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Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

According to the Urban Dictionary, this was a phrase that developed in the 90’s and was made famous by Larry the Cable Guy.  While it has many applications, the gist is the idea that we need to stop talking about it and do something.  The focus becomes accomplishing something.  The process is often secondary to the completion of a task.

I was raised in a world where professionalism was the focus.  I was taught that God requires nothing less than our best.  I spent hours focusing on a process and project to make sure that it was the best.  This was true of the worship service as well.  We wanted people to practice and be prepared.  We focused on the best singers singing for all the special Sundays (Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc).  We often had visitors on those days and  we wanted our best to be on display.

I remember my first few months in rural ministry.  I sat on the platform focused on all the things that I would start to change.  Believe me,  this church could use a good dose of structure and organization.  It needed someone to show them how worship should be done.  Fortunately, I promised myself and God that I would not make any changes for the first year.  I would seek to learn why they did things the way they did.  What I learned was that the “Git Er Done” mentality was often sourced in a tender, humble heart for God.  I watched as people were moved not by the performance, but by the attempt at performance.  I watched as God honored in a very unique way the “Get Er Done” world of rural ministry.

Next month starts my 25th year as Pastor of this church.  In 24 years, I am the one who has changed.  I still practice my message each week, but I don’t force my world view on the congregation.  I have come to realize that a 9 year old boy playing the piano for special music on Mother’s Day probably touched more hearts than any professional song.  I am not dismissing God using talented people and I am glad He does.  I think rural ministry allows us the opportunity to involve people who would not get a chance in larger ministries.  The focus seems to be less on the process and more on the outcome.  And when I can have a church where people feel safe to “try” and serve God, I watch as they develop the confidence to serve God in the real world as well.

THOT – What would happen if we really opened our services up to people who were willing to just try and be a part of the service?  Jesus took 12 guys with no ministry background.  He taught them, allowed them to fail, and used them to reach an entire world.  What would happen if we focused more on “Gittin Er Done” and less on the process?

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I have just finished teaching through the book of Ecclesiastes.  In 30 years of preaching, I have never preached through the book and I am amazed at the practical lessons for our culture.  One of the lessons that had the greatest impact on me was the need to focus on what we have right now.  Life is short and the focus needs to be on appreciating what God has given me at this moment in time.  I must see it as an incredible gift from Him.  I see a tremendous application for small church ministry.  So for the next few months, I am going to focus on the great things about being in a small church ministry in no particular order.

Inter Generational Ministry.

I was raised in large churches where teaching and worship were often segregated and we learned the value of surrounding ourselves with like minded peers.  It helped me to learn how to choose good friends, but I did not gain a lot of wisdom from someone who was my age. I needed wisdom from someone who had experienced all that life has to throw at them.

As my sons moved out and got married, I encouraged them to find a good church and get involved.  After searching, I found them back at the same church where their “dad” was also their pastor.  When I asked them about this, they mentioned that this is where they had genuine friends and relationship.  I later realized the relationships they were talking about were with people from 30 – 60 years old.  As they explained to me, this is a place where they have helped actually build the building.  They worked side by side with the men and woman in our church.  These were their trusted friends.  These are the people that showed them how to do “life”

I have watched as many of these people have invested in my boys and their families.  We have a number of families who invite them over to have supper and spend time with them and their wife.  While they were teens, I was concerned because they did not get a chance to be involved in a large “peer” ministry like I got to experience.  I have come to realize that I was the one who missed out.

While many of us complain that we cannot have the programs of the large church, we must not miss the opportunity to develop something the larger churches are not offering.  We have the opportunity to link generations together every Sunday.

Here are some things we are trying.  We recently combined our youth with our adults during Sunday School.  I now watch kids talking with adults and adults asking the kids about their week. I have a family who has a teenager and they invite couples of all ages to their home once every 2 or 3 weeks for supper.  The teen gets a say in who they invite.  I have older couples who invites teens over after church for lunch.  We encourage our adults to sit with the teens and kids at potluck fellowship once a month. We encourage everyone to focus on one kid that they build a relationship with them by speaking to them each week.  In our culture, these are the kinds of things that cannot happen in a large ministry, but because of the smaller church where everything is open and people are in close contact, we have the opportunity to do some of these things.

The scripture speaks of the “older” folks teaching the “younger” folks.  I think it is a very accurate picture of “community” that so many people seem to be seeking.  It is something that the smaller church does almost organically because of its size.  And I have found it to be one the great Hidden Gems in rural ministry.

THOT: What are you doing to encourage  the inter generational aspect of your ministry?

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I am reminded of the value of taking a deep breath when things get overwhelming. This past week, the small church world has blown up due to a short clip on YouTube from Andy Stanley’s weekly message. In this clip, he argues passionately for the value of large church ministries and makes some very strong statements regarding small church ministries. He later apologizes saying ” The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

So I think it is a good time for all small church people to just take a deep breath. We have all said things on Sunday, we wish we could say differently. The difference is that our messages are not broadcast across the globe each week. Yes, greater impact means greater responsibility, but God has not called us to that ministry, He has called us to small church ministry and remember we are the majority in terms of numbers. God has used North Point and Andy Stanley to do some great things in the Kingdom of God. Let’s not shoot our own.

I understand what He was trying to say. I am a product of the “mega” church. While a teenager, I was in one of the 10 largest churches in America at the time. I was part of a JH/SH Youth Group of 500 and understand the value that it brings. I also have been in rural ministry for the last 24 years. Both have value and one is not better than the other. They both have advantages and disadvantages.

I think the irony is that both seem to idolize the other. The large church seeks to be like the small church by focusing on small groups. The small church seeks to be like the large church by trying to program more activities than they are equipped to handle. Both types of ministries do some things better than others H.B. London used to encourage Pastors to bloom where they are planted. I think that is the best advice for all of us.

THOT: If this issue has gotten under your skin, I would suggest you take a deep breath, accept the apology, and move forward. Let’s focus on the ministry God has called us to do.  Are you blooming where God has planted you?

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Don’t Cry for Me

I am currently teaching a series of messages though the book of Ecclesiastes. I try to teach on a rotation basis each year dealing with a series from the Old Testament, the New Testaments, and the Life of Christ. Since I preach expository messages, one of the ways that I prepare is by reading commentaries, other messages, and going through my old sermon notes.

While studying Ecclesiastes 7, one Pastor mentioned that he had a document on his computer named “Don’t Cry for Me”. Anytime a significant moment or event happens in his life or soul, he adds a one sentence comment. As an example he writes – Don’t cry for me, I’ve been called Daddy. The last line is always the same, it reads Don’t cry for me, I’m home.

I stopped my sermon preparation and started my own “Don’t Cry for Me” document. After about an hour, I had 1 1/2 pages summarizing moments and experiences that God has allowed me to experience in my short 54 years in this world. I was amazed at the impact that hour had on my outlook and attitude. It allowed me to see the many experiences and opportunities God has given me. It gave me a renewed appreciation for a God that has been incredibly good to me. Yes, like every Pastor, I have faced my share of dark days, overwhelming circumstances, and difficult people. But, none of those things made my list. My list was filled with the little and big joys that God has brought into my life.

THOT: If you could leave a statement behind after God calls you home, what would your “Don’t Cry for Me” document say? I think we become so focused on the difficulties and issues that we fail to focus and appreciate the many joys that come with ministry.

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I realize it has been almost a year since my last post. In October my dear friend Doug, went home to be with the Lord. It was a difficult year of ER visits, hospital rooms, and Cancer center visits. His passing turned my world upside down. I am now learning to live in an upside down world. Things are now different and I am in the process of finding new ways to handle my personal life. Doug was a big part of my emotional health. He kept me “tethered” and grounded. I miss his input into my world, but life here continues.

Charles Spurgeon once said “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” I think sometimes we forget how important it is to keep faithfully plugging away in the place that God has called us. Too many times we are always focusing on the “next big thing or program”. We all know those pastors that every time you ask them about their church, they explain the latest “program” they are promoting. You don’t hear many Pastors talk about the mundane but necessary aspects of ministry.

The Bible talks about the idea of “line upon line, and precept upon precept.” I think sometimes we as Pastors forget about the idea of simply plugging away and being faithful to the task we are called to do. Jeremiah is a great example of a servant who continued in spite of his lack of external success. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against success and growth. I just wonder sometimes if the tools that we use to measure success are not Biblically based. “It is required, that we be faithful”

THOT: Are you focused on faithfulness as a measure of successful ministry? Have you become “numbers” or “program” focused? God desires our faithfulness. Stay faithful this year!

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Over the last month my wife and I have been talking about board members. Please understand, this is not about the board members that I have in our church. I could not ask for a more helpful, supportive group of people. They genuinely love me and my family and I consider all of them dear friends and co workers in the ministry God has given us. Throughout my ministry this has not always been the case. I have served as a board member and have had to work with numerous boards over the course of ministry.

I have noticed that most Board members fall into one of 2 categories. Those who see their primary role to encourage and support and those who have an agenda. I have the privilege of working with a board who all fall into the first category. The organizations we were talking about fell into the second category. People had gotten onto the board with an agenda to change some things. The things that they were seeking to change were not broken. In fact, the things that they were seeking to change were functioning very well. The problem was these people did not have accurate information, insight or understanding. They were functioning from a perspective of pride and power not service.

As my wife and I were talking, we were discussing the impact on these organizations if the board did not change directions. We discussed how it would impact other leaders within the organization. My wife with the wisdom of a Kindergarten teacher (25 years) said, “I teach my 5 year olds that they have to clean up their own mess.” Her solution was to make the board clean up its own mess.

It got me to thinking about ministry. Since I have pastored in the same place for 22+ years, most of the messes that I clean up are ones I created. I realize that many of you are in situations that you have to clean up messes or problems that were created by someone else. I realize you cannot have someone else clean up their mess, but it might be encouraging to remember that it is not your mess. It might be a good reminder to your Board that some of the struggles you face are not your own creation. You are simply assigned with the task of cleaning up someone’s mess.

THOT: When a janitor has the awful task of cleaning up after someone’s mess, we don’t criticize the janitor. We are understanding because he is simply doing a very unpleasant job. Maybe you could take encouragement in the fact that you are simply the janitor. It’s not your mess! And if you are like me and you created the mess, then my wife’s advice applies to you. “We clean up our own messes in Kindergarten.”

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Seasons of Ministry

I will finish the lessons from an Air Force Officer next time, but right now I wanted to remind you of an important ministry lesson. As the weather turns to fall in Iowa, I am reminded that we are about ready to embark on a new season. That brings with it a number of things. Different clothes, different schedules, and different requirements. In Iowa, I will start to put away the summer stuff and get ready for snow, ice, and cold. The garden gets tilled under and the outdoor flower pots get moved to the greenhouse.

Just as the year has different seasons, with different requirements, so does ministry. Last month was one of those “seasons”. I had a very full schedule and some high demands on my time and emotions. In a 5 day period, I buried a child that had lived 12 hours, rejoiced with another family who had a healthy baby born and ran a youth retreat for 70 teens. I then shifted to ministry on the weekend with my preaching and teaching responsibilities. Needless to say, by the end of the week, I had no more to give. I needed a “season” to recharge. I purposely put aside a number of things the following week, so I had time to recharge.

I know that many of us struggle with “down” time. When we do get it, we feel guilty if we are not producing or doing something. I am reminded that even Jesus fell asleep in the boat due to an exhausting season of ministry. God established the seasons so the physical earth could recharge. He established time with a rhythm and cycle of day and night. I believe that ministry is no different. I am afraid that many of us try to ignore the “seasons” of ministry and we fail to plan and guard that “down” time.

I know that many of you are in the process of gearing up for the Christmas season. As I Pastor, I know how exhausting December can be. I would challenge you to take some time now to recharge and make sure you are adequately prepared for the upcoming season. A car engine that runs to the red line on a daily basis will eventually overheat and shut down. How long do you think you can “red line” your daily schedule?

THOT: Do you believe that you are exempt from needing time to recharge and refresh yourself emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? If you continue to ignore the principles that God designed for the world and mankind, what will the cost be to you and the ministry God has called you to?

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