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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Redefining Ministry Success

For many years, success in church ministry was defined by the three B’s—Buildings (How big is your building? Are you in a building program?); Butts (How many people attend your worship service?); and Budgets (How much money do you take in? How much money do you give to missions?) The church growth and seeker movements added a fourth B—Baptisms (How many people have you led to Christ? How many have you baptized?) In recent years, the really successful pastors have added three more B’s to the list—Books (How many books have your written? What rank and how long on the best seller list?); Blogs (How many people subscribe to your blog?); and Broadcasts (Are you on the radio? TV? Podcast? How many listeners/viewers?)

By these standards, I am a mediocre pastor at best and an abject failure at worst:

  • Buildings—Our church sits on less than an acre with a grand total of 16 parking spots. Our worship center can hold 240 people, if we all hold their breath. Being land-locked, we can’t expand and develop a mega-church campus.
  • Butts—For the past four years, our attendance has fluctuated between 164 and 179. We gain a few, lose a few, but the net stays the same. We’re closer to a small church (under 100) than a mega-church (2000+). Needless to say, I’m not invited to speak at church growth conferences.
  • Budgets—For a church our size, our people are faithful, generous givers. They take care of the staff well and almost 17% of the budget goes to missions. That certainly goes into the success column.
  • Baptisms—We have baptized 10 people in four years, none of whom were new believers.
  • Books—I’ve written one manuscript, but no one wanted to publish it. No success story here.
  • Blogs—I have nine subscribers to my blog. Not a huge following, but a few like to read it.
  • Broadcasts—Nothing to report in media-land.

Measuring myself by the Big 7 of Church Success, it’s no wonder I doubt my abilities and feel I don’t measure up to the big boys.

It’s for this reason Mike Schafer of SonScape gave me the task of redefining what it means to be successful. “Does your definition come from your personality, culture, or Scripture?” he asked me to consider.

In wrestling with Mike’s question, I thought about Isaiah and Jeremiah, men whose task was to preach to people who would never respond (Isaiah 6:8-13; Jeremiah 1:18-19). I considered the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) where three men were given abilities to use in service. Two achieved different levels of success, but both received the same reward, indicating the rewards were given for faithfulness, not fruitfulness. I was reminded of John 15:1-11 where Jesus taught that God produces fruit as we abide in him. The Book of Acts records the numerical growth of the early church. However, the numbers were an incidental byproduct, not the focus or goal. With the increase came greater challenges and in some cases problems.

I came away reminded that my task is to abide in Christ, faithfully use what he has given me to serve him, and trust him to produce the fruit he desires. My task is to abide and serve faithfully. God’s task is to produce the fruit. In wanting to be “successful,” I have assumed a responsibility and burden that was not given to me.

If I stay faithful to what God has called me to do, I will receive the greatest measure of success there is, the words of my Savior and Lord–“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

 

Discipleship for Busy People

The busier life gets, the less time we have for spiritual disciplines. The more stressful life becomes, the less time we spend in silence and solitude. The more demands on our time, the less we give to God.

Or so the conventional reasoning goes. I have heard all those arguments, and used most of them myself. Perhaps that’s why I find Jesus’ example in Mark 3:7-19 both challenging and convicting.

Jesus was no stranger to a stressful, pressure-packed, demanding lifestyle. On one side were people who wanted to kill him (Mark 3:6). These weren’t your ordinary, garden variety critics. They were literally out for his blood. On the other side were needy people who wanted something from Jesus. They included the sick and demon possessed (Mark 3:10-11). The crowd of people pressed in so tightly that Jesus asked his disciples to have an escape pod ready to go at a moment’s notice (Mark 3:9).

Yet in the middle of his demanding schedule, Jesus walks away to be by himself (Mark 3:13a). He spends all night in prayer (Luke 6:12). The very next day, he calls his twelve disciples (Mark 2:13b-14). Jesus had a two-fold purpose for inviting these twelve men to join him—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.

This passage addresses two misconceptions about discipleship. The first is that we don’t have time for it. If Jesus can make time in his busy, demanding schedule to spend time with his Father, what prevents us? If he made time to invest in training disciples, what is our excuse?

The second misconception is that far too often we equate discipleship with merely Bible study and prayer; spending time in God’s presence. But discipleship is a balance between time with God and time serving God; time spent in his presence and time spent sharing his message.

Are you too busy to be a follow Jesus? Are you too busy to serve him? Jesus calls us to be his disciples amidst the pressures of life. Spend time with him and let him send you into the world to share his message.

 

 

Messiah complex

During our time at SonScape, our seminar leader, Mike Schafer, repeated a phrase several times. He said,

“There is a Savior, and you are not him.”

People in general, and those of us in ministry in particular, can easily buy into the lies of the enemy that “I am THE answer to the world’s problems!” and, “NO ONE can do it as good as me!” We need to be reminded that we are dependent on God for results, not the other way around.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Character, Personal growth, SonScape

 

Administrivia

Administrivia (Noun) [Blend of “administrative” and “trivia” 1930s US] – (1) the tiresome but essential details that must be taken care of and tasks that must be performed in running an organization; “he sets policy and leaves all the administrivia to his assistant”; (2) Administrative details that must be dealt with in order to do more interesting work.

So here I am, the first day back in the office after a restful vacation, the first day back from SonScape where I determined to hand off some of the things that drain me in order to focus on more profitable tasks that fit my gifts and energize me, and guess what awaited me . . . ?

  1. Determining whether or not to buy a new printer for the finance office.
  2. Playing IT guy trying to troubleshoot a balky internet.
  3. Spending time on the phone with a less than helpful CenturyLink customer service agent trying to troubleshoot a balky modem and internet.
  4. Calling for someone else to troubleshoot a balky internet.
  5. Conducting a performance review.
  6. Printing, copying, and collating material for an elder’s retreat later this week.
  7. Writing, printing, and mailing the agenda to said elder’s retreat.
  8. Emailing the maps to said retreat I forgot to include with the mailing.
  9. Running to the post office to mail a book.
  10. Starting my sermon preparation.

Why is my most important task #10 on my list? Administrivia, my old friend. Oh, how I’ve missed you. ;-}

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Character, Ministry, Personal growth

 

Fix me

Prior to leaving for Colorado, I accidentally cut off the tip of my ring finger with a pair of scissors. I was trying to cut a paper sack to use for wrapping paper and didn’t realize my finger was in the way. OUCH!!! I thought about simply putting a band-aid on it, but wasn’t sure if it would stop bleeding. So I listened to the voice of reason (which oddly enough was silent while I was cutting the bag), held a Kleenex on the end of my finger to keep it from bleeding, and drove 15 minutes to the closest ER. I stopped at the front desk and said, “Fix me!” (When the folks in ER cringe when they hear your story, you know you’ve done something stupid. Yep, guilty as charged! Carelessness at its best/worst!) Two hours later, and with a inch-thick gauze bandage wrapped around my finger, I was back on my way.

In the same way, people call the pastor the week after Labor Day and say, “Fix me!” Whereas I dropped everything I was doing and headed for ER, people often put up with their problems all summer long and don’t deal with it until school starts. In waiting, they often ignore the problem until it is too late. They may be on the verge of divorce, bankruptcy, addiction, suicide, heart attack, or any number of life/career/family/economic/spiritual emergencies. Yet by the time they show up in my office, there is little that I can do to help them from a human standpoint. I often think, and sometimes say, “Unless God intervenes, there is no hope!”

As painful as it may be, that is right where God wants us. Because only then do we stop trying to fix ourselves and admit that we cannot solve our problems. We finally reach the end of our resources and hurt enough that we are willing to change. We are finally ready to visit the spiritual ER and ask for God’s help.

Now that summer is over, I wonder who will show up on my doorstep.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

 

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Character, Personal growth

 

Colorado mining towns

During one of our days at SonScape, Carol and I drove to the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor. These are two mining towns dating back to the 1890’s. Located seven miles apart with an active gold mining operation in between, the towns are in reality separated by an economic chasm.

The money has gone to Cripple Creek, as several casinos have moved in. We were told it is one of 3 or 4 towns in Colorado where casinos were granted permission to operate. In fact, it seems as if every other shop on Main Street is a casino.

 

In contrast, driving through Victor felt like we had stepped back in time a few decades. It definitely felt like we were on the “other side of the tracks” with dirt roads off Main Street and shacks in the hills.

I was reminded of James Michener’s novel, Centenial, which describes how the settlers and gold miners came to Colorado. While my ancestor’s were not gold miners, they were among the settlers, as my grandmother came to Colorado in a covered wagon and homesteaded in a sod house in Flagler (near the Kansas border).

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Colorado, Photos, SonScape

 

God’s amazing creatures – Hummingbirds

Outside our cabin at SonScape was a hummingbird feeder. It was amazing to watch these creatures. They moved so fast it was hard to take their picture. Fortunately, my camera allowed me to take multiple photos at a time. Even then, I wasn’t always quick enough.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Colorado, Photos, SonScape