Monologue & Dialogue

BIBLICAL INSTRUCTION: Monologue or Dialogue?

Natural Extremists

We are prone to extremes.  One issue we tend to go to one extreme or the other on in the church is that of biblical learning.  On the one hand, there are those who are committed to preaching the Bible in the form of monologue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible, they envision a lone preacher standing before a crowd, delivering a studied and crafted sermon in the power of the Holy Spirit, spitting presuppositions and propositional truth.

On the other hand, there are those who are committed to learning the Bible through sharing and dialogue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible they picture a group of friends sitting down together to share how the Bible impacts them personally.  They see themselves sitting with friends over lattes in a coffee shop, or over dinner in a home, informally discussing what a portion of scripture means to each person in the group.   They value the contributions and interpretations of each person who is present.

I’ve seen some people who are so committed to teaching and preaching the Bible in monologue, that they are skeptical of any kind of sharing context where multiple people contribute opinions and perspectives on the meaning or relevance of the Bible.  Still I’ve seen other people who are so committed to the truth that “God can and wants to speak through all believers” come to a place where there is no room in their thinking for monologue preaching, or designated pastors who serve as primary Bible communicators for a specific community of believers.

Both/And

My contention is that both extremes are wrong, and that this is one of many areas Christians need to have a Both/And way of thinking.  I believe the reasons the monologue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical, and that the reasons the dialogue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical as well.  I believe that helpful leaders will help those entrusted to them by God to see the value and place of both monologue and dialogue in growing the church in the knowledge of God through His Word.

A Small Case for Monologue

1 Corinthians 12:29- “Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?”  These are rhetorical questions in context.  The apostle Paul is arguing for the unity of the body through the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Because we all have different gifts, we all need each other.  God has designed the body to be dependent upon Him by being codependent upon what He’s doing in each other.  Not all have a Spirit-given gifting to teach God’s truth in the same way, or at the same level.

Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  Each of the gifts described here are Bible communicating gifts at their core.  Apostles preach the gospel and plant churches.  Evangelists major in preaching the gospel and equipping Christians to do effectively do the same.  Prophets have a teaching ministry that is trans-movement/denomination, and a ministry which applies biblical truth to timely issues under the spontaneous leading and enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Pastors and teachers give biblical counsel and didactic instruction of the Word to God’s people.  But four times we are told that only “some” are given by God to perform these functions in the ways these men do.  Only “some” are to build the body in these particular ways.

1 Timothy 3:2 tells us that an overseer must be “able to teach.”  This is not a requirement for deacons.  This implies a unique teaching ministry for those called to serve as the governing body of the church.  We can add to this verse 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’”  The Bible is to be our method for determining how to think about these issues.  That’s why Paul built his case from “Scripture.”  And what Scripture demands, according to Paul, is that some of the governing leadership work hard at teaching the Bible more than any other Christian or leader in the church.  Their job is so important that they are to be paid to fulfill that role as they do it well.

We could go on, but these texts amply demonstrate that God intends there to be monologue-style Bible preaching and teaching in the church.  He has not gifted all to teach the same way.  He does not gift all to deduce the meaning of Scripture the same way.  Specifically, men who are called to be the leader of the leaders in the church are Spirit-gifted to preach the Word, and be the doctrine-setting authority in the local church.

A Small Case for Dialogue

But I’m not just for monologue in the church, but for dialogue as well, and so is the Bible.

Colossians 3:16- “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”  This exhortation was given to all the members of the Colossian church.  They were all to play a part in “teaching and admonishing one another.”

Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  If there are a couple verses that support the idea of believers encouraging each other in small group community over lattes, these are them.  Considerately stirring each other up to love God and people, and serve God people as we “gather,” is the job of “us” as believers, not just “me” as a pastor.

Conclusion

Preaching the word in monologue is biblical and necessary.  If a Spirit-gifted man isn’t at the helm, preaching the Bible faithfully in collaboration with other Spirit-given leaders in the local church community, heresy abounds, and the church becomes a pool of ignorance.  Men who are specifically called to fill such a “leader of the leaders” function are not allowed to function in their gift.  Frankly, some need to repent of their radical commitment to the autonomy of the individual in the church.  Some would reduce the church to a leaderless weak state in the name of all believers being “equal” and “usable by God.”  We are all equal.  God does use us all.  But the question is how does God use us?  For some, they are called to be primary teachers and preachers in the church in ways others are not.  Let them do their job for the health of the church and the glory of God.

Additionally, God really can and does speak through every believer.  God wants to display how He has changed His kids through sharing in dialogue in small group type contexts and house churches.   The Holy Spirit wants to manifest Himself, and His edifying work, through every Christian.  This means that while pastors need to uncompromisingly engage in the monologue preaching of God’s Word with authority, they also need to help the local church develop contexts of dialogue and sharing.  We need to get over our need to control everything that is thought and said, and remember that Jesus is the real senior pastor of His people.  To be sure, you are His instrument in a unique way when it comes to teaching His truth.  But the goal of your ministry is to enable the body to do “the work of the ministry” which includes “teaching and admonishing one another” without you standing over peoples shoulder all the time.  As pastor James Macdonald said recently, “The biblical picture isn’t that the pastor ministers to the body, but that the body ministers to the body.”

So, pastors, lets preach the Word like crazy, and take no guff for doing our God-given job.  But let’s also make sure we don’t quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do by not developing and encouraging contexts of sharing, where each member of the body of Christ can have a voice and be used.  I don’t do this perfectly, but I’m working on it.  Join me.

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Connecting thru Culture

“And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.””

 

Last night, I took my three oldest boys to the California Center for the Arts for a performance of the 1st Marine Division Band. We arrived a little early, and at 6pm there was a performance by a local Jr. High Drum Corps…and then a High School Drum Corps. Big difference in tightness, dress and performance…

There was a half an hour break before the main performance. Jonathan (6) was nodding off, the air seemed to be turned to a comfortable 80 degrees…

Then the Marines took the stage.

What a great time and an amazing performance of a wide range of Musical arrangements. Very adept, very emotional, very powerful. And I may be partial for a couple of reasons.

1) I was, and will always be, a Marine, serving in Alpha Co.,  1st Battalion, 7th Marines of the 1st Marine Division. (Okay…I’m WAY partial)!

2) I THOROUGHLY enjoy live music, especially classical, period music, orchestras, etc.

All that being said, The boys had a great time, and the performance (particularly the Drum Corps section that was highlighted during the performance of “Shiloh March” was especially incredible) was great. But I had some passing thoughts as I sat there in the midst of the audience that I thought I would share.

Let me begin by saying this; when the Lord gives you a vision of His desire for you and how you could represent Him as His ambassador here on the earth, in the community you have been planted in, all the things you are doing will come to be filtered through that vision, for that season, because you desire to be well-pleasing to Him who gave us that vision. And as we desire to walk in those things that He has prepared beforehand, we are directed by Him (Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delights in his way”). The result? He will place us in the paths of those He desires to touch, to speak to, to share a seat with, to speak a kind word to, and as we do this, He is glorified. And one of the real kickers is that it’s all while I am THOROUGHLY taking pleasure in something that would seem to some as “Non-Spiritual”. And yet when Jesus sent out the disciples, He instructed them to be of this mindset; “Wherever you go, what ever you do, know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that My kingdom is effectual and within the grasp of all those that you will come into contact with as My Ambassador.

Case in Point: After the performance, I was standing near one of the exits on the Mezzanine Level with Jonathan, while waiting for my other two boys to return from the bathroom. And who comes walking right by us? The Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division in a plain suit, no uniform. I approached him, stuck out my hand, confirmed whether he was the C.G. or not, told him that I served in 1/7 …upon which hearing, he looked me in the eyes, thanked me for my service, which thanks I returned saying “No…thank YOU sir, for your service.” and we parted.

 

This morning, I couldn’t help but lift up the man, his heart, his life, his great responsibilities as a husband, as a son, as a Commanding General…and prayed that the kingdom of God was exposed to this man last night, once again, whether he is a believer (as there are many High-ranking believers in the USMC), or whether He has heard the gospel many times and not responded…God knows. And I know that the kingdom of God was at hand last night when I shook his hand, as I chatted with the elderly woman who sat next to me and my boys, as we shook hands with a Sergeant thanking him for his service to our country, and thanked a Staff Sergeant.

I also had the passing thought as I looked across the demographics of the almost packed house that most in attendance were Baby Boomers and Builders. Nary a Millennial in sight. And I wondered…will there be a resurgence of live music performances in the future, of this particular type (not just Rock, Trip-Hop and Hardcore shows…ok, jazz sessions, too, Daniel F. :) because of the over-saturation of technology communication and entertainment today? I love the instant gratification of digital downloads or Spotify-ing any kind of artist or music at any time…but there is a whole separate world of sound and community and experience when the Marine Band comes to town, or a world renowned cellist shows up to perform select Bach cello suites…and the Kingdom of God is at hand.

How are you connecting with your community, with leaders, with citizens, with gas station attendants, or library clerks? How do you “preach” saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand?”

 

CC Much Fruit

R U, Am I Bearing Fruit?

When life changes occur, and when the years ahead of us are fewer than the years behind us, we tend to grow a bit more philosophical about pretty much everything. I know for many, this sort of philosophizing is a good thing… especially when it results in the kinds of adjustments that glorify God.

I’ve been in that stage of life for the past six years or more. I’m learning things now that I wish I’d known when I was in my 20s. Here are some thoughts that have been either in the back or front of my mind for a while now. Thoughts about bearing fruit, which have to do with the meaning of life. I’m coming from John 15, which contains one of Jesus’ eight “I AM” statements in that gospel.

First, the John 15 scenario.

“I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser,” Jesus told His men the night before He went to Calvary. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1, 2)

Here Jesus introduces two possibilities. One is the possibility of the person in Him that does not bear fruit. The other is the possibility of the person in Him that does bear fruit. Later in the passage, Jesus describes the bearing of more fruit, and then much fruit.

Fruit … the New Testament has a lot to say about it. In some passages, fruit is equated with good works. In other passages, fruit is described as Spirit enabled qualities that show up in and through one’s life… qualities like love (agape), joy, peace, etc. In other passages, fruit is what shows up when someone repents. The new repentant one is now different. A noticeable change has occurred. It (fruit) can refer to a person’s behavior, which indicates what he/she is inside. Fruit is descriptive of soul-winning in John chapter 4. Sanctified worship is even called “fruit,” when we, with the fruit of our lips, give thanks to His name.

However we might describe fruit and what it actually is, it’s very clear that the Lord is looking for it in our lives. He expects it, and rightly so. After all, “it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3). Since He made us, it’s His obvious right to expect whatever He might desire from us. According to Jesus, those who bear fruit will bear it with in varying degrees—“some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 21:19).

So there are branches in Christ that bear no fruit, those that bear some fruit, those that bear more fruit, and those that bear much fruit. Of course, Jesus Himself is the One that originates this fruit, just as the vine originates the fruit of each of its branches. It’s our live in Him, and His life in us, that gets it done.

No Fruit

Unfortunately, many believers in Christ don’t act like it, and don’t live like it. Notice from the passage in John 15 that these are clearly believers. They are “in Him,” which can only describe true children of God. Yet at a certain time and for whatever reasons, believers sometimes bear no fruit. Is it sin in their lives that’s the problem? Is it because they’ve set aside the Word of God and are walking with their own limited wisdom?

In any case, what the Lord does with this kind of believer is take it away. The Greek word used by Jesus is airo, which Strong’s defines as meaning “to lift; by implication to take up or away; fig. to raise (the voice), keep in suspense (the mind); spec. to sail away (i.e. weigh anchor);:—away with, bear (up), carry, lift up, loose, make to doubt, put away, remove, take (away, up).

I greatly favor and agree with Bruce Wilkinson’s interpretation of this verse from his classic little book The Secrets of the Vine. In that book Wilkinson translates airo as meaning to lift up, in the same way that a vineyard owner lifts up the branches that are hanging low and too close to the ground. When that happens, these branches are subject to dirt, mold, and disease. So the grape farmer comes by and literally lifts up these branches, cleans them off with water, and then attaches them securely to the trellis. In practically no time at all, life returns to the branch, and eventually fruit is the result.

This “lifting up” of a branch that’s too close to the earth (i.e., carnality and worldliness) takes place through the twin processes of conviction and discipline. The Lord convinces us of the bad place we’re in, and He also may bring circumstances into our lives which give us a good spanking. This is done because He loves us and has our absolute best in mind (see Hebrews 12:5-11).

Fruit

This condition generally describes the believer that is not currently under discipline or conviction, at least not to any large degree. The Word of God within him is doing its work, and fruit is the result. It’s not more fruit, and it’s not much fruit, but it’s still fruit… a very good thing. It’s been produced by Christ Himself, who is the Vine. The branch is somewhat healthy, lifted up from the earth/world, and is receiving His life.

More Fruit

The process of producing more fruit has to do with pruning. Have you ever seen a vineyard after it’s been pruned? It looks like there’s nothing there, like it could never again produce a single grape!

Of course, pruning has to do with removal. Removal of the unnecessary. Removal of that which is using up too much of the Vine’s life, and wasting it. Removal of hindrances and barriers to greater fruitfulness.

Ouch. Naturally, we don’t like to be pruned, but it has to happen. This attitude must go and be replaced by a new one. That habit must go. This character flaw must be severely adjusted. That possession/toy/recreational pursuit/business interest/hobby is sapping my spiritual strength and diverting the Vine’s power from the core of my being. The Vinedresser cuts it off. He prunes it away. At first, we object. We don’t understand what’s happening. But eventually, we experience another level of life, freedom, and fruitfulness. We didn’t need that thing after all. It was just dead wood. It needed to be lopped off, although we didn’t know it at the time.

This, of course, is the work of our Eternally Wise Heavenly Father. Father knows best, and He loves us. When He takes out His pruning shears and saw, He is not trying to hurt us. He is zealous to get more of the life of His Son flowing through our lives. Therefore, He cuts away. But in the cutting, He knows exactly how much and when to cut. Again, He is our Eternally Wise Heavenly Father. He does not cut randomly or carelessly. He knows which parts of us have to go. He does all things well.

Our part in this is to cooperate and not try to wiggle out from under His shears. We also need to recognize this process, because that will help us endure it. We will eventually say to ourselves, as we obtain more experience being under the Vinedresser’s masterful care, that we need this.

The lovely result is “more fruit.” At this point, we’re closer to fulfilling the purpose for which we’ve been created than ever. We are starting to be like Joseph, described in the following passage:

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)…” (Genesis 49:22-24)

Much Fruit

There is a way to go from “more” fruit to “much” fruit, but it’s sort of a tricky thing. It runs counter to our natures. In our way of thinking, “much” fruit must be the result of trying harder to produce “more” fruit. We just ramp things up a bit, and much fruit will be the result.

Not so. Going from more fruit to much fruit happens through an unexpected process called abiding. It’s not a step forward in the sense of more activity and human inertia, but rather a step backward perhaps. It may even be a “less is more” sort of thing. Less work, less effort, less anxiety, less striving, maybe even less planning. In the place of these things is this mysterious, elusive, yet wonderful thing called abiding. Remaining. Resting. Living. Being at home with. Resting comfortably in the presence of. Dwelling in. Being present with. That’s the key, according to Jesus.

Abiding is a two way deal. The believer abides in the Vine, and the Vine abides in the believer. The believer learns to remain in, rest in, live in, be at home with, rest comfortably in the presence of, and dwell with Christ Himself. Conversely, the believer learns to allow Christ to remain in, rest in, live in, be at home with, rest comfortably in the presence of, and dwell with him/her. Paul tells us that this part of the relationship happens by faith:

“…That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (Ephesians 3:17a).

In this stage of fruit-bearing, there is a conscious attempt to let go and let God. It’s the New Covenant as Paul described it in 2 Corinthians 3:5:

“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God…”

“Everything coming from God, nothing coming from me” (as Ray Stedman phrased it in his great book Authentic Christianity).

I have to ask myself the question, which measure of fruitfulness describes my life?

Am I in the fruitless stage, where I need the conviction of the Holy Spirit and discipline of my Father to free me from self and worldliness? Have I allowed the world to squeeze me into its mold? To put it another way, do I need a spiritual spanking from the Lord?

Or is my life bearing some measure of fruit. If so, then I must expect pruning. No vinedresser would ever let his vines grow wild year after year. They must be pruned, or eventually they’ll be incapable of bearing any fruit at all. Are you going through a time of pruning in your life right now? If so, rejoice! The good news is that you must have been doing something right. Now it’s time for more work to be done, usually inside of the heart.

Finally, there is the possibility that pruning has been taking place for many years. Now the Lord is asking for me. He wants my heart, my love, my devotion, my very life. He wants to produce fruit, more fruit, and much fruit, true… but He also wants me. He wants that kind of closeness that John the apostle knew with Him, leaning upon His breast. What a wonderful picture that is! A grown man leaning on the breast of the Savior. John would refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” John knew about abiding, that’s for sure. It’s no wonder to me that he was also known as the apostle of love. Fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love.

Personally, I’m aware of the fact that I’m currently going through a very challenging period of life. I know the Lord will work it all out for good in the end, I’m confident of that. I’m also very blessed to know that the Vinedresser and the Vine are active in my life. He is working a work that will last and that is real.

Thanks for reading.

 

Bill Holdridge

 

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Remember The Holocaust – Pastor Jim Stretchberry

Today is April 19, 2012; it is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.  Today in Israel you can hear the sound of sirens all over the land, as everyone stops everything (banks, policemen, cars, buses, trains) It is a moment for remembrance and contemplation.  Every year on this day, I think of my mother, a 91 year old living survivor, and so many of our extended family who perished.  And I remember being a young man, becoming aware of our Jewish roots and our family’s long and rich history. I remember how my mother would tell me, “Never speak about being Jewish. Be silent, never tell anyone about us and, especially, about our Jewish family history. It will happen again.  It happened to my father, his father, and his father’s father. It will happen again.  Let me tell you, Jimmy, what has happened to us Jews. It has happened for as long as anyone can remember, to all of us.”  My thoughts were always the same, such a scared, silly old woman. Never again would man bring such horror upon fellow human beings.  Even as I became a believer and studied the Word in depth, I thought, surely the western world has learned a great lesson from the horror of so much human tragedy brought on by the Holocaust.  Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Today, let’s consider this for a moment. Let’s go back just 70 years. In 1939, before WWII, radio listeners in America heard reenacted on the ‘March of Time’ radio program, a scene that took place in Nuremberg, Germany. Jules Stretcher was the speaker, and he proposed in a speech broadcast to the world that all nations join Germany in exterminating the Jews. In 1941, another spokesman for the Nazi government, Joseph Goebbels, speaking at the Nazi Party Congress held in the same city, declared that Germany would only be satisfied  when its war against the Jews was taken up by all other nations.  Let me say here that I have the highest regard for the German people.  I have had four German interns in the past eight years, and we minister in Germany.  Germany has given us many valuable gifts, and there are some wonderful believers in Germany today, as there were during the entire war.  Dietrich Bonheoffer, a WWII German martyr, is one of my favorite authors.

Psalm 83:1-8 offers something important for us to consider today.  As we remember the horror of 70 years ago, there seems to be another horror quickly coming upon the Jews.  I suggest that Psalm 83 is a relevant commentary on our current situation:

O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still. See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.  “Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.”

Is this language out of today’s headlines?  Are these the countries mentioned later in this Psalm, lined up against Israel?  Are these the inhabited lands of Israel’s current neighbors? Edom and the Ishmaelites were in land occupied by southern Jordan today, while the territories of Moab and Ammon make up the rest of that country. Ahman, the modern spelling of Ammon, is the capital of Jordan.  It all speaks of modern day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia.  So here we have all of Israel’s next-door neighbors, all of them sworn to Jewish destruction, and all of them being whipped into frenzy by Syria and Iran.
The Jews have been persecuted, scattered, scorned, rejected, outraged, murdered, hated and legislated against; the Jews have been without a nation, without a home, without a capitol, without a government, without a temple or priesthood.  They have been the subject of every republic, kingdom, empire and monarchy- and even now are citizens of most nations in the world.

So to Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, to name a few… I would say to you, this Remembrance Day, if you want to destroy the Jews here is what you must do:  Blot away the sun, the heavens, the moon and the stars.  The Apostle Paul very clearly shows us that if the Jew is totally and finally rejected, exterminated, the very foundations upon which our salvation began and rests are obscured and in danger, for the covenant made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was an unconditional covenant.

What a glorious opportunity we have as we remember the Holocaust!  If we reach out first to our Jewish believing friends, encouraging them to share our precious Jesus as Messiah to the many Jews all around the world, then the Holy Spirit will move to change hearts and minds.  Jewish believers will turn to others of their nations and say “Arise shine, for thy light is come.” (Zach. 8:22-23)

So, we must strive to bear witness to the claims of our precious Jesus Christ.  We should remember that it is our witness first, for we will never urge any Jew to consider Christ unless our own life reveals Jesus to him.  The end of Psalm 83 clearly states that those who would attempt to crush God’s covenant people will be destroyed and wiped off the face of the earth.  God’s truth is clearly evident.  Let us all consider our attitude toward God’s chosen covenant people.

 

 

 Jim Stretchberry has been the executive director of the American European Bethel Mission (AEBM) for the last 9 years.  Prior to his tenure with AEBM Jim served as a Pastor with Pastor Rickey Ryan at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara.  Jim’s passion for the lost is evident in his commitment to missions for much of his Christian walk.  He regularly travels throughout Europe and the Middle East ministering both humanitarian aid and the glorious gospel of Christ.  His Jewish heritage has given him a passion to see his Jewish brothers come to recognize their long-awaited Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth.

Senior Pastors AND Missionaries: Unique stresses Unique needs

In a few weeks I’ll be transitioning my church in Phoenix over to a younger man that in many ways is a better fit for the neighborhood where our church building sits.  My wife and I will then relocate to the San Diego area which will make it possible for me to be nearby my mom and dad as my dad’s health is failing fast.  We will also be living near our two daughters and 3 of our grandchildren, which is really the icing on the cake of Grace that God is serving us once yet again.

Ministry-wise, I’ll be rejoining Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators full-time and serving as the Director of Church Relations and Missionary Care.  Although I’ve been consistently involved in pastoral-type care of missionaries and encouraging and training church leaders to care for their missionaries since my return from the mission field in 1993, having the opportunity to concentrate on doing so in a full time capacity is extremely exciting.  And needless to say, the machinery of my mind has been humming at warp speed as I think and pray about the needs and the possibilities that are ahead.

With that as a backdrop and at the risk of being misunderstood, I’d like to use the following questions and a few observations to provoke everyone, but ESPECIALLY Senior Pastors regarding ministry to missionaries:

Why do “Senior Pastors” conferences exist?

Why does the “Senior Pastor List Server” exist?

Why do a large percentage of Senior Pastors have as board members of their local church, Senior Pastors that are pastoring in other cities or even in other states?

Why, when a Senior Pastor needs wisdom and seeks out counsel regarding an aspect of leadership or a major challenge within their church, does he usually make a call to someone else who is now or has been a Senior Pastor at some time in the past?

Why does a Senior Pastor usually let loose with a little chuckle and a grin when one of his Assistant Pastors has filled in for him during the week and on a Sunday morning, and then says that he “knows what it’s like to be a Senior Pastor now”?

Obviously, the underlying answer to all of the above questions is that being a Senior Pastor is a unique calling that brings with it unique challenges and stresses that it’s hard for someone who hasn’t been a Senior Pastor to understand or relate to.  No Senior Pastor that I’m aware of is ashamed of being convinced of that in any way, nor should they be.

And even though we’re open to God using other brothers and sisters to speak into many areas of our lives, when it comes to ministry issues or family issues that are tightly connected to ministry, we know that usually only someone else who is or has been a Senior Pastor will really be able to grasp what we are dealing with and perhaps give us some good Godly counsel.

If the questions and observations that I’ve written above have any credence, (and I believe they do), then I believe what I’m about to write is worthy of at least some consideration.  Here then, are a few more questions:

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about a person receiving and sharing the vision God has given them to represent Him in a different country to people of a different language and with radically different culture?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about having to trust that God will provide the money to do that through churches or brothers and sisters in Jesus that you may or may not have relationship with?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about liquidating pretty much every one of your belongings in order to fulfill the vision that God has given you?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about disconnecting yourself, your wife, and your children from anything or anyone that is familiar and then resettling them in a foreign country?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about the reality that once you begin living in this other country that if you or your family members need things like medical care or dental care, it is difficult to obtain and is probably of a different quality than what you’ve had access to in the U.S.?

And finally….

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about learning to live in a completely new culture and environment and learning a new language at the same time your trying to help your family adjust AND engaging in the “ministry” that you’re convinced God called you to?

Here’s where I’m going with this:

If we can justify specialized ministry for ourselves as Senior Pastors and encourage and even make it possible for other Senior Pastors to do the same, then might it not also be possible that missionaries also deserve some type of specialized ministry and that we should encourage and make it possible for them to obtain it, especially if they are members of our church that we have commissioned and sent to the mission field?

Having been both a missionary AND a Senior Pastor at the same time overseas, and a Senior Pastor of two different churches in the U.S., I can tell you by experience that the unique challenges and stresses of being a Senior Pastor in the U.S., as real as they are, do not compare with the unique challenges and stresses of living and ministering in a cross-cultural environment outside of the U.S!

If you’re tracking with what I’m saying, (and even if you’re not), and especially if you’re a Senior Pastor, here are a few things you might consider doing:

1.  Begin viewing the missionaries you know with the same level of regard for their unique situation as you do your own unique situation as a Senior Pastor.

2.  Increase your personal inventory of understanding of what missionaries experience by doing some specific reading about the subject and pray about having your church leadership do the same.

3.  Whenever possible, set up a meeting with someone who has lived on the foreign mission field and ask them to share with you the unique challenges and stresses they faced or are facing.

4.  Encourage, and possibly even pay for your missionaries or other missionaries you know to attend missions conferences.

5.  Even more importantly, encourage or pay for a missionary to attend one of the many specialized missionary retreats that take place in various parts of our country and around the world.

I could go on and on with things to consider but I’ll leave it alone for now.

The bottom-line is that if we unashamedly recognize the unique challenges and stresses involved with being a Senior Pastor and we seize what’s available to assist and encourage ourselves, shouldn’t we seriously consider encouraging and maybe even empowering missionaries to do the same?

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The Need for More Community

Community is something that evades most Calvary Chapels, mine included. We emphasize teaching the Scripture verse by verse and that is usually left to one man and a few assistants. Part of our challenge is that we are a portable church. I think I am one of the few, if not the only portable church pastor on this blog. Being portable brings with it several challenges that churches with permanent facilities dont’t have. First is that we only have our main meeting space between the hours of 7 AM and 1PM on Sunday mornings and second, we don’t have space to do church wide fellowships. Just recently a Baptist church in town started letting us use their facility.

This has left us with a dilemma on how to connect our people to each other. When we first started we were serious about small groups, in fact they were one of our core values. The problem was that even though we had a lot of mature Christians as part of our plant we didn’t have the breadth to do more than one or two groups at a time. That is fine when your church is small starting out but we didn’t have that luxury. We simply didn’t have enough leaders or host homes to have a viable small group ministry. After several years of starting and stopping we finally stopped them altogether and I started teaching a mid-week study through Revelation. It was great and the group was committed but we only had 25-30 people each week. That wasn’t even ten percent of our adult congregation.

Then this January I had to take an intensive class for my MDiv at Liberty University. It was taught by Dr Dave Earley. The title of the class was “Leading a Healthy Church.” The purpose of the class was to get churches that were stuck in a rut out of it. Out of the sixty people in the class I was the only non-Baptist pastor there, but to be honest my church was just as stuck as some of these hundred year old, dye in the wool Baptist churches. Dr. Earley has written several books but two books changed my outlook and process for how we do community at The Village Chapel. The first book is “The Small Group Leaders Toolkit.” Don’t let the title fool you, this is a book for any leader in your church. Great, very practical, knowledge on how to do ministry. The next book was “8 Habits of Effective Small Groups.” This is a nuts and bolts book on how to have a growing surviving small group ministry. It rocked my world and has revolutionized our small groups.

At the end of January we put out a call for people who wanted to lead a small group. We wanted to start out small and perfect the process but we had ten small group leaders step forward. We trained them on a Saturday morning and let them choose what they wanted to teach through. Some chose inductive studies through a book of the Bible and other chose, myself included, a DVD series to go through. We had an amazing response to the signups. Most groups were full before they started and remain that way. We went from 25 people on a Thursday night to over 100 adults in ten groups and that doesn’t include our women’s study which has been meeting for years.

It also energized our Sunday mornings in several ways. First was through fellowship. We have a brief greeting time between worship and the teaching. It has been increasingly difficult to quiet this group down to start teaching. Second our volunteers have shot through the roof. Our Children’s director attends our Parenting small group. She was initiating a new check in method and needed volunteers and it ended up being completely staffed by the women of our small group! Finally, more people are being ministered to. I am amazed each week of the reports of the small groups loving on someone in their group who is hurting. That is coverage I could never do.

My church was desperate for community and I have to think that other churches are too. We can’t forget the power that comes when people are connected on a deeper level. I know a lot of Calvary Chapel Pastors do the two services a week model and it works well, some even do three. The difficulty this presents is that we spend all of our time studying and teaching and run the risk of restricting our community of believers. Furthermore we lose an arena that is perfect for training future leaders. All of this adds to and strengthens the community of your church. By further developing the community of your church you will increase the ministry and decrease your workload while at the same time breathing fresh life into your people. If the community of your church is lagging I challenge you to take in a new direction.

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Music During Prayer

One of the men in the church I serve mentioned something to me that I had never thought of before.  He said that music played during prayer distracted and confused him.  Whether it was the keyboards lightly played or a guitar quietly picked, it was distracting to his focus upon and attention to the prayer.  And he wasn’t speaking of music poorly played.  In fact, the better the ability of the guitarist or keyboardist, the more distracting it can be.  He wasn’t sure if he was to listen to the music or the prayer.  He wasn’t sure if the leadership wanted him to meditate to the music or participate in the prayer.

Music well done is hard to ignore and music poorly done is difficult to bracket out.

Was he to be engaged in the prayer or was he to be enjoying the music?

My first reaction (in myself) to his comment (and it was a comment, not a complaint), was that we can multi-task, it’s no big deal.  We can enjoy the sweetness of the music and follow the rhythm of the prayer and amen its requests and affirmations both at the same time.  But as I thought about it, I had to be honest with myself and admit that I, too, find myself distracted by music played during prayer.  I listen more to the music than I do to the prayer.  I find myself commenting to myself about the music during prayer: “O, that’s nice.”  Or, “That sure is repetitive.”  Or, “I bet he’s bored.”

Again, my first reaction in myself to my friends’ comment about music during prayer had to do with multi-tasking.  But should we multitask in prayer?  Isn’t prayer task enough?  What’s the purpose of music during prayer anyway?  If it’s to set a mood, for me, the mood of the moment easily overshadows the prayer of the moment.  The mood the music creates can crowd out the plea of the prayer.

The music makes it a more emotional moment, but I am not convinced it makes it a more spiritual moment.

In fact, for some people, it can distract them from the spirituality of the moment.  This is obviously part of a larger conversation about substituting emotion for spirit – something that is easy to fall into – and a dynamic we should look into.

I’m sure many would make the argument that since prayer is the continuation of worship, and since the worship songs are carried on the wings of music, the prayer can use the same musical updraft that’s been created.  Maybe.  I don’t know.   With worship songs, the words and music and melody and rhythm are woven and knit together – they are parts of a whole.  In thinking of one you think of the other.   Not so with prayer.

What do you think?  I know that with the great need that billions have of knowing Christ and the mind-boggling social and environmental needs of our planet, music during prayer isn’t a burning question, but it is a relevant one.  I haven’t reached any firm decision – I’m boldly planting my feet on both sides of the fence!  I know that for some, music and prayer go together like peanut butter and jam.  To think of a musically unadorned prayer is like a bride without her wedding dress on her wedding day – an unspeakable tragedy.  What about you – have you thought of this before?  Have you thought through this before?  Chime in.

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Spiritually Fit, but Physically Flabby?

Extremes describe my life.  I have often said, “I wasn’t given the gift of moderation..and anything worth doing is worth over doing!”  Over the last 10 years I transitioned from the life of a Navy SEAL to the life of a pastor.  There have been many positives with this transition, but one negative snuck up on me–the decline of my physical fitness.  When it comes to fitness, I can hardly think of two extremes more polarizing that the fitness level of your average Navy SEAL to the of your average Southern Baptist pastor!  Unfortunately, about 6 months ago, I was feeling like I felt into the later category and I was miserable.

There are many who seem to quote 1 Timothy 4:8, “…for bodily discipline is only of little profit…” as a justification for poor physical fitness.  I think the average application of this passage is a little off.  First, the context of this passage was written during a time when life required to work physically hard in contrast the the sedentary life of many today.  Second, this passage does say bodily discipline has profit!

The area of physical fitness, or general health, may be one of the first things to go for the average church-planter or pastor.  Many have suffered medically for slacking in this area.  Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, and many others suffered a major health crisis early in their journeys of pastoring that required them to make a radical change in order for them to run the race for the long term.  Their hard lessons resonated with me.  I felt like I was heading down that path and it would only be a matter of time before I suffered the same problems.  I was feeling some of the side effects of the pastor’s life–free floating anxiety, difficulty focusing, discouragement, and difficulty sleeping well.

My health surfaced through an unusual circumstance.  As a chaplain I serve with a SWAT team and one particular morning in July I found myself playing a bad guy.  The SEAL in me came out, but my body failed me.  I ended up with some bruised ribs.  It was extremely painful.  I hurt bad–Vicodin bad.  A few nights later my cell phone batter died and the phone beeped.  It was about 3am and I jumped up…thinking there was a SWAT call out.  I moaned in agony jumping up only to sigh with disappointment to discover that it was only a dead battery.  My wife did not find this amusing.  She said something like, “Really?  You want to respond to a SWAT call out right now?”  The answer seems obvious to me.  She however thought it was time for me to start hitting the gym as she gracefully reminded me that I was no longer a 25 year-old SEAL, but was a much older pastor.  Her point was well made…I knew I needed to get more faithful at the gym.

Long story short, I was blessed with a membership to a CrossFit gym in my community a few months after this incident.  I have been disciplined in working out since then 3-5 times per week.  I have been sore for much of the last six months, but I feel so much better as a whole.  By getting back into a regular exercise routine my stress levels are down, my ability to focus is much better, and I am just in an all around better mood!  It is funny how so often the thing we need to do is actually the thing we put off.  I am so thankful for this opportunity that was given to me and I see now how bad my health had become-right under my nose.

This is a simple thought, but giving time to physical exercise daily is critical for for pastors over the long haul of their life.  Our calling places unique demands on us.  These demands often require  much of our time…legitimately so.  Our personal health is an area that requires our attention if we desire to go the distance in our calling.  I encourage my brothers to cut out time for their physical fitness.  You’ll be glad you did. What things have helped, or hurt, you in your attempts to stay healthy?

 

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Accepted And Accepting

From what I have seen, a great need among us humans is the need to be accepted. Translate that loved, valued, understood, noticed, heard, appreciated, etc. For now, let’s use the word accepted.

For many years of my life, I struggled desperately with wanting to be accepted.  I wanted to be able to accept myself, and I wanted others to accept me.  I was extremely unhappy with myself, and quite self condemning.  It was crippling, it held me back, and at times, it felt consuming.  I suppose that I am still predisposed to this sentiment, though God has done an incredible work in me.

I have noticed from my life, and from the lives of others, that the person who is desperate to be accepted will do “whatever it takes” to be accepted.  They will commit crimes, they will give themselves away to others in damaging relationships, they will demean others in order to gain approval, they will anesthetize themselves; the list goes on.  Some will even demand that you accept them no matter what they do, and will continue to push the boundaries to make you prove that you accept them.

The Christian has a great advantage that isn’t always understood or received, but yet remains.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus…

“…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:4-6

The Christian who is desperate to be accepted by people they can see, will run past the God they can’t see.  They will generally relate to life on the visible plane.  Though there is sufficient faith for salvation, it has stopped there, and satisfaction and purpose is sought from that which is tangible.

They overlook the very truth that can liberate them.

The work of God’s Spirit in directing the Believer away from what is seen, and on to that which is unseen, is the critical experience that needs to transpire.

We worry about people’s opinions of us, when the Highest Opinion is the one that really matters. When I understand and experience the fact that the Highest Opinion accepts me because I am in Christ, I can rest.

God tells us that he has made us acceptable unto Himself, as we are forgiven and united with Christ through faith.  God really does love me and accept me.  As I grow in this truth, I am free to accept others, even though they may be acting out in some of the aforementioned manners.  I am free from my desperate need for approval, because I am walking in the acceptance of God, because of what Christ has done, and continues to do in me.  I can increasingly not worry about what others think, about where I should be in life, about the failures I have made and do make.

The path of this truth becoming a liberating reality can be difficult.  I speak from personal experience, and from 20 years of pastoral observation.  How it happens, how long it takes, etc., is different with everyone, but I do know this:  The person that experiences the liberating acceptance of God is the one who will not let go of God, and continues to pursue God in faith, and seeks to “live by faith and not by sight.”

The person who struggles with acceptance is in pain, and can believe that pain in and of itself is reason enough to not try to push forward in faith.  “Can’t you see that I am hurting”, they ask. “How can I push forward in faith when I feel so bad”?

I have said and felt those same things, but my question to them is this: “How can you NOT push forward towards faith and the promises of God?”  It is God who heals, but we must pursue Him will ALL of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, even though we might be in debilitating emotional and mental anguish.

The distance from feelings to faith can indeed seem like an endless journey, but the Truth is still there for us to apprehend, and it is the best rewarded effort that one can put forth.

C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (The Problem of Pain, 1940).