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.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Three Reasons I’m Looking Forward to #sbcam18

With all the controversy surrounding this year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, I have seriously considered cancelling my hotel reservations and staying home. With each new “revelation” and Twitter storm, I have thought it might be emotionally easier to skip the trip to Dallas. After all, a 15-hour drive, wall-to-wall mini-conferences, meetings, and crowds are exhausting—not to mention the added ministry weight of planning and preparation that’s required to be away from our small church during the height of gearing up for summer ministry.

With those things in mind, it would be physically, mentally, and emotionally easier to stay home. But I can’t. I can’t because, despite the controversy and the difficulty, next week will be far too valuable to miss. Here are three reasons why:

  1. The fellowship opportunities. Every week I have the privilege of praying for dozens of Southern Baptist brothers and sisters around the world. They see and respond to my texts. Occasionally I get to talk to some of them on the phone. What a blessing it will be to see them face-to-face, and if time allows, share a cup of coffee or even a brief hallway conversation. I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world.
  2. The discipleship opportunities. This year my wife and I will be serving as messengers with a young couple from our church—my son and daughter-in-law. This will be the first time they’ve ever experienced what it’s like to be a messenger to the SBC Annual Meeting. She was raised Independent Baptist, so I can’t wait to see the look on her face as she hears the reports from the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. I predict there will be tears shed as we commission missionaries our Cooperative Program is providing for. While on a mission trip as a teenager, my son stood in the back of the convention hall in Orlando during the historic vote on the Great Commission Resurgence (and to see his Dad lose his First Vice Presidency bid in a landslide). Currently a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student, it’s been a blessing to watch him learn our polity and see how it plays out in difficult circumstances. We’ve already been able to have difficult but necessary conversations about our convention and our entities—and I know those conversations will intensify while we’re there. Seeing God’s work being accomplished despite all the messiness will remind them (and me) that God does amazing things through weak and frail people. I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world.
  3. The celebration opportunities. Pastoring a small church through a revitalization effort is a difficult and sometimes arduous process. As passionate as I am about leading our church to look outside our walls, love our community well, and cooperate to accomplish the Great Commission—it can be difficult to see a bigger picture than last Sunday’s attendance numbers. Few things open the aperture more than walking the floor of the convention hall and hearing the stories of “regular” churches throughout our convention. I cherish the times I’ve been able to meet, talk to, and pray for other messengers. As I hear their stories, I can’t help but celebrate the work God is doing throughout the world through folks whose churches will never grace the cover of On Mission Magazine. Yes, we will celebrate the victorious reports of what God is doing through our entities. But more than that, I love celebrating God’s work that I would never hear about except from the mouths of other messengers I’ll meet while we’re there. I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world.

As messengers, I know that our voice is important. Decisions are made by those who show up. But while it is important, the voice of our votes pales in comparison to the rich blessings of Southern Baptist cooperation we will experience and celebrate while we’re there. I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world. See you in Dallas!

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Monday, September 22, 2014

2 Differences Leaders Build Together

If you’ve dealt with people at all, it’s not an earth-shattering revelation to recognize that people are different. We all come from different backgrounds, upbringings and value systems. And as your relationships begin to expand beyond your own culture, those differences can seem magnified.

In the local church, Jesus called us to reach people very different from ourselves. The beautiful (and challenging) thing is that we’re called to do it with people who are very different from each other. When we begin to understand that our unity comes from Christ who saved us and commissioned us, then we can start to embrace our differences and leverage them the way God intends for us to.

There are at least four primary differences among the people found in every church. In this post, we will look at two of those. As leaders—by God’s grace and in the power of His Spirit—here are some ways to bring those differences together to accomplish your mission.

Different workload

Let’s face it—life’s not fair. As a leader, your goal is not to try and make it fair. Some people in your church or organization will work harder than others. You can either work yourself into a frenzy trying to get everyone to “share the load”, or you can invest in those who are willing. The former is futile, but the latter will actually get things done. But a word of caution is in order here. Some people who seem like they’re hardly doing anything can actually be doing more to accomplish your mission than you can imagine. Just because a person is limited physically or otherwise, doesn’t mean they aren’t significantly contributing through prayer or other behind-the-scenes efforts. God doesn’t call us to do our fair share. He calls us to do what we can do—however seemingly big or small—with all our might.

Different commitment levels

It would be nice if everyone was as committed to the mission as you are. The reality is, some people will always be more sold-out than others. There are at least two ways to handle this. The first seems to be the default reaction of many leaders—guilt/cajole/harass the non-committed. If you think that will work, then by all means, go right ahead. But you will never guilt/cajole/harass anyone into a higher level of commitment. You will only drive yourself and everyone around you into frustration—or worst case, you will drive them away. As a leader, the best way you can build commitment is to build excitement. Excitement and enthusiasm is contagious. It isn’t taught—it’s caught. When people not only clearly understand the mission, but begin to actually see the vision, they will begin to get as excited as you are. Some won’t. But most will. The ones who won’t will marginalize themselves while the ones who do will accomplish great things. As a leader, fuel the fired-up and quit trying to light wet wood.

In the next post, we will look at two more differences we can build together to accomplish the mission God has given us.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Closing the Loop - 2 More Keys to Effective Communication

When thinking about clear communication, it’s tempting to put all the emphasis on the sender. But in reality, the onus for communication is on the receiver as much as the sender. It reminds me of the old saying about leadership. If a leader thinks he’s leading and no one is following, he’s just taking a walk. In the same way, if you think you’re communicating but nobody’s listening, you’re just talking to yourself. And there are some really special places people go who talk to themselves too much.

There are four keys to mastering clear communication. A few days ago, we looked at the first two keys to effective communication from the perspective of the sender. In this post, we will look at the final two keys from the perspective of the receiver.

Be the right kind of receiver

  • Are you present?
    It only makes sense that you need to be present to receive a message that is being communicated to you. But how often do people rely on second or third hand information rather than receiving the message directly from the communicator? In the context of the local church, it’s important to be present as much as possible. Sermons are not like inoculations—get your shot and you’re good to go. Instead, they are more like regular daily nutrition. Eating only one meal every few weeks or so will leave you malnourished—no matter how good the meal is. Growth requires regular, consistent, systematic nourishment that can only come from being present when the “food” is served.
  • Are you listening actively?
    There is a difference between hearing and listening. Just ask your spouse. It is possible to hear all the words your wife says about her day at work. But you will find yourself in a lot of trouble if you don’t actively listen to her. Active listening is different for different people and different contexts, but the bottom line is that it requires you to do something. Take notes. Give verbal feedback. Ask questions if appropriate. Listen with your whole body—nod your head (not nodding off to sleep), make eye contact, sit up or lean toward the speaker. Your attention span is like a muscle—you need to work it out to make it grow. Actively listening will do that.
  • Are you eager to receive?
    Your attitude as a listener will determine how much you get out of a message. If you don’t like the communicator, you won’t get much out of it. If you have a predetermined position on the subject or think you “know it all”, you are probably wasting everybody’s time. To be a good receiver, you need to be eager to see something you’ve never seen before. Before the message is communicated, pray about it. If you know the text or the subject ahead of time, learn about it. One of the reasons I am committed to systematic expositional preaching is that everybody knows where we’re going to be next week—and the week after that. That way everybody has the opportunity to eagerly anticipate the message by reading and studying ahead. Go into the message with questions in your mind. Expect to be changed by the message and you probably will. 

Have the right kind of response

  • Do you disagree?
    You will not agree with every message that is communicated to you—and you shouldn’t. We are inundated with messages in this information age. Discernment is a necessity, but it requires effort. Examine the sender’s character. What is his track record? Does he have a reputation of being reliable? If the sender has proven himself to be reliable and his character matches his message, spend extra time trying to figure out exactly why you disagree with him. Be a Berean (Acts 17:11). Spend time examining the sender’s message in light of your own biblical study. If you are able, go to the speaker privately and seek clarification. Separate your personal prejudices and preferences from the content of the message. Work hard to give the sender’s message consideration before completely discounting it. If the message only has minor points you disagree with, latch on to the points you agree with and act on them. If it is unbiblical or heretical, or the message doesn’t line up with the sender’s character, remove yourself from his teaching.
  • Do you agree? If you agree with the sender’s message, you still have a responsibility to check the Bible to make sure what he is saying is true. It is very easy for false teaching to tickle our ears by telling us only the things we like to hear. Just because a speaker might pander to his audience doesn’t make his teaching true or helpful. Be discerning about messages you like as well as those you don’t like. Always take it to the Bible. Discuss the message with other listeners. Discover why you agree. Are you agreeing because the message is self-justifying? Or are you agreeing because it challenges you and exalts Christ? Hopefully the latter is true. When you are confident that your agreement is biblically grounded and genuine, then you need to encourage the sender with positive feedback. Acknowledge your reception of the message with both verbal and non-verbal feedback. Not only will that encourage the speaker, it will help you to be an active listener and increase your ability to retain what you hear.
  • Act on it. Finally, a right response requires action by the receiver. Although all good speakers seek ways to apply their message to their listeners, the ultimate responsibility for application belongs to the receiver. How will this message change your life? What will you do as a result of it? Set personal goals based on the message. Make sure they are specific. Many messages you receive are beneficial, but broad. Narrow it down to a specific area of your life. Make sure your goals are measurable and time-specific. “This week I will do X at Y time each day.” Put them on your to-do list or your daily planner. Also make sure they are realistic and achievable. You won’t be able to save the world by Tuesday of next week. When a message is particularly motivating, you can leave feeling ready to charge Hell with a water pistol. That excitement is commendable—just not sustainable over the long haul unless you set realistic incremental goals along the way. You probably won’t be able to do everything at once—but you can do something every day along the way. The key is to do something—act on what you heard.

Sometimes poor communication is because of bad senders—we’ve all heard them. Sometimes it’s because of bad messages. As a speaker, I spend most of my time studying and crafting messages that are biblical, relevant and applicable. I work hard and pray hard to make sure my life matches my message. The same is true of most preachers I know. As receivers, we need to make the same kind of investment—because poor communication is just as likely caused by bad receivers. Take time to study the messages you hear. Be a Berean. Work hard and pray hard to make sure your life matches the messages you hear. Apply them to your life. Close the loop and communication will really happen.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

2 Keys to Being an Effective Communicator

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the concept of leadership that we begin to mystify it. It’s very easy to think that developing leadership skills is for somebody else. But in reality, each of us uses the tools of leadership every day. The things that make better leaders also make better husbands, wives, parents, co-workers, students or citizens. More importantly, the things that make better leaders also make us better Christians and church members.

Topping the list of leadership skills that everybody needs to master is communication. Anybody that has been married more than five minutes understands the importance of communication. Parents understand the importance of communication. Leaders need to understand communication as well.

There are four keys to mastering clear communication. Today we’re going to look at the first two, which are from the perspective of the communicator. Later this week, we will look at it from the perspective of the receiver.

Be the right kind of sender

It’s easy to blame others when we can’t seem to get our message across. As a leader, you can never start there. Good leaders always need to start with a self-assessment.
  •  Are you prayed up before you attempt to communicate?
    Before we talk to others about the direction we feel that God is leading us to go, it’s a good idea to talk to Him about it.
  • Are you prepared to communicate?
    “Winging it” rarely engenders the confidence of a listener—and if you think they can’t tell you’re not prepared, you’re wrong. If you don’t really know what you’re going to say before you say it, it’s probably a good idea to keep your mouth shut. You need to figure it out before you ask your listeners to.
  • Are you burdened with your message?
    Many of the biblical prophets introduced their messages with, “The burden of the Lord for….” We communicate all kinds of things with varying levels of importance. But the crucial messages of leadership need to be communicated out of a clear sense of calling. You can tell when a salesman cares little about the product he is pitching. In the same way, people can see right through a leader who doesn’t have a burden for the message he’s communicating.
  • Do you have credibility?
    There is an inherent amount of gravitas with a person who has “been there, done that”. But understand that personal experience doesn’t necessarily equate to credibility. Faithfulness to Scripture builds credibility. Consistency builds credibility. Humility builds credibility. Coming alongside those you’re communicating to and living life with them builds credibility. Credibility is earned over the long haul.

Have the right message

To be a good communicator, your message must be worth communicating. You can be smooth and entertaining in front of an audience, but a good performance rarely equates to clear communication. The difference is the message.
  • Is your message clear?
    One of the difficulties of leadership is remembering how far ahead of your people you are. If you are as prepared as you should be, you have a crystal clear understanding of your message. But in order to make it clear to your listeners, you need to remember that they aren’t there yet. Make your message clear by starting at the beginning. Repeat often. Use illustrations. Repeat often. Clearly define your terms. Repeat often.
  • Is your message specific?
    Make sure you are talking to the audience who is in front of you. Continually referring to the ubiquitous “they” separates your listeners from the message instead of drawing them in. This message is for you. It speaks into your life. Show them specific ways that it does.
  • Is your message purposeful?
    Tell your listeners what the point is. If they don’t understand what the point is, they won’t have any need to invest in responding. Whether through the internet, books, television or talk radio, people are inundated with words. Let them know that your words have a purpose for their lives.
  • Is your message meaningful?
    A NASA engineer briefing can be clear, specific and have a very important purpose. But since I’m not involved in the space program, it wouldn’t be meaningful to me—at all. That’s one of the wonders of communicating the Gospel to people—it is the most meaningful message in the world.

Communication is a two-way street. In the next post we will look at the final two keys to clear communication—from the receiver’s perspective.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

3 Things to Do Before You Plan for Revitalization

It’s very easy to look at the condition of many churches and see the need for revitalization. When attendance is down, baptisms are down, and kingdom impact is down, revitalization is needed. Blaming society or culture is a non-productive cop-out.  

As leaders in our local churches, God has given us a mission and it’s our job to lead our church to accomplish it. The mission is the leader’s burden before it can ever become the church’s burden. It is his vision from God long before it’s the church’s vision. 

But simply having a burden and a mission and a vision isn’t enough—because by themselves, those things don’t get anything done. All they are is words hanging in the air until something actually gets done. In order for something to get done, a plan has to be made . 

Here’s the order—God burdens the heart of a leader with the mission he wants to accomplish through his people. The leader sees the vision and casts the vision to God’s people. Then the leader begins to work with the people to plan the work that it will take to accomplish the mission. 

But here’s the part that is often overlooked. After God gives the burden and before the plan is made, the leader should do three things.

Get some rest

The worst thing a leader can do is jump right in to planning.  No matter how pressing the burden for revitalization might seem, don’t start to plan until you have a clear head. And you can’t have a clear head when you’re exhausted. God hardwired us with a need for rest. When we don’t rest, we’re rebelling against the way he made us. We’re telling God that he can’t do this without us. We need to have enough faith in God that we can rest in him even when the need for revitalization is urgent. When it comes time to plan the work that God has called you to do, do it with a rested mind.

Make it real

Is your burden real or is it theoretical? I know what the statistics tell me. I know what demographics tell me. I know what Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Research tell me. But what is my neighborhood telling me? It’s one thing to know that demographics tell you Millennials need Jesus. Do you actually know any? Your burden won’t really become real to you until you begin to experience the need for yourself. If your church needs revitalized, get outside and begin to feel the lost and dying community around you. Meet the people. Begin to find ways to share life with them. You can’t begin to craft a good plan until the mission is real to you.

Make it yours

Has God called you to pastor a church in need of revitalization? If he has, then you have to own it. It has to be yours. The calling is yours. The burden is yours. The responsibility to lead is yours. Leadership isn’t done by consensus. Leadership isn’t done by collaboration. Leadership isn’t done by majority rule. Good and godly leadership happens when God’s man feels God’s burden for God’s mission and begins to lead and influence and inspire God’s people to accomplish it. Now, I’m not talking about being a dictator. I’m talking about leadership. Somebody has to drive the bus. One time when Adrian Rogers was talking about headship in the home, he said that anything with no head is dead and anything with two heads is a monster. Leadership matters. Own it. Make it yours. And lead.

Now you’re ready to start planning for revitalization.

Nehemiah 2:11-16

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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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