Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

Sabbatical

Posted: July 29, 2012 in Leadership, Living Stones Church, Ministry

I’ve heard that ideally – you want to minister out of the overflow of your cup that is being constantly filled by Jesus.  That sounds great.  It sounds idyllic.  I’m curious how many pastors actually feel that they live in that space.  At the moment, I can at least say, I’m not one of them.

For the past four weeks I’ve been preaching a message series entitled “Life on the Vine” out of John 15 on the importance of living a life deeply engrafted in Jesus.  While others listened in, I wrote the messages for myself, knowing that I’m not sure I’m as plugged into Jesus as much as I need to be in order to be the kind of Pastor/Leader I want to be (and the Living Stones Church deserves).  I have some pruning I need God to attend to.  I have some life habits that could use a “restart”.  And my past experience informs me that the only way that happens is when I commit an extended period of time to unplug from the weekly urgency and necessity of daily ministry.

In that posture I hear God better.  He is typically very gracious and speaks to me in ways that reveals my heart condition (thus prodding me to make necessary adjustments, recalibrations, and plain ol’ repentances) as well as vision and direction for the future (specifically for Living Stones Church).

I’m in need of one of those times.  I’ve taken a few of those “assessments” you can take on “clergy burnout” etc.  And it revealed that if I plan on going the long-haul in ministry (which I do…like at least another 25 years [Lord willing] [side note:  statistically – 90% of individuals who enter ministry will not retire from ministry]) I would need to have some time for a “spiritual tune-up” if you will.  So – that is what I’m going to do.

The elders of the Living Stones Church have been very kind, generous, and gracious to me.  They have encouraged me to take a sabbatical for a while (which usually resulted in me brushing off their suggestion because of…well…I’m going to guess fear and pride).  But after conversations with my wife, and her very insistent tone, I’ve decided to take them up on it and enter into a sabbatical season.

As soon as I return from a Junior High Summer Camp with our youth group (August 2nd), I will enter into a Sabbatical until September 9th.  I plan on enjoying some family time, hanging out with some Benedictine monks, and reconnecting in the vine that is Jesus.  I plan on disengaging from a lot, including all social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.).

The church is in good hands and is going to grow and thrive in my absence (but not too much because I still would like a job when I get back).  I’m not worried about the church at all.  We have the best staff of any church (I’m a little partial).  Truth be told…they were doing all the work anyhow! 🙂

We have a pretty ambitious plan ahead of us (which is pretty much taking over the world starting on the South Side of South Bend).  And I need to make sure I’m prepared in heart, spirit, and mind to be the kind of leader who can lead such an adventure.

Prayers for me during this time would be most appreciated.  Lord willing, I’ll see you September 9th!

“I’m Pastorman”

Posted: May 9, 2012 in Leadership, Ministry, vision

Most Pastors I know (including myself) want to believe that by way of identity they are leading a community of faith to change the world through the expansion of the Kingdom of God.  Sounds exciting doesn’t it?  It is (or at least it can be)!  It’s the stuff of superheroes – battling spiritual principalities, rescuing those who have been taken captive to sin and suffering, standing up for truth (and grace)!!!  I practically walk around with a music/movie soundtrack playing in the back of my head – you know…those anthemic intense superhero ones.  “I’m Pastor-Man!!!” *looks out the window to see if I can see my Pastor-man signal in the sky*

What most pastors don’t want to be is a chaplain to society.  That is a totally different identity.  It doesn’t have anthemic intense superhero music set in the background.  It is more like musak in an elevator.  Boring.  Ignored.  Seemingly unnecessary.  And at times – obnoxious (really…you’re going to set “Everybody Rules the World” by Tears for Fear to Musak!!!!?)

Did you know that cruise ships have a chaplain?  They do.  And they get to enjoy a week-long cruise for free as long as they hold an interdenominational service on Sunday morning and are available should they be needed (guess how many people attend this service on a cruise ship).  Do you know when chaplains on cruise ships are needed?  Never.  I’m going to suggest that every employee on a cruise ship, and I don’t care if you are the lowest rung of the maintenance crew, the kitchen staff, or the housekeeping – is more important than a chaplain on a cruise ship.  You may be tempted to think to yourself, yea, but what if the ship is sinking…I bet you would want a chaplain then.  The answer:  NOPE.  No one in the midst of a sinking ship thinks to themselves, “I wish I had a chaplain.”  What they want is a life boat or someone skilled enough to plug that hole in the side of the ship.  The only time a chaplain comes in handy is at the very end, when all hope is lost, we know we are about to drown…we’ve totally given up…now – someone find a chaplain to say something or pray something because we are about to meet God.

Pastors, if they aren’t careful, can very quickly be relegated by society to chaplaincy.  It happens all the time.  The obligatory prayer before the city council meetings, the invocation at the start of the Little League game, a blessing at some civic dedication ceremony (which by the way…these aren’t bad things…and I’ve done some of them), but ultimately it is a very different function than “Pastor-Man” (I just puffed my chest out as I said that…I’m not sure even when puffed it extends past my belly…dang it!) a leader of God’s people called to change the world.

[More on this later]

Sometimes God just decides a church is going to have a particular ministry whether it asks for it or not.  And since He is God, he gets to do that and doesn’t really need to ask anyone for permission!  And for whatever reason, God has decided that the Living Stones Church is going to have a ministry for families and children with special needs.  We didn’t ask for it.  We didn’t pray for it.  We didn’t set it as a part of some great “vision statement” / outreach plan.  God just sent us a ton of families with children who have special needs.  Like, percentage-wise, more than any church I know!!! (humility qualifier:  I don’t know every church. 🙂 ).

What is strange about God’s plan is that I feel like we are an ill-equipped church for such a ministry.  We don’t have many resources in regards to money, space, etc.  But, I guess that doesn’t concern God at all.

What we do have is people like Amy Osterhout (she leads our children’s ministry) who before coming on staff at LSC served in the South Bend Community School Corporation as a special education teacher for 17 years.  AND we have Melissa Holstein who has seven children (along with a husband who could at times qualify as one of her children 🙂 ) who has several children with autism and a PASSION to see families who need support get it!  She started “precious stones” here several years ago for this very need.  (sidenote:  I don’t know anyone who lives with as much grace, humor, and endurance in the midst of their life circumstances than the Holsteins.  Don’t tell them – but they are heroes to me).  AND we have an entire children’s ministry team that in heart, life experience, or passion is second to none in regards to children with special needs.

SO…Here we go!!  I guess we are beginning a venture to figure out how to be a church that is capable of ministering faithfully to families and children with special challenges that God has sent us.  We don’t have everything figured out.  But we’re going to try.

I got an e-mail this morning from Karen Roberts who works with Joni & Friends International Disability Center.  It looks like we are going to learn as much from them as we can on how we are supposed to serve and minister well.

Speaking of heroes, Mike Cope who is one of my preaching heroes…like seriously…the man can preach in such a way that Scripture just comes to life…at his blog PreacherMike.com began today a series on “Church and Families With Specially Challenged Kids” and I know it is going to be great.  You should check it out here.  The above video is from his first post.

Communitas – is an intense community spirit, the feeling of solidarity and togetherness achieved by sharing in a common experience.

What are Communitas Groups?  Go HERE and listen to the last two podcasts (if time is limited…pick the second part of the two).  In it, I describe the vision and philosophy of our small groups ministry as we launch the first week of March our NEW Communitas Groups.

AND THEN…

Sign up HERE to be in a group.  There are 12 different groups meeting at different times with different leaders and different formats (e.g., men/women, etc.).  I am VERY excited to see what God does through these groups on our quest to become spiritually fit – ready for ANYTHING!!

[This post is in a series of posting about marriage and weddings.  You can find the first five posts hereherehere, here, and here.]

I’ve got a lot to say about this subject (surprising I know!…but…when you’re an expert…you’re an expert! 🙂 ) so this might take up a few posts.  Let me explain.

According to the most recent statistics, 80% of Christian couples are having sex before getting married.  EIGHTY PERCENT!!  I know that sounds high, but my pastoral cynicism (and experience) jumps in and I quickly think, “That’s it!?  I would have guessed higher.”  Statistically, there is almost NO DIFFERENCE between Christians and non-Christians when it comes to having pre-marital sex.  ouch.

This in spite of the fact that the Bible is VERY clear on this matter.  Really.  There are a lot of grey areas in the Bible.  This isn’t one of them.  I would recommend the following as starters on this topic:   1 Corinthians 5:16:1318;10:82 Corinthians 12:21Galatians 5:19Ephesians 5:3Colossians 3:51 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 7:2; Matthew 5:28-30.

So, why are so many Christians abandoning the clear teachings of the Bible to have sex?  Well…there are a lot of reasons:

  • It’s fun.
  • It feels good.
  • should I go on?

I’ll talk more about the reasons in a future post, but for now, allow me to propose what I believe to be the main thesis of this blog post:  Sex before marriage is making you stupid.

I see it all the time (especially among women…but I’m totally into equal-opportunity thinking so I believe this is true of guys as well).

Before you get married, I believe you need to have the ability to discern and weigh out whether or not the person you are dating (or engaged to) would be a good spouse.  You have to have the ability to see “warning signs” and “red flags” of potential disaster ahead.  Like…for example…hypothetically…I’m just sayin’…maybe I’ve seen these situations… a) the fact that he is already lying to you about some very significant things.  Or…b) the fact that he doesn’t have a job and spends hours playing video games on your couch while you go to work.  Or…c) the fact that he has a bunch of biological children all over the country that he never sees and he isn’t caring for financially.  Or…d) the fact that he is addicted to drugs.  Or…e) the fact that NO ONE in your entire circle of friends and family (people who love you!) thinks he is good for you.  [I know these examples are extreme.  Just as valid are the smaller issues that are just as important and just as impacting on your future marriage. E.g., You love 2-ply toilet paper – your fiancé is too cheap to ever buy 2-ply toilet paper.]

Do you know why you can’t see those “warning signs” and “red flags?”  SEX!!!  Sex has blinded you!!!

Sex bonds you to another person.  That is why God created it (remember – it was HIS idea).  That is why it is very important within the covenant of marriage.  And it is why if there is no sex in marriage, the couple needs help from a counselor (and I’m serious…if you aren’t having sex within marriage…GO GET HELP!!).  This bonding effect is all by God’s design.  That is why the Bible says things like this:

Genesis 1:24 – For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

1 Corinthians 6:15-16 – Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?  Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a  prostitute?  Never!  Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?  For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”

This is the language of bonding, uniting, and oneness that belongs to sex.

Even the body’s biological design is chemically wired in this way.  Even before sex (in just the attraction stage), you have certain hormones and chemicals that are coursing through your body.  Even before sex – you have testosterone, estrogen, adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin at work (this is why sexual temptation is very real and very powerful.  BUT…when you engage in sex – your body releases oxytocin and vasopressin (feel free to do a Wikipedia search on all of these hormones).  Oxytocin & vasopressin are known as the “bonding hormones” that creates long-term attachment.  And…these hormones make you stupid before marriage (they can also make you stupid after…but in a way that is to our advantage 🙂 ).

Premarital sex PREMATURELY bonds you to another person, that more often than not, works against you in regards to discernment, rationality, and wisdom.  It keeps you from asking the tough questions and more importantly, it keeps you from hearing the right answers (and truth).

I can’t tell you how many people I know who now hate each other and are divorced with great pain, suffering, sadness, and anger.  And when you ask, you find out that all of the causes for the break-up of the marriage were really present before the marriage, but they were so “in love” (read…stupid because of sex) that they couldn’t see it.

And to my Christian friends who aren’t married but are having sex.  I know guilt can be a strong driver to look over some very obvious things.  You may be thinking, “I have to marry them now, we started having sex.” (or some variation of that line of thinking)  Let me tell you right now…Jesus has a much better way of dealing with and resolving your guilt than forcing you into a bad marriage.  It is not too late to wake up from the sexual stupor and make a wise and good decision.

[This post is in a series of posting about marriage and weddings.  You can find the first four posts herehere, here, and here]

When my wife and I got married we had to sign a four page contract with, what felt like, a zillion points as to what would be allowed or not allowed in our wedding ceremony and also the details of our past relationships.  We grew up in an Acappella Church of Christ so the church we were getting married in didn’t allow any music to be played that contained instruments (yes…I actually just said that…try walking down the aisle to a vocal rendition of the Wedding March).  The contract also wanted to make sure that we had no prior marriages that ended in a “unbiblical divorce” or that we weren’t living together prior to getting married, etc.  We had to initial each point of the contract to affirm we understood the expectations and that we were not in violation of any of the conditions.  Even now, as I look back on it, it was very legalistic in tone and feel (even as it was very thorough and clear).

In my ministry over the past 15 years I’ve had a number of angry couples who came to me wanting me to marry them because “their Pastor” (or church) wouldn’t allow them to get married because of [fill in the blank].  As they shared their stories, it wasn’t hard to feel a little sympathetic to the sting they felt of legalistic rules and expectations.

Legalism sucks no matter what the topic or situation.  And the tone of legalism I find repugnant.

And that is why this conversation of weddings and marriage feels in some way awkward to me.  I’ve come to appreciate that there really does need to be understanding, expectations, and clarity as to what Christian marriage is, and what it isn’t.  And I personally have fallen into some convictions in this area that before I have glossed over hoping that my inclusive spirit and “generosity” of low-expectations and hoops to jump through would ultimately win the day (or at least the hearts of those getting married).

And now…15 years later…that didn’t work.  In the devastation of divorce and failed marriages I feel I have done a disservice to couples to not give greater instructions, expectation, and clarity as to God’s heart and desire for marriage.

And yet…I don’t want to be legalistic.  I don’t want to have that tone.

So I struggle.  And in the end, I have concluded that this really is a case-by-case deal.  You just can’t have hard and fast rules as to what you declare you will or will not do.  And in the end, you have to discern directional movement.  What I mean by that is – are they moving towards Jesus, or away from Him?

I had a couple that I married several years ago (really…one of my favorite people) who came to me precisely because another church had rejected them.  They had been together for years (even living together) and had two beautiful little girls.  They got involved in our church and gave their lives to Jesus and eventually got married.  And it was very obvious that they were directionally heading TOWARDS Jesus, even if the beginning of their relationship didn’t line up with what Jesus would have desired.  Of course!  They hadn’t given their lives to Jesus yet.  I know many Pastors wouldn’t have married them because they were living together.  Or they would have married them only if one of the individuals moved out.  But for me…they had two daughters.  What could be more devastating for those little girls than for “daddy” to move out a few months prior to the wedding ceremony?  So, in the end, with great joy, I married them.  And the reason…their entire life was directionally heading towards Jesus.

On the other hand, I’ve had other couples who were already in Jesus.  They had confessed Jesus as Lord, they had been baptized in his name.  They had pledged to follow after the ways of Jesus.  And then…it seemed every decision they made relationally was away from Jesus.  Sex before marriage (which by the way the statistics tell us is at 80% for Christians who are engaged).  Living together.  On different pages when it came to spiritual values and commitments.  And making decisions that are NOT headed towards Jesus.

I live and exist because of God’s grace.  And I want to extend that to everyone.  Everyone stumbles.  Everyone sins.  Everyone screws up.  Everyone has that moment when their life, after taking two steps forward, takes a step back.  But the stakes involved in marriage are too high and too great (especially when kids are involved) for a flippant – “everyone makes mistakes so…whatever” in regards to the foundational decisions people make in regards to getting married.

And the only way I know to hold convictions and not be legalistic is to move case-by-case prayerfully discerning the overall direction a couple is heading.  If it is towards Jesus, I want to help, as much a I can, along the way.  If it is away from Jesus, my help has to take the form of instruction, warning, and the call to repentance.  To plead, with as much grace as I am capable of manifesting – to head back TOWARDS Jesus.  For it is the only sound directional move available for Christians who want to get married.

Yoked Together

Posted: January 24, 2012 in marriage, Ministry, Weddings

[This post is in a series of posting about marriage and weddings.  You can find the first three posts here, here, and here]

Most of the people I minister to and hang out with aren’t farmers.  I have nothing against farmers, but my life is rooted in a city and I just don’t have a lot of farmers around me.  As a result, some of the agricultural metaphors and language that the Bible uses, is often missed.

One such metaphor is the language of a yoke.  It is the wooden beam-like object around the neck of the two oxen.  The purpose and need for a yoke was essential in farming.  Every ox was different.  Some were stronger, some were weaker, some were faster, some were slower, one wanted to go this direction, the other wanted to head in a different direction.  What kept them together – moving at the same speed, and the same pace, and sharing the burden of the load/work was the yoke.  Without it, the oxen would find themselves going in totally different directions, with different speeds, and different levels of strength.  They would ultimately (if they were trying to pull a cart or a plow) find themselves pulling in opposing directions.  And the result – tension, conflict, added burden, and wasted expenditures of energy.

Jesus uses this metaphor when he speaks of our life of discipleship.  He says in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

The apostle Paul uses this metaphor as a warning in regards to our most intimate and personal relationships, including marriage.  He says in 2 Corinthians 6:14:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

I know this is the most controversial of topics when it comes to marriage.  I can’t tell you how many Christians (especially women) have spoken to me years later with regret – who thought they were the biblical exception and married someone who wasn’t a Christian and didn’t share in their faith assumptions.  At the time they were so “in love” that they thought it wouldn’t really matter.  Or they thought they had some arrangement worked out (then the kids showed up).  Or they thought their husband-to-be would come around and join them in their faith (which we still hope and pray for).

In the end, I just can’t get around this passage in 2 Corinthians.  And there are times that I want to get around it for the sake of people who I love and who have found “someone.”  And every time I have gone ahead and officiated a wedding between someone who was a Christian and someone who wasn’t – more often than not, I have regretted it, and more importantly, the couple regretted it.  They regretted it because they found they were living a life with a spouse who was perpetually pulling in an opposite direction.  And it often ended in either divorce, or out of pure exhaustion, caused the Christian to give in.  Years later they find they practice almost no faith at all.

I want to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching.  Not because I like it all the time.  Not because I don’t want there to be exceptions.  Not because I have moments of “but they really do seem great together” kind of thoughts.  But simply because I’ve pledged, in life and vocation, to be faithful to its teachings EVEN when I might wish otherwise.