There are so many things going on in our world, in our churches and in our individual lives. In the past couple of weeks I’ve had opportunity to talk with a lot of pastors and church leaders; some were face-to-face and many visits were by phone. As leaders we face many challenges: decreasing interest in all things spiritual; dwindling resources and rising expenses; marriages under stress; teens struggling with peer pressure and life decisions plus the temptation for sex, drugs, and alcohol; and then there’s the unstated expectation to keep everybody “happy.”
Just writing this down sets my mind in high gear. I would be thrilled if I could sit down with you one-on-one and let stream-of-consciousness rule the conversation for about two hours! This is an idea of the subjects we might cover:
· We are called to live “above reproach” – the expectation is not perfection but a life full of humility, prayer, obedience, and grace. The way we live is more important than what we say in a sermon. Words end up being empty if the voice speaking them has little or no credibility. Remember Paul’s admonition to Timothy: "Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:11-12 Message)
· The current economic downturn and general malaise in American society is a great opportunity to speak truth about the real source of hope! James teaches us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV) Entitlement programs increase our misplaced dependence on government rather than on “the Father of the heavenly lights.”
· There will always be more ministry opportunities than resources. No matter whom I’m talking with, from the largest to the smallest of the churches, pastors and leaders live with the daily tension of funding. The playing field is level – every ministry struggles with managing limited resources. That includes large churches with large budgets – so don’t daydream of a larger church in hopes that will solve the financial pressures! Creativity always trumps budget.
· My friend, Doug Webster, recently shared this truth with me: “Preaching is proclaiming the whole counsel of God the way Jesus would. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus began his public preaching ministry with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and ended it with the Sermon on the End of the World (Matthew 24-25). These two sermons frame his teaching ministry and offer insights into Jesus the Preacher. They model for the church how preachers should preach. If we want to learn how to preach, we need to pay attention to Jesus. Most of us are more familiar with the Sermon on the Mount than we are with the Sermon on the End of the World, but even then few of us understand Jesus’ twelve minute Sermon on the Mount as a whole. Preachers tend to break it up and preach it piecemeal. We have been taught to dissect Matthew 5-7 into small sections for microscopic exegetical examination or for homiletical sound bites. Instead of grasping the totality of the sermon, we think of the sermon as a collection of random sayings and reflections from Jesus. Then, we turn to textual technicians to decipher and decode the text. Preaching, however, is neither solving an intellectual puzzle nor appealing to an audience’s emotional felt needs. Preaching is proclaiming the whole counsel of God the way Jesus would. “
· I really enjoy my job! Yes, I have a lot of windshield time. No, I don’t like being away from home as much as I am, but this is what God has given me to do. I like being with pastors and church leaders listening to the joys and pains of ministry. I’m learning to resist the urge to “solve all the problems” and be an encourager. God has already given you everything you need for today!
· Life is an adventure and our 34th year of marriage has been marked by Lois’ having cancer. We don’t see this as a trial or even a battle. Cancer comes because we live in a broken, fallen world where sickness and tragedy occur. Maybe cancer is a gift – we are certainly learning more about dependence on God, appreciation for family, patience in the unknown, and faith in the Great Physician rather than the medical community. In addition, God continues to give us opportunities to share His grace and hope and presence with others. In the middle of all this we Choose Joy!
If some of these stream-of-consciousness-ideas have sparked a desire for conversation, please don’t hesitate to call, text, or email me. We are in this together: partners in the Gospel.
“So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” (1 Peter 5:6-11 Message)