reaching out to those who left in a supportive way.

Scars remain, and I must admit that the suggestion of doing something with this group does cause some concern. However, I know from experience that for full healing to happen it sometime takes a little stretching of ourselves. After having my ankles operated on, and spending three months in a cast I had to rebuild some of the muscles that had atrophied a bit. I also had to get my ankles stronger over time by using them.

Sometimes the best healing for a hurting heart is to love others, as you would want to be loved. You may not be ready to step out or reach out to one who hurt you or your ministry just yet, but you can love others in your community and the church where you now minister.

Some may argue that this is just some psychological play on emotions, but in the Bible when a prophet was low and felt down God often put them back to work. Many times the work the prophets required them to go back and face the ones who hurt them. Samuel had to anoint David, after wanting to give up on leadership and living in fear of Saul. Elijah had to leave the cave and go back the way he came in order to anoint new leaders and his replacement. Jesus had to go to Jerusalem in order to finish the work he was called to do.

We may need time to heal, and recover from the pain of situations in life. I would suggest taking time to heal and rebuild your self in the Lord and His power. We must in the end, trust God to face the challenges that lie ahead of us. We must risk loving others again. We must learn and take from the pain that we have been through, so we can better love and reach others with the love of Jesus Christ.

- Keep on your Journey with Jesus this week.