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Category Archives: Church

It’s not you, Pastor

It’s not you, Pastor, but … I need a change … I don’t feel connected … I’m not inspired … the Holy Spirit is leading me … I have different convictions about leadership … I don’t fit … I don’t agree with the vision … I don’t want to be tied to one church … the church doesn’t need me … but it’s not personal.

Why is it that when I hear someone is leaving the church and their reasons start with, “It’s not you, it’s me …” I immediately feel like it’s my fault. I feel like I just received the ecclesiastical “Dear John …” letter. “I think we should see other churches. Let’s just be friends.”

I guess my feelings fit in with Jim Collins “the window and the mirror” concept in his book, Good to Great. During times of prosperity and success, the leader looks out the window and praises the efforts of the people. During times of difficulty and challenge, the leader looks in the mirror and wonders what he could do better.

How can I lead more effectively? How can I inspire, encourage, and challenge people to grow? How can I keep the flock from scattering?

While I know my task is to focus on pleasing God rather than people, it still feels very personal when someone says, “It’s not you, Pastor, but …”

Ah, the challenges of leading a church. SIGH!

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2017 in Church, Ministry, Passion, Personal growth

 

A book that doesn’t live up to its title

Book Review: The Light is Winning: why religion just might bring us back to life, by Zach Hoag

I did not like the book. The book did not live up to its title. The book describes the flaws of a narrow slice of legalistic Christianity rather than stories of the benefits of religious practices. I do not recommend the book. These four statements summarize my evaluation of Zach Hoag’s latest book, The Light is Winning: why religion just might bring us back to life.

The author’s purpose is stated on p. 28, “…the decline of Christian faith in America is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to be embraced.” However, he never develops that idea but instead spends the bulk of the book, fully two-thirds, describing his journey from growing up in an apocalyptic cult in east Texas to an overbearing, controlling father to a legalistic Calvinistic Baptist Church to planting a church that would ultimately fail. If anyone has a reason to quit the church, it’s him. You come away feeling sad for the author.

Despite describing the problems of American Christianity, he doesn’t really give a solution to the problem. He spends a few pages saying that the church needs more Jesus, specifically that we need to spend more time in the Gospels than the rest of Scripture. He spends a few pages extolling the virtues of Methodist traditions and rituals and how they helped him recover from his failed church plant. However, he never gets to the title of the book until the last chapter and never truly develops why he believes there is hope for the church or American Christianity. In between, he peppers his ideas with illustrations from HBO TV shows.

My guess is that the book is aimed at a younger generation than mine, and certainly not aimed at a long-term pastor like myself. I did not agree with all the endorsements inside the front cover.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2017 in Books, Church, Quotes

 

The 14-Minute Business Meeting

Last night, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, held our semi-annual business meeting. Jim, our moderator, asked me to open in prayer at 7:01PM. After reading the minutes from the last meeting, voting on four nominations for open board positions, hearing an update from Doug on the building renovation project, and me giving an update on our intern, Jack, the meeting was closed in prayer at 7:15PM. A 14-minute church business meeting!

Afterwards, several commented about previous 3-hour, contentious business meetings where we talked in circles and the comments generated more heat than light.

On the one hand, there was nothing significant on our agenda. We will undoubtedly have a much longer meeting this fall when we present the proposal to renovate our building. In fact, we will have several presentations, Q&A sessions, and discussions before the actual vote.

On the other hand, the shortness of the meeting demonstrates the improved health and stability of the church.

  • We started 2017 with a financial deficit and our giving is now ahead of budget.
  • There is greater confidence in and trust of the leadership. I have now been here five years and we have elders, deacons, and deaconesses who are all functioning in their respective roles.
  • We are stable and headed in the right direction.

That being said, there was still a fair amount of slack-jawed amazement when the moderator asked J to close in prayer. 😉

 
 

Practical advice on growing a church

Book Review: When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer, by Chris Sonksen

What does a pastor do when his church is not growing and the attendance is plateaued? What questions should he be asking? Where can he find answers?

Chris Sonksen has written a book trying to provide solutions for the problems related to church growth.

I want to encourage you to do the work necessary to create the clear picture and plan that God has for your church. God’s heart is for your church to win—to be a place of life change and transformation and to build a church that lives in the stage of increase.

In chapter one, the author lays the foundation for his approach to diagnosing and solving the problem of why a church isn’t growing. He explains the difference between the “God factor” and the “Leader factor.”

“Jeremy, there are two things you have to realize; there is the God factor and the leader factor. The God factor says ‘We can’t do anything without God.’ Would you agree?” He nodded his head and quietly said, “Yes, I agree.” I went on to say, “The leader factor says that ‘God doesn’t do anything without a leader.’ Now, Jeremy, we both know that God can do whatever he wants; he’s a miracle-working God. But when it comes to building a thriving local church, more often than not God looks for a leader. Would you agree with that, Jeremy?” Again, he quietly said, “Yes, I agree.” I said, “Jeremy, what this means is that we have to be willing to do our part. God will always do his part. He never lets us down and never quits on us. He will always come through. Our part is to be willing to change. Be willing to be honest about where our church is and willing to take it where it needs to go.

I found the second chapter to be the most helpful. Using the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:20-25), Sonksen lays out the principle, “God determines the talent, We determine the choices.” Success is not measured by results, but rather by whether or not we are faithful in using the gifts God has given us.

The bulk of the book identifies and explains 7 questions that pastors need to ask about their church:

  1. Mission: What do we do?
  2. Strategy: How do we get it done?
  3. Values: What are the guiding principles we live by?
  4. Metrics: How do we measure a win?
  5. Team Alignment: Do we have the right people in the right seats moving the in the right direction?
  6. Culture: How do we change the culture of our church?
  7. Services: How do we match what we say is important and what we really do?

The strength of the book is that it gives practical solutions to the difficult challenges of church growth. In that sense, it is a helpful volume. The weakness of the book is that it lays all the emphasis on human effort and tends to leave God out of the equation. While he stresses that success is not determined by numbers and size, he implies that if your church is not growing, then the pastor is failing. Since much of the examples in the book are of the author coaching another pastor through these questions, it tends to be a promotion of the author’s consulting service.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Books, Church, Quotes

 

Handling Criticism – Lessons from Jesus

Last night, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, held a joint meeting of our elders, deacons, and deaconesses. We meet together 3-4 times a year to touch base on shepherding issues. Towards the end of the meeting, I distributed two handouts on the subject of handling criticism. I explained that as we touch base with people, we may hear criticism and/or complaints about an individual, ministry, or other concern. I wanted to guide the folks in how to respond biblically.

One handout was “Handling Criticism: Lessons from Nehemiah.” (It was posted on my blog on May 5, 2016.) Rather than read the entire handout, I said the short version was that sometimes Nehemiah responded to criticism and sometimes he ignored it. Not every need is a mandate. Sometimes a need or a criticism is a distraction to ignore. We need discernment to know which ones to address and which ones to ignore.

The second handout was “Handling Criticism: Lessons from Jesus.”

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Handling Criticism: Lessons from Jesus

When someone wants to complain to you about a person, ministry, etc., follow the guidelines Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15-20.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Ask the person, “Have you talked to _______ ?” (the person who offended them; the person in charge of the ministry they are concerned about, etc.)

If they say, “No,” then graciously stop the person and tell them to practice Mathew 18:15. Graciously tell them to stop gossiping, complaining, and/or venting to someone else.

If they say, “Yes, but the person didn’t listen,” then you can listen to their concern. Afterwards, go with the person to help them seek reconciliation and/or resolution, the second step in Matthew 18:16.

Remember that your role is not to serve as the complaint department or the problem solvers of the church.

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As leaders in the church, I wanted our team to understand that criticism comes with the territory. I shared that every time our church has started to move forward, we’ve been attacked. I’ve been criticized more in the past year than I have in many previous years. Part is due to my position and part to what we’ve been trying to do as a church. When criticism comes, and it will, I want us to respond in a biblical, godly manner.

 

Am I indispensable?

If I leave my church, will they miss me? If I leave my church, will they survive without me?

The first question reflects the opinion that I am not needed. The second question shows an attitude of feeling indispensable. The one says I feel like I don’t matter. The other says no one can replace me. The first one assumes that my contributions are so small that anyone could take my place. The second one assumes that the building and church ministries will collapse without me holding them up.

Which position is correct? Both? Neither?

Scripture is pretty clear that once we put our faith in Christ, we are part of the body of Christ. Whether great or small, each of us plays a vital role (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). The body builds itself up as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). If I don’t do my part, the church will remain in a state of perpetual adolescence. So, yes, I do matter and the church cannot survive without me.

Scripture is also clear that the church belongs to Christ, not to me. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). He does not need my help. So, yes, I am not indispensable and the church can survive without me.

Over the years, I have experienced both attitudes personally. I left one church and was never missed. Someone else stepped into my position and took it further than I could have. I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything and was not needed. I was extremely dispensable. Like stepping out of a river, the water filled in the hole where I was standing.

I left another church and heard from several that the church spent years trying to find someone else to do what I did. I had accomplished a great deal. I was indispensable and not easily replaced. I left too big a footprint.

I have also experienced both approaches in other people. Some who existed on the fringe left the church without saying goodbye and we didn’t realize they were gone until someone said, “I haven’t seen so-and-so in a while.” Others left and when we saw them later, they were surprised that we had not closed the doors and filed for bankruptcy in their absence.

Both of these attitudes reflect a wrong view of self. One describes a perception that is far too low while the other is far too high. In Romans 12:3–5, the apostle Paul writes,

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

As Christ followers, we need to have an accurate view of ourselves that is neither too high nor too low. We need to recognize that we are part of the body of Christ and have an important role to play. In the passage that follows, Paul goes on to explain that each one of us has a spiritual gift that we are to use in service (6-8). We also have a responsibility to “one another” (9-13).

I have a vital role to play and I am needed in the ministry of the church. But the church belongs to Christ and he will build his church.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Church, Personal growth, Scripture

 

The pros & cons of using hymnals in church

Blogger Tim Challies has written two posts on the subject of using hymnals in church.

“What we lost when we lost our hymnals” describes the downside of using projected words instead of hymnals.

“What we gained when we lost the hymnal” describes the upside of using projected words instead of hymnals.

Neither article will convince you if you hold the opposite opinion. But Tim does a good job of being objective about the challenges inherent in the topic.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2017 in Church, Music, Tim Challies, Worship