Its More than an Eight Week Course…It’s the Rest of Our Lives!

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Earlier this summer Regent University invited me to instruct an eight-week online class called, Christian Discipleship.  Most of the students in this class are Seniors and will be graduating within the year. The course was designed to equip Christ followers to engage in helping people apply the Bible to their daily lives which is so promoted within the New Testament and especially detailed in Matthew 28:18-20 as well as other New Testament scriptures.  The course is excellently designed with all the right texts provided to learn how to be a disciple and disciple-maker.

We are presently half-way through the course….

The surprise for me is the great impact that it is having on these students. We are realizing that discipleship must be done either one on one or through small group community and in a very safe environment of trust.

One student said, “In order to pour into others, we must pour into our own spiritual health…” Another student responded “I am a visual person and when I read that statement I pictured having a pitcher of water and giving others a glass of water from my pitcher. However, eventually I would run out of water and need to refill it to continue giving water to other.”

I wrote my class the following email……. 

“Class, we are in the middle of week #4 in our discussions and emphasis on Christian Discipleship. As I have read your discussions, responses and scriptural reflections I feel it is having a tremendous spiritual impact on most of your lives. And I might say, ME Too! 😊 We must also remember that Christian Discipleship begins at salvation and continues until the end of our lives (its more than an 8-week course). Let me also add that Discipleship comes with many different faces and sometimes it does not feel good at all. However, God is at work in each of our lives, preparing us, discipling us, molding us into what He has decided for us as our destiny.

I have been a Christ follower for about 50 years and what a journey it has been. A few weeks ago I wrote a Facebook post as follows………

     I believe that God’s plan for your life is revealed in stages……..it is all wrapped up in believing in what God says……..trusting Him every day and believing that your failures, adversities, ups, downs, pain and heartaches are a part of the plan…………just trust Him, He knows what He is doing…. his track record is unblemished.

My personal journey in Discipleship took a remarkable detour about 15 years ago in 2003. I had been the Sr. Pastor of a new church plant for 26 years.  I was physically and emotionally drained because, performance, performance, performance was my life. I had lost my vision and enthusiasm for ministry. I had no one to come along side of me to encourage me and talk through the difficulties and adversities that we pastors are bombarded with. The results came in the form of a series of bad decisions and a total spiritual burnout and almost destruction. BUT, God in His grace, saw my need and used people of grace to lift me up out of the ashes of bad decisions and set me on a journey that I never knew any Christ follower could experience. What a God. Today, I am more excited about Him, His Word, His Church and His people than I have ever been.”

The question we must ask ourselves is, who is pouring into your life the principles of the Word of God and secondly, who are you pouring your life into?  For you to say, “oh, I get it by just going to church.” I would respond to you by saying… “impossible!” 

 

 

The Missing Person on the Church Pastoral Staff

 

pulpit chairs 3 (3).jpg    It seems that every church is looking for the 35-year-old pastor and staff who has 40 years’ experience. 😊

How can we best help a young pastoral staff experience in dealing with the complex issues of local church ministry? And even above that, encouragement, prayer support, the sharing of ministry experiences in the valleys as well as the mountain tops?  Who can come along beside the pastor on his very worst day and help him up? Or warn him of the red flags in ministry?

Every pastoral staff needs a “gray-haired” experienced former pastor or full-time church staff member who would be the very person to mentor the pastor and staff in areas of conflict, home life, finances and other crucial areas of ministry.

Experience is not always a teacher of life, but, evaluated experience is very much an asset.

In addition to having been a Sr. Pastor for 40 years I have had the privilege of being an online college Divinity educator for four different Christian Institutions of higher learning the last 13 years.   I have instructed dozens of prospective pastors as well as young pastors in my classes. Through their transparent discussions, reflection papers, application papers and worldview papers they have shared their hearts and believe me 90% of them need a helping hand in various areas of local church ministry.

Recently a seminary professor shared with me the crucial need for mentorship of young pastors just out of seminary. He said, “We have done an amazing job teaching them the Bible and how to interpret the Bible but have struggled with helping our young pastoral candidates how to be effective pastor leaders.”

Young pastors need to know how to deal with an ever-increasing load of conflict, their marriage and family relationships, staff relationships, temptations, living out of their identity in Christ, celebrating Sabbath and the myth of sin management.

Someone has well said, “It seems that one is not mature until one no longer cares how they are judged by others; until they no longer feel compelled to put up a facade to the world, until they feel comfortable being their true selves. Our current society is all about false images, false identities…. about ‘brand.’ Our society is based on ego and structured on egoic judgment. I would prefer it if people would quit hiding behinds masks.”

What is the answer? I believe that one of the solutions would be to embrace those gray-haired pastors who have a world of wisdom and evaluated experience to mentor young pastors.

In Proverbs 20:29 (AMP) The glory of young men is their [physical] strength,
And the honor of aged men is their gray head [representing wisdom and experience].
 

Solomon says, “But wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age.” 

Job 12:12, “Is not wisdom found among the aged?”

Let’s learn from those who have experienced the time, felt the pain, fought the fight and given themselves to growing God’s Kingdom for many years.

Church Cancer Feeds on…

Cancer Church 2

I cannot elaborate very much due to space in this article, so, I will briefly list the issues that I feel promote this threat or cancer in local church ministry.

  • Not understanding the plague of compartmentalization, holding secrets and unrevealed adversities, sins and even issues from our families of origin in our hearts… as Peter Scazzero states, “not facing our shadows.”
  • Lack of safe relationships in an environment of trust and transparency

 I was 57 years old before I had anyone with whom I could trust my whole heart with. Who do you have?

  • Lack of Sabbath or rest – When was the last time you took a complete day off, with no calls, no texts, no emails?
  • Not dealing with conflict but rather sweeping it under the rug. Pastors need to know how to deal with an ever-increasing load of conflict at church as well as at home.
  • Understanding the myth of sin management
  • Understanding our identity in Christ and our destiny for life (Galatians 2:20).

Some of the above issues are complex, however, very necessary for us to deal with to live in the freedom of Galatians 5:1.

Whether pastor or not, we can all benefit from becoming emotionally healthy. If our leaders deal with this, they can help their congregations.

Leaders, we need to sit down in small groups with trusted and transparent brethren to deal with these destructive issues. That’s the cry of my heart. I believe that healing and freedom will come.

It did for me.

Church Cancer

Cancer Church

I love pastors and pastoral teams, I am one, having been in the local church ministry leadership since 1970. It was through planting two new churches and being involved in two church revitalizations that the Lord has taught me so many lessons in church life as well as my journey of life itself. If there were mistakes to be made, I made plenty of them. Yes, I have experience, but, experience is not necessarily a teacher in life, rather, it is where you evaluated that experience.

I am an imperfect human being and I’m very careful to point a finger at anyone because when I do I have three fingers are pointed back at me. 😊

I feel a heavy burden toward this cancer that I am about to share……. I can speak fluently of these very issues because they almost destroyed me, however, God’s grace intervened, and my heart was receptive.

My commitment to much research, reading, observing and interviewing brings me to my conclusions.   I spent months writing my Doctor of Ministry Thesis, Forced Terminations Among Clergy: Causes and Recovery and while doing so interviewed dozens of pastors who have gone through the pits, lost their ministries and their families because of these issues. Others whom I interviewed were mentally and physically exhausted.

What is this cancer that is destroying pastors and pastoral teams?

During my ministry I have heard the statement,

“everything rises and falls on leadership.”

I believe the greatest threat to local church ministry is the emotional health of its leadership team. We cannot build effective great commission churches unless we deal with emotional health issues and the adversities of, and in, the heart. (Proverbs 4:23)

What would two U. S. Army Colonels, a Navy Pilot, a Flight Instructor, a Steel Fabricator, a Department Head at Home Depot, a Wisconsin School Lunch Catering Company owner, a College Psychology Professor, an Administrative Assistant of 6 Drive Thru Coffee Shops, a Preacher-Pastor and Divinity School Professor have in common?

Long Hill Road Neighbors.jpg

the answer…

 

Authentic Friendship!

 

Yes, Betty and I have been friends with our above neighbors for several years in this little tucked away Bedford County suburb, a few miles from Lynchburg, Virginia.  We have traveled together, eaten at each other’s tables, shared our adversities as well as our joys and served each other with whatever need arises between us.

We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve rejoiced, and we’ve prayed for each other.  It is a precious relationship.  These are friends you could call at 2 in the morning and they would be there.

We are sad, because in a few days, two of our group (Peg and Joe) are moving to South Carolina in the Charlotte area. We will miss them!

I was reminded of a song this morning, titled Friends that was written by Michael W. Smith. I have included the lyrics to one of the verses below.

“Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted
Means a chapter in your life is through
But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends.”

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The Old Oak Cafe, The House Church in Snow Creek (Part 3 of 3)

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On Saturday morning January 14, 2017 I met my Leadership Team for breakfast at the Old Oak Café in Smith Mountain Lake. That was the normal every few weeks or so. We would meet to discuss church business and upcoming events as well as to enjoy each other’s fellowship. That morning was different because I would share with them what I had been struggling with for several months.

I had just reached my seventh decade in life and there were all kinds of thoughts bombarding my heart and mind concerning the future.

After we prayed and began to eat I shared with them some of my thoughts.  For a long time, the Lord had impressed upon my heart that the church needed a pastor who was local who would be close to Snow Creek all the time, a younger man who would carry on an aggressive plan to reach Snow Creek and the precious people of Franklin County with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

They knew, that one of my passionate desires was to spend the rest of my life coming along side of young pastoral staffs to encourage them, helping them to deal with an ever-increasing load of conflict, marriage and family relationships, staff relationships, temptations, living out their identity in Christ, celebrating Sabbath, sharing with them the myth of sin management and accountability (I’m very careful to use that term as it sounds work-based and performance driven.) I prefer to use, safe relationship, rather than accountability. 😊

After I shared there was quietness around that table and no one offered to respond. It was a very emotional moment. They all knew my heart and realized that I would not have said that without realizing that God had really spoken to me concerning these matters. We were more than just pastor and leadership team, we were authentic friends.

I told the Leadership team that I would be leaving only after we found a good prospective pastor who would love them and be a pastor to them. For several months the request was dodged, always changing the subject when brought up. 😊

In the Spring of this year, with the help of some of my friends at Liberty University I began to invite some very good pastoral candidates to preach at Covenant. Several have come already. At this point no decisions have been made on the next pastor. I haven’t preached there since the last Sunday of March. Betty and I have been visiting some Lynchburg area churches every Sunday and have been very encouraged and ministered to. However, on every Sunday morning at 10:15 AM my heart wanders back into that room, constantly remembering how Covenant Community Church, the House Church in Snow Creek impacted my life so dramatically. I will love you, forever, Snow Creek. God sent you when I needed you the most. God knew that a long time before we did, and He started making His plans on January 4, 2004.

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The House Church in Snow Creek (Part 2 of 3)

 

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As you guessed, I remained at CCC for the next several years. I would not consent to become their interim until I laid my whole life’s journey transparently on the table before them and through God’s grace they loved me unconditionally. The Lord taught us so much. Even on that first Sunday, little did I know, that our people were hurting badly from a previous pastoral relationship. I was in the dark about that.  They later told me that God must have told me what to preach on that first Sunday because it had promoted so much healing. The fact is true that we both were healing from previous church relationships and my heart was very sensitive to the pain that they had experienced. I cannot even begin to tell you how much those precious people at the House Church in Snow Creek affirmed and blessed my life and provided for us.  My life was an open book, no secrets, no hidden compartments.

In 2011 Hollywood actors descended upon Snow Creek to get a feel of the community and to chat with various individuals who had lived there to gather their dialect and life’s ways. They were preparing to make a movie titled, Lawless, the true-life moonshine story of the Bondurant Boys of Franklin County Virginia during the Prohibition days. It was released in August 2012. The movie not only characterized the Spiritual Strongholds in the community but many of those generational strongholds which still exist today. Statistics show that 65% of the 52,211 people living in Franklin County are unchurched.

Betty and I would journey through the beautiful scenery of Smith Mountain Lake to that little house church on Sunday mornings to love and receive love from His Word and our growing relationship. It also gave Betty and I quality time to chat and be together. I immersed myself in the journeys of those precious people, praying for them, loving on them, feeling their victories as well as their pain and adversities. My people were just regular people who were trying to make it right in life and I love them so much.

We conduct our prayer meetings every Wednesday night at 6 PM through a conference call. We call in from our various locations to a given number and it is a live group call.

The youth in our church, the Snow Creek Youth developed into a ministry of reaching many young people beyond our church walls. They serve the Snow Creek community by helping others. Their annual Missions-Serve trips not only helped others but impacted those young people to live for Jesus. Many of them now are college students living out their identity in Christ.

Our three guys who serve as my leadership team are some of the best that I have ever had in ministry anywhere.

We baptized our converts in a member’s swimming pool and it was always a celebration.

I once visited a family in Snow Creek who told me that no preacher had ever come to their home to see them. They were in their 60s. That home embraced Jesus as their Savior and were baptized.

During my leadership and a generous team, the church sponsors the full-color quarterly (20 page) newspaper, the Snow Creek Times, that goes to every single home in the Snow Creek area and includes all the Snow Creek Church’s news as well as all other community news. God uses it to bring the Gospel to the entire community and to inform a very close-knit community of what is happening.

I had never eaten black-pot fried chicken and fries until I went to Snow Creek. 😊

Before we realized it 8 years had slipped by, then in January 2017…….

(Part 3 of 3 to come)