Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

4 Steps to Overcome Opposition

The only sure way to avoid opposition in life is to never do anything worth opposing. But Jesus has called us to more than that. When he calls us to new life in him, he also calls us to bring new life to our neighbors and the nations. As we begin to do that, our local churches will begin to experience revitalization. And as we do, we will face opposition.

When we begin to face opposition, we have two choices. Either we will quit or we will overcome it. The Lord didn’t call you just so that you would quit on him. He called you to overcome. The question is, how?

Here are four steps to help you overcome opposition:

Go back to your mission

The mission of the church is not to have great attendance. It’s not to enjoy fun fellowship. It’s not to have pristine facilities. The mission of the church is the Great Commission. We are called to bring new life to our neighbors and the nations by making disciple-making disciples of Jesus Christ. When opposition comes, don’t allow the opposition to make you lose focus on that mission. Instead, let it cause you to hone and sharpen your focus. Go back to the mission God has given you.

Go back to your prayer

When opposition comes is not the time to start praying. The time to start praying is when you first begin to be burdened about the mission God has given you. Think about it this way—when is the best time to repair a boat? Is it before the storm comes or in the middle of it? At my church, we are preparing for and praying about opposition long before it comes. Hopefully, you were deep in prayer long before you set out on your mission. If you were, then when opposition comes, all you need to do is go back to those seasons of prayer. Claim God’s promises. If you don’t have those seasons of prayer to go back to, then start now. Bail water, fight the storm and pray hard—just don’t give up.

Go back to your preparation

As you set out on the mission God has called you to, it requires preparation. You will never be able to prepare for every opposition that might come your way, but you need to be realistic. Prepare for contingencies. Don’t go into this thing blind. Our faith isn’t blind—it is in a God who has proven himself faithful. Neither should we blindly step out to do the mission he’s given us. We need to step out, knowing that we are as prayerfully prepared as possible for what might lie ahead. That way, when opposition comes, we have something to go back to. You might not have prepared for each specific obstacle, but at least you have trained yourself to think through contingencies enough that they will be easier to work through.

Go back to your faith

While going back to your mission, your prayer and your preparation are important, the real key to facing opposition is to go back to your faith. Nehemiah’s key to facing opposition was that he believed the good hand of his God was upon him. When you know your mission is from the Lord... When you know the Lord has heard your prayers… When you know the Lord has guided your preparation… When you can look back and see all of the doors the Lord has opened up along the way… When you see all of the things the Lord has already done, what makes you think that he would leave you now? God is faithful to keep his promises. And he has promised that he will finish what he starts in you and your church. When you step out to accomplish the mission he has given you, he will finish it. Do you believe him?

God hasn't called us and given us a mission just so we would quit at the first hint of opposition. He has called us and empowered us to be overcomers and persevere until the end.

Revelation 3:12

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Monday, August 25, 2014

3 Kinds of Opposition to Church Revitalization

In life, there’s only one way to avoid facing opposition—just don’t do anything. Even elementary school science students understand that every action is met with an equal but opposite reaction. Why should we expect anything different as we revitalize our churches?

Opposition can come in many forms. I have distilled it down to primarily three:

Opposition Can Be Territorial

Having a sense of ownership for your church’s facilities and ministries can be a good thing. It’s okay to take pride in a ministry that’s near and dear to your heart. When you invest your time and effort into something, you naturally begin to have a feeling that it’s your turf. But understand this—your church, your ministry, your facility isn’t your turf. It’s Jesus’ turf. He’s the one who died for it, so it belongs to Him. When your church begins to have an impact in its community, things will get messy. Programs and ministries will change. Maybe even the ones that you really like. But remember, it’s Jesus’ territory—not yours.

Opposition Can Be Historical

You’ve heard the seven last words of a dying church: “We’ve never done it that way before.” That’s one form historical opposition can take. We can be so enamored by our history and tradition that it’s nearly impossible to move forward. But historical opposition can take a much more subtle and pervasive form. It’s sad, but true—grudges and bitterness about things in the past will often result in opposition to revitalization. “I got hurt doing that before, so I’m not going to allow myself to get hurt again.” It’s like the jilted lover who swears off dating forever. Historical opposition can result in those who have been beat up by the past refusing to step back in the ring. But there comes a time when you have to understand that the past is in the past—leave it there. The future is bright, but you can’t see it if you’re blinded by the past.

Opposition Is Always Spiritual

Regardless whether opposition presents itself as territorial or historical, understand this—opposition to God’s work is always spiritual. Jesus has called your church to be His witnesses to a watching world, both seen and unseen. Satan, our adversary, will do anything in his limited power to oppose that. The opposition to your church’s revitalization might seem like it’s coming from certain people or circumstances, but behind it all is spiritual opposition. The opposition you’re wrestling with is not against people, budgets, facilities, society or circumstances—it’s against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

The sad thing is that when many people face opposition, they quit. It is much easier to continue decaying with the status quo than fight the opposition that comes with revitalization. But Jesus didn’t call our churches to simply exist while the world around us goes to Hell. He called us to persevere and overcome the opposition so that we will revitalize and impact our world with the gospel.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

6 Ways to Prepare Your Church for Revitalization

According to recent research by LifeWay president Thom Rainer, over 90% of evangelical churches are either in decline or failing to keep up with the growth rate of their communities. In other words, we are rapidly losing ground. In order to take back some of that ground, most churches are in need of some level of revitalization. 

Revitalization has become a kind of buzzword in church circles. It simply means that most of our churches need to have new life breathed into them. Before that can happen, I believe we need to prepare for it to happen. My favorite line in the movie, Facing the Giants, was when one of the characters was asked why he was carrying an umbrella when it hadn’t rained in weeks. His response? “If you’re going to pray for rain, you had better start to carry an umbrella.” The path to church revitalization always begins with prayer. But that prayer has to include prayerful preparation. There are six ways your church can prepare for revitalization.

Pray Hard

Taking Nehemiah as our example, before he ever had permission to leave his post—even before he had mentioned his desire to go to Jerusalem—he prayed for four solid months. But his prayer wasn’t simply a once-a-day, mark it off the prayer list kind of prayer. The Bible says that he mourned and prayed and fasted day and night for the revitalization of Jerusalem. When was the last time you prayed fervently for 120 days about anything, much less about the revitalization of your church? Revitalization has to start with fervent prayer, but that’s not where it ends.

Emotionally Prepare

By its very nature, revitalization is transformation. And transformation means change. And change is difficult—even painful. It requires continual change to prevent mission drift and shift focus outside the church doors instead of on personal desires and preferences. Change is not safe. Status quo is safe—but it is also decay. And more importantly, status quo is disobedience. Prepare for the emotions that will come from revitalization and don’t quit when they start to happen.

Clearly See the Problem

One of the most difficult things to do in life is admit when you have a problem. We all like to sugar coat our foibles or shift the blame on others. “We’re in decline because people just don’t go to church like they used to.” “If we just had better (fill in the blank), we’d have more people.” The excuses can keep coming—but excuses won’t revitalize your church. Excuses are like blindfolds, and people who wear blindfolds can’t go anywhere. Be completely transparent and honest about the problem. Don’t gloss over it. See it for what it is and boldly communicate it.

Know Who Is in Charge

When a church is in need of revitalization, it is very easy to look to the pastor and church leadership as the savior. We only have one Savior—and the pastor isn’t Him. Pastors are called to lead and shepherd the church—but they aren’t in charge of revitalization. As Baptists, we cherish various forms of Congregational polity. But no matter what your church’s business meetings look like, church members aren’t in charge of revitalization. Deacons aren’t. Elders aren’t. Councils and committees and boards aren’t in charge of revitalization. God is. That’s why we start with prayer and continually undergird everything with prayer.

Understand the Mission

What is the mission of your church? Do you know it? Does the majority of your membership know it? Zig Ziglar is quoted as saying, “If you aim at nothing, you’re guaranteed to hit it every time.” If the people of your church can’t even tell you what your mission is, how in the world will they be able to accomplish it? The mission of the church is the Great Commission. If your church is going to be revitalized, you must understand the Great Commission in your context. Communicate it in such a way that people can remember it. Communicate it regularly and develop a laser-like focus on accomplishing it.

Plan Ahead

One of my favorite things about the early verses of Nehemiah is when he finally had the opportunity to ask the king about going to Jerusalem. As soon as the king gave him the opportunity, Nehemiah rattled off all the stuff he was going to need for the trip. No hesitation. No delay. No, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” Nehemiah immediately gave the king a timeline, some legal requests and a list of materials. How was that possible? Did he just come up with a list off the top of his head? Of course not. He was able to do that because he didn’t just spend that four months praying on his knees in a closet somewhere. He spent it praying with a notepad in hand (only because he didn’t have an iPad of laptop available). To revitalize your church, it will take some serious strategic planning. Understand your values. Develop your mission. Cast the vision. The tactical planning of how and where you’re going to lay the bricks will come later—now is the time to cast the vision of building the wall.

Do you want to see your church brought to new life? It has to start with prayer, but it can’t end there. Prayer has to grow into preparation. Pray for rain—but prepare for it by bringing your umbrella.

Nehemiah 2:1-8

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Does God Really Hear Me?

Our God is a personal God. And as a personal God, He will hear you when you call out to Him.

When you trust Jesus as your Lord and Master and Savior, He opens up the lines of communication between you and your creator. When you turn from your sins in repentance and turn to Jesus in faith—He becomes your high priest, your mediator, your intercessor. Because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, you can now talk to God like He’s your loving daddy—because He is.

God is the God of heaven and earth. He is great and awesome. He is supreme and majestic and glorious and wonderful. He is the only one who is to be hallowed because He is the only one who is worthy of our worship.

But despite that, we can talk to Him. He is our Daddy who loves us enough that He paid the ultimate price of sacrificing His only begotten Son that we might be adopted by Him as his children. And as His adopted children, He will never let us go.

Think about it—the all-powerful creator and sustainer of the universe delights in hearing us when we talk to Him!

Hebrews 4:16

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Top Four Reasons I Love Being a Pastor

After spending the past two and a half years as a denominational servant, this is my second week “back in the saddle” of pastoring a local church. I have to tell you, the honeymoon is wonderful! But regardless how long the honeymoon period lasts, I love being a pastor.
Being a pastor isn’t always easy. If it was, God wouldn’t have to call us. But as far as I’m concerned, the many blessings far outweigh the struggles. With that in mind, let me give you the top four reasons I’m excited to be a pastor again—alliterated, of course!

The Preaching

There are few things in life I enjoy more than spending time with God in His Word. The richness and depth of the Bible continually amazes me. I am a convinced believer in systematic, consecutive expository preaching. That means I preach week-to-week, verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. I could write for weeks about the benefits of that kind of preaching (and probably will in later posts), but for now, let me tell you what it does for me. During my time as a Church Planting Catalyst, I was blessed to preach nearly every week in different churches around our state—even in other states. It’s always a blessing to spend time in the Bible—but nothing compares to the in-depth, week-to-week study that comes from preaching through an entire book. I’m forced away from my pet topics and into what God is really saying to His people. I have to deal with textual difficulties and hard things. And as I struggle with those things, the Spirit shapes me and the church learns to handle their Bibles well.

The Planning

For some reason, God has allowed me to be a strategic thinker. Some people are great at working out details and dealing with minutiae. I work better at 30,000 feet. For me, it is incredibly rewarding to understand and clearly teach a group of believers what our mission is. Seeing God bring alignment to His people as we begin to understand the direction we’re going and all start heading that way is exciting. Understanding our biblical mission, casting an irresistible vision and developing a strategic plan for how we’re going to get there is challenging, but amazingly rewarding to me. But even more rewarding is watching God work in the hearts of His people as they begin to accomplish great Kingdom work. In the words of the cigar-smoking Hannibal on the A-Team—I love it when a plan comes together!

The People

An old line that preachers often use is, “Ministry would be great if it wasn’t for all the people.” As a pastor, the greatest source of joy and the greatest source of pain come from the people God has entrusted to me. I love the way Paul talked to the church at Philippi. Maybe I’m reading into things, but I think Philippi was his favorite church. It was clear he loved them dearly. Just notice the number of times he referred to them as his joy. They weren’t perfect. They struggled with unity. They tended to grumble and complain a little bit. Their giving wasn’t always consistent. They had a couple of ladies stirring some trouble. No, they were far from perfect—just like all local churches, including the one I pastor. But just like any good pastor, Paul loved them. He loved watching what God was doing in and through them. And he understood it was God who was doing it (Philippians 2:13). Most of all, he trusted that God was going to finish what He started in them (Philippians 1:6). If it wasn’t for the people, I wouldn’t experience the affliction of ministry—but the joy of seeing God work in people and watching them come together to accomplish His mission far outweighs the light, momentary affliction.

The Potlucks

Okay, so I like to eat—and nobody cooks like Southern Baptist ladies (and men)! But aside from the fact I like to eat, I love the fellowship that comes from sharing meals together. Sometimes calling ourselves a church family can sound like Christianese.  But the fact is—we are family. We are adopted sons and daughters of the King—brothers and sisters in Christ. Even secular sociologists and psychologists understand the importance of families eating together. In an article on the Huffington Post, Registered Dietitian Timi Gustafson wrote, “The dinner table can be the perfect environment where kids learn how to conduct conversations, observe good manners, serve others, listen, solve conflicts and compromise.” Eating together as a church family teaches us the same things. And besides that, the banana pudding is awesome!

Those are certainly not the only reasons I’m excited to be a pastor again. In conversations this week with pastor friends who are enduring difficult seasons of ministry, my glasses aren’t so rose-colored to think that rough times won’t come. But no matter what comes when the honeymoon is eventually over, here’s one thing I do know: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)” It’s good to be Pastor to the people of Parkview Baptist Church!

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Monday, August 4, 2014

What If a Leader Can't Wait?

Don’t do anything the first year.

During my time in ministry, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. And every time I’ve heard it, I thought it was sound advice. In some cases, it might be the best thing a new leader can do. But is it a universal truism? More importantly, is it a biblical mandate?

To both questions, I say no. Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the thinking behind it. Leadership is influence and influence best happens in the context of real relationships. Real relationships can only happen when people trust you. So before any kind of leadership can take place, people have to trust the leader. That is a universal truism.

I read recently that it takes between five and seven years for a congregation to really trust their pastor (I would give you the reference if I could remember it). So, if that’s the case, then how can a pastor really lead the flock that God has given him to lead? Does he really have to wait anywhere from a year to five or seven years before he is able to lead?

Unfortunately, I believe that’s one of the reasons so many pastors don’t stick around for very long. They can’t lead their churches because they haven’t built “trust equity”. But at the same time they know they must lead the church or they are not doing what God has called them to do. Talk about a Catch-22! So the pastor leaves after five years and the church calls another guy who won’t do anything for the first year or more. And the church suffers.

So what is the solution? Transparency and trust.

The pastor must be transparent

The pastor doesn’t have to have it all figured out when he first gets there (and probably shouldn’t), but he must be clear about the direction he wants to head. If he has convictions about polity or style or substance, he needs to be up front about it—certainly with the church leadership.

Understand that transparency doesn’t necessarily mean he has to lay out a completely exhaustive plan. Good leadership requires strong communication skills and the ability to teach the plan as he goes along. Transparency simply means that the pastor cannot have ulterior motives or hidden agendas.

Nehemiah was completely transparent with the king when he told him he wanted to rebuild Jerusalem. He was also completely transparent with the leaders in Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 2:17, he said, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” Talk about telling it like it is!

The church must trust him

This is a tough one. Many churches are in the shape that they’re in because they’ve been burned by a pastor or two—or at least they perceive they have. It’s a tough thing for people to trust when they have just come out of a bad relationship. But there’s a reason they called their pastor in the first place. That call needs to come with some benefit of the doubt.

Think about it—everybody has a first day. Nehemiah had a first day as the king’s cupbearer. And what did the king do? Apparently he trusted him enough to eat. Nehemiah also had a first day in front of the leaders in Jerusalem. And what did they do? They listened to his plan and said, “Let us rise up and build.” And Nehemiah 2:18 says that they “strengthened their hands for the good work.”

Does it take time to build trust? Of course it does. But it also requires opportunity. Opportunity can only come when trust is extended where none has yet been earned. Pastors—start by being vulnerable and transparent about the direction you want to lead the church. And churches, rather than always thinking pastors have to build trust equity before they are allowed to lead, how about extending a line of trust credit that will hold them over until they are able to earn it? Who knows, God might do something really amazing—without having to wait forever. He certainly did for Nehemiah and the remnant.

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