Thursday, February 27, 2014

Faithfully Minister

Ezk. 3.7, Isaiah 6.9, 2Tim. 4.2

Paul instructed Timothy to be prepared to preach in season and out of season.  I have often felt that this means to preach whether we feel greatly inspired or not.  I also see lately that it can mean to preach whether they listen or not.  Isaiah and Ezekiel are two examples of people called to preach for God, who were sent to people who wouldn't listen.

I love to preach and teach, especially when I see a disciple or congregant with that light in their eyes that shows they are gaining understanding.  When someone raises their hand in response or comes to the altar I feel privileged to have been a useful instrument in God's plan at that moment.  I think this is true of many preachers.

However, I have went through weeks and even months of time when it seemed like no one really cared what God had to say.  They seemed very wrapped up in the problems and worries of their lives, and seemed to come only out of obligation or responsibility.  Does God really want us to preach hard and strong in those times?  It can feel like we are wasting our time.

The truth is that God calls us to preach, teach, and minister faithfully.  We are not called to produce stellar results in everything we do.  We live in a generation so filled with statistics and so result oriented that we forget that first and foremost we are called to be faithful in the ministry God is calling us to.  We are called first to build our own relationship with God, and to minister to others out of that relationship.

We will likely not fill our altars every Sunday morning.   It may well be that we will really only get to glimpse where God is moving in other people on a sporadic basis.  We should celebrate with God when He allows us to see His moving.  More importantly we should remain faithful in our daily walk, and in every part of our ministry whether the big results shine through or not.

It may well be that God is moving, and we just are not seeing what He is doing at that moment.  I know there have been times when I have preached, and thought no one heard.  Then several weeks later someone will tell me how they have been contemplating something I said weeks earlier.  The message got through the way the Holy Spirit intended, but I never even knew.

Keep preaching.  Keep teaching.  Keep ministering where God calls you.  Let the Holy Spirit worry about whether the hearts are receptive or not.

Blessings in your ministry.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Minister to the Community in Which You are Called

Do you ever feel out of sync with the people you are called to lead?  Maybe like many pastor's and church leaders you grew up in another state, and now you find yourself leading a congregation far from the place you once lived.  Some people are called to mission fields far from home, where they must learn a different language and many different social norms in order to fit in.  Many of us have learned that there are social differences in the country, or even the state we find ourselves in.  However, for most of us in North America we have a lot of common ground on which to stand.

In the Ezekiel's call from God he was told to feed and be filled with God's Word.  Then he was given the challenge to go to the people.  Ezekiel 3:5 says God told Ezekiel that he was not going to "a people of obscure language, but to the house of Israel."  To those of us on the front lines of ministry in North America we may feel separate from people in the pews at times, but the reality is that God has called us to the great mission of reaching people similar to ourselves.  While there will always be slight differences in every person we are called to minister to the reality is that we all have similar needs, and in community we are often facing similar situations.

Do you ever struggle with being a part of the community you are called to lead?  There has been a push in many churches and denominations in the past twenty years to encourage pastors to stay longer in their churches.  At one time in America the average pastoral call to a church lasted less than three years.  Three years is barely enough time to really get to know the community we live in, or the real heart needs that they face.  In fact most people never really accept a minister as caring until they have went through some serious living with them.

All to often the history of small-town churches has been that pastors bale on churches before ever living and being a part of the community.   In many cases it is the churches who have pushed pastors out over situations that bring struggle, which may result in deep spiritual growth before they can really grow up.  Then the cycle starts over with a new pastor, or a new church.  It is a cycle that never allows the church to become a deeper community, living and growing through challenges.  It is a cycle for many pastors to run before growing in their weak areas, or really opening up to the community they have been called to .

The trend of being called to a community is a good trend, which I can say I am becoming better acquainted with in my current pastorate.  There was a time when I first left Bible college that I wondered how a minister could have anything new to preach after four or five years in a single place.  I will soon be starting my ninth year in my current ministry, and I told my wife a few weeks ago that I don't know if I will ever have time to teach or preach all that God has been laying on my heart for the people here.

Being called to a people, to a community is a great thing.  It means that we will come to identify with them in their celebrations and in their needs.  It means we will not preach or teach merely stale words or educated instruction, but we will connect to their hearts because they are a part of us and we are a part of them.  It means we will be willing to work through differences in love instead of running from issues or running people over because of issues that arise.  It means we are willing to stay and make the community our home, and care about the needs of those in and outside the church.

Does all of this mean that one will be there for all of their ministry career?  For some of us it may very well be that we will remain where we are for the rest of our careers where we now are.  I know some who have been at their current ministry for more than twenty or thirty years.  Whether we stay for our entire ministry in one place or move after ten or twenty years, we should serve as God calls us.  For all of us it means that we must grow beyond the temporary mindset and  the constraints of short-term living.  We must open up to the possibility of real relationships and becoming a real part of the communities which we are called to.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Preaching From What You Are Fed

I was recently reading Ezekiel 3:1-4, part of Ezekiel's call by God.  God told Ezekiel to "eat this scroll I am giving you, and fill your stomach with it" (v.3).  This was an instruction to Ezekiel before he was instructed to go speak God's Word to the people.  This is a challenge to all who would be called to minister and preach to others.  We do not preach our own thoughts or ideas, but we preach God's Word to His people and to call others into His fold.

I am not perfect in my devotional times, and I know from talking with other pastors and church leaders that devotional times are a struggle for many of us to keep.  Some of us wrap our devotions into the ministries we are doing, which is partially what these verses are challenging us to do.  Through our own feeding upon the Word of God should flow the teaching and instruction we are to give to those we are called to lead.  It is from our time feeding in the Word that we can pass on God's message to others.

I fear that many in ministry and leadership fail to feed consistently upon the Word of God.  Instead we live in a day when so many other ministers notes and sermons are freely given through electronic medium that we do not spend the time seeking God in prayer and deep feeding.  I am not saying we should never use another minister's guidance, because there are some pastors who do this and are deeply growing in their own ministry and life.

 The greater problem I see is more of a lazy approach to our devotional lives.  I speak with others who often have no clue on Saturday evening what God wants them to say on Sunday morning.  I know it can be hard to prepare week in and week out, but the reality is we should be able to speak out of what God is telling us through our daily lives.  Maybe instead of spending so much time reading about others journey's in faith, we need to rekindle our own spiritual lives in God's Word.  I know reading others journey's, blogs, or teaching is good for us too.  However, it doesn't take away from good time spent reading and meditating on what God has for us and our lives.

Several years ago I was in a meeting,. with our then District Superintendent Dr. Ray Barnwell.  He told the group that there should never be a reason to fear having a message.  He suggested preaching through books of the Bible or segments of Scripture, so we would always be prepared for the coming week of feeding the flock.  This is great advice for having direction.  Yet, it still comes down to the question of feeding on that word for our own lives, so that we can then bless others with God's teaching.  He will often teach us far more than we will ever be able to put into one sermon.

In thinking about this, I realized that a mother bird feeds herself well with the food she finds.  Then and only then does she fly back to take food to her young chicks in need of food.  If we are not caring for our own spiritual growth, and our own deep relationship with God how can we lead others to a deep place with Him?

Feed well in the depths of His Word on a regular basis, so that you may carry on the work He calls you to in Him.

-Blessings for the journey.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Conquering Our Complaining Hearts

Paul challenges us to do everything "without complaining or arguing" (Phil. 2:14).  We live in a society and world where complaining seems a right to one and all.  Most of us probably have received our share of complaints from people who have their own ideas and thoughts about how a ministry or activity could better be run.  However, when we ask for their serious help they abandon us.  It frustrates many who are trying to minister to the needs of the local church.

In recent weeks all of us across most of North America have faced the challenges of the first hard winter in over a decade.  It has caused lower numbers in church attendance for over a month in many parts of our country. It is easy to get down when we are living for the numbers, but it amazes me how people continually resort to complaining.  Don't get me wrong, I am not making any plans to join the polar bear swim team.  I realize it is an adjustment for us to deal with the cold and snow, and some truly have had a hard time with getting out.  However, I was challenged after conversing with another pastor recently by how negative we and many other ministers have become with the weather.

I think that it reveals a deeper issue in most of our hearts, which really has to do with pride.  We get used to our numbers growing, or at least staying steady.  When the numbers go down and we have no way to control things, like the weather, then we tend to complain.  God is still God, and He remains in control of the weather.  We speak of the good blessings of God raining on the just and the unjust alike, but it also snows on the just and the unjust alike.  We and our neighbors are all in the same place.

Instead of living in a place of complaint, maybe we need to come together with those who are able to gather, and still focus on "whatever is pure, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, and whatever is admirable" (Phil. 4:8).  The truth is when we keep our eyes on what we have to be grateful for, and looking at what is good in our world and community we can restore the joy of our soul.  May our hearts and minds be filled with the good God is doing, instead of the momentary struggles we may be facing.  In His strength we will remain steady.

- Keep on your journey faithfully

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Remember we are not Superhero's we are Pastors

I write this today not because I am perfect in anyway at this, but because I have spoken with other pastors who I think sometimes are hurting their own ministries by not learning to evaluate their time better.

We have all been there, the phone rings and someone has what seems a life or death situation to them, and when we rush in to help.  We later take time to evaluate, and realize that this was not a life or death situation.  Maybe we have been jolted from bed to rush to the hospital.  Maybe we  just received a call right after arriving to the office and now our whole day is on hold.  The emergencies at times can be very real; however, in some cases they can be less than true emergencies.

I have had my share of calls begging for help, or demanding my attention.  Being in a smaller church I do my best to respond to the needs as they arise.  I remember being stopped once night as I rushed to the hospital, and being warned by a policeman to slow down.  That night the emergency was real, a young husband died and a family had serious need of comfort.  I have had other occasions of middle of the night phone calls from those leaving sinful lifestyles, and needing someone to pick them up in the middle of fairly dangerous neighborhood.  One night I was driving home after helping someone, in a neighborhood that I shouldn't have been in at that hour of the day, I thought of my wife at home.  I thought of how she would be out of a home, in great distress, and alone if I would have been hurt or killed.

I know that ministry calls us to be available, and to do our best to meet the needs of those we are trying to help.  However, I believe God gives us the brain power to better decide when we are really the right person to help.  I have listened to other pastors share their stories of late nights out, of nearly becoming stranded in storms, or simply allowing others to take advantage of both their caring nature and their position as a minister.  I am struck with the amazing way we can stroke our own ego by thinking we can be some kind of superhero's to our congregations.  We are undershepherds of the Good Shepherd. Sometimes we need to better evaluate our time, and ability to meet others needs.

Moses had to do this in Exodus 18.  His father-in-law Jethro confronted him on trying to solve all the problems of the people all on his own.  Jethro suggested that he allow others to help bear the load.  In the end only the most important problems came to Moses, and everyone's problems were cared for by the whole community.  We need to stop and evaluate how we are doing at this in our own lives and ministries.  Perhaps we should let someone else take some of our burdens.  Perhaps we need to learn to say no, when we know the situation is not an emergency.  Perhaps we need to recognize that we just may not be the superhero, the fireman, or the EMT that they are really in need of at that moment.

May God help us all to do better about managing and living our lives for Him.