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Category Archives: Passion

Of Ministry & Milestones

September is an anniversary month for me. It’s a time when I look back and celebrate the grace of God in my life. It’s a time when I look forward and recommit myself to following God. It’s a time when I once again declare how much I need his grace and strength in my life.

September is a milestone month for me because it is when I began my first full-time, paid position in ministry. I’ve been doing ministry for almost 45 years. But I started getting paid for it in September 1986, 31 years ago.

I began serving in ministry during my freshman year in college in 1973. From 1973-86, I taught Sunday School for kids, served as a youth sponsor, discipled high school students, led ministry trips, sang in choirs, coached sports teams, chaired committees, did a summer internship, participated in evangelism outreaches, and other ministries I have long since forgotten.

I taught one class in each of two semesters in Dallas Theological Seminary’s Lay Institute from 1983-84, and even got paid for the privilege. I also served one year as a part-time intern at Nutwood St. Baptist Church in Garden Grove, CA, in the mid-80’s.

In September 1986, I was called as the Pastor of Christian Education at College Church in Wheaton, IL, and began my full-time career in ministry. I served the first 18 years as an Associate Pastor. I served three years at College Church, Wheaton, IL – Pastor of Christian Education (9/86-7/89), and over 14 years at Crossroads Bible Church, Bellevue, WA – Associate Pastor—Singles, Adults, Missions, Senior Associate (2/90-6/04).

In September 2004, I was called as a Senior Pastor and have now served 13 years in that role. I served almost 8 years at United Evangelical Free Church, Seattle, WA (9/04-3/12), and the past five years at First Central Bible Church, Chicopee, MA (9/12-Present). If God should tarry, I would like to keep going and reach the goal of serving as many years as a senior pastor as I did as an associate pastor.

In addition, I have served as an instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for 30 years (1987-Present). I also led or participated in 18 ministry trips (13 to Russia, 2 to Ukraine, 2 to Spain, and 1 to Nigeria). I also have the privilege of mentoring students as an adjunct professor at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA.

Somewhere along the line, I developed the following purpose statement for my life.

My Mission is to serve the purpose of God in my generation, thus bringing glory to his name. My Life Vision to train and equip others through preaching, teaching, writing, and leadership development. I want to bring all to maturity and many into leadership.

To be starting my 32nd year in ministry says more about God’s grace than my ability. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed nor the smartest person in the room. I am a plodder who strives to run the race God called me to run (Hebrews 12:1-4). I want to serve God faithfully and use all of my gifts for his glory (Matthew 25:14-30).

As I reflect on another ministry milestone, I thank God that he called me to be one of his children. I thank God that he called me into his service. I thank him for the privilege of serving him at First Central. I thank God for grace.

May God grant me the grace and strength to continue serving him for many more years to come.

 

 

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

 

What are you feeding your mind?

I am surprised, amazed, saddened … by what people think about and share with the world. There is a decided lack of civility in public discourse, especially regarding politics. On the one hand, Facebook is filled with posts about depression, anxiety, and darkness. On the other hand, it is also populated with trivial games, comments, videos, and frivolous pursuits.

When you calculate what people are thinking about, is it any wonder our world is in trouble?

This morning, I was challenged by Jeremiah 15:16 – “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”

The verse reminded me of the apostle Paul’s instruction in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

As Christ followers, we need to make healthy choices about what we feed our minds. While we cannot avoid the negative, we also don’t have to focus and meditate on it. We must make the choice to fill our minds with Scripture in order to gain God’s perspective on life. We must choose to focus on those things which will build us up rather than tear us down.

What are you feeding your mind?

 

So, what do you do during the week?

“What do you do during the week? How do you spend your time? What does a pastor do when you’re not preaching a sermon? You only work one hour a week!”

I get asked that question periodically. It’s difficult to answer because no two weeks are alike.

The biggest blocks of my time are filled with study and preparation. Sermon preparation. Teaching a weekly adult Sunday School class. Teaching the Awana lesson once every six weeks. Leading a monthly elders’ & wives’ Bible study. The minute one sermon or lesson is delivered, I start thinking about the next one. An easy 25-30 hours per week goes to preparation. I’m also starting to review my notes for what I will teach when I go to Russia in March.

Meetings takes up a fair amount of time. Weekly staff meetings. Monthly meetings with our finance and missions’ boards. Twice a month meetings with our elders. Quarterly meetings with our Christian Education board. Weekly meetings with a group of men for lunch and prayer. Two different monthly pastors’ groups, one for idea sharing and prayer and one for lunch and encouragement.

Time with people is difficult to quantify. Conversations in the hallway. Phone calls. Email. Appointments. Hospital visits. Counseling. Discussions before and after services. These vary from week to week and season to season.

Administrivia. Planning. Email. Letters. Reports. Budgeting. Recruiting. Dreaming. Casting vision. How do you measure thinking about these things at your desk versus while driving in the car or waking at 3AM?

Prayer. Set times. Special times. Driving. Walking. Waking up thinking about someone. How do you quantify and measure prayer?

While these five categories are somewhat predictable and repeatable, the crisis du jour is the wildcard variable in each week. Here’s what last week looked like. (It was typical in the sense it was untypical).

  • Tuesday – Received a request asking me to conduct the funeral for a young man who died suddenly on Monday. Spoke with the mother to console her and talk about the details of the service. The service will be on Saturday. Starting thinking about what to say.
  • Wednesday – A person showed up at church claiming to be a detective who wanted to inform us of drug dealers in our parking lot. When I recognized the individual as an actor in a local theater company, I called his bluff. He left in a huff saying he would return with officers to have me arrested.
  • Thursday – I contacted the police to report Wednesday’s incident. Turns out the person is known to the local police as a veteran with PTSD. Spent part of the day preparing for Saturday’s funeral.
  • Saturday – Conducted the funeral and graveside service. The latter took place as snow was falling in the cemetery. In the afternoon, I played travel agent, booking airfare and hotels for my trip to Russia in March.

All of the above are ministry related. They don’t take into account my personal or family activities—watching NFL and college football, conversations with my wife, time spent preparing my remarks for my youngest daughter’s wedding coming up in February, as well as purchasing the needed supplies for the wedding and trip.

As one former colleague used to say, “I’ve been bored and I’ve been busy. I’d rather be busy.” Life is definitely full. However, I am NOT complaining. I have a sense of fulfillment because I am using my gifts to serve the cause of Christ.

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in Ministry, Passion, Personal growth

 

Rediscover the One who first loved you

remember-returnBook Review: Remember & Return: Rekindling Your Love for the Savior, by John MacArthur

Let’s face it. Life gets so busy and we get easily distracted by problems, trials, and the mundane things of life. It is easy to drift away from Jesus. Even going to church and reading the Bible can morph into activities where we simply go through the motions. When that happens, we need to make a conscious effort to rediscover and rekindle our love for Jesus Christ.

Pastor and author John MacArthur has written a 31-day devotional designed to help the reader rediscover who Jesus is, what he has done for us, and how we should respond to him. Each devotional is 6-7 pages long and can be easily read and digested in a few minutes. The devotionals begin by describing the person of Christ—who he is. They move into an examination of the work of Christ—what he did for us in salvation. The devotionals then describe what Jesus is doing now as King, High Priest, and Advocate. The book closes with how we should respond to Jesus.

As the author explains in the introduction, “Love for the Lord is the defining reality in the life of every true Christian. But the fire of the first love for the Lord can grow cold and diminish the believer’s power and blessing. This thirty-one-day journey is designed to keep your love for Christ increasing for your joy and His glory.”

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 October 18, 2016 in Books, Passion, Personal growth, Scripture

 

The weight of ministry

At a recent gathering, someone asked me, “What do you do during the week?” I tried to explain what my schedule looks like and what I do from day to day. What I perhaps should have said is that I spend my time worrying about people.

In 2 Corinthians 11:16-29, the apostle Paul writes of the suffering he experienced in ministry. Some came as a result of persecution (24-25), some from difficult circumstances (26-27), and some came from concerns about the health of churches and believers (28-29). While I have not experienced persecution as Paul did, I have faced the difficulty of travel for ministry on occasion, and especially the pressure of being concerned for peoples’ spiritual health, or as Paul phrased it,

the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (28-29, NASB).

I can identify with his latter statement. It’s just hard to explain that to people.

 

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2016 in Ministry, Passion, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Drawing a Life Map

I was first introduced to the concept of a Life Map during the LEAD workshop at Dallas Theological Seminary. The team of Andy Seidel, Bill Lawrence, and others were instrumental in helping me understand the benefits of using this tool. (The material has since been published in a book, Charting a Bold Course: Training Leaders for the 21st Century). This past week I introduced the concept to my Sunday School class. I explained how to develop the map and then walked them through mine. Below are the explanatory notes as well as a copy of my personal Life Map.

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Drawing/Writing your Life Story/Timeline

Portions are adapted from Charting a Bold Course: Training Leaders for the 21st Century, by Andrew B. Seidel

In the past, I have used the creation of a life map/timeline as one element in the process of discovering and developing your purpose in life.

Life Purpose

  • God’s purpose in history
  • God’s purpose for the church
  • Understanding your life purpose

Divine Design

  • Spiritual gifts
  • Passion
  • Temperament

Timeline/Life Map

  • Understanding how you got to where you are today
  • Identifying the heart-shaping events; the themes & major lessons God has taught you; emotional freeze points

Assessment

  • Snapshot – measure your current level of biblical knowledge, character, ministry skills
  • Where do you need to grow?

Game Plan

  • How will you get from where you are to where you want to go?
  • Develop a strategy for lifelong learning and growth

Four-step process helpful in putting together your Life Story/Timeline

OBSERVATION

Observation is the most time consuming of the four steps. It is important to give yourself plenty of time to pray and reflect.

Using the Life Story Chart, divide your life into logical time sequences from birth to present. Think of these as “chapters” in your life story.  Record those divisions along the horizontal line extending to the right.  The vertical line represents the range of positive (+) and negative (-) experiences.

Start the observation process by writing brief notes about positive and negative relationships, places, successes, and failures that come to mind under the different life divisions.

Here are several questions you can use to prompt your thinking:

  • Who are the most memorable people from your past?
  • What have been the greatest influences in your life?
  • What dreams have you had over your lifetime?
  • When you think of your parents (or primary caregivers) what memories come to mind?
  • What do you remember about where you grew up?
  • What did you think about God during various chapters of your life?
  • What portions of the Bible have been most meaningful to you? Why?
  • What lessons has God taught you over the years?

CLARIFICATION

Transfer the same life divisions from the Life Story Chart to the Life Story Worksheet.

Clarify your story by going back and highlighting those relationships and experiences on your chart that are the MOST FORMATIVE. To do this, identify those relationships and experiences that have had lasting impact; these are the most formative.  Record your formative events on the Life Story Worksheet in the appropriate life division columns.

Consider how God has authored your story. As you pray and reflect on each formative event, ask two questions:

  • “What has God revealed about himself? (attributes, character, works)
  • “What has God revealed about me? (gifts, flaws, strengths, weaknesses)

Record your thoughts under the “God’s Authorship” section of the Life Story Worksheet found at the bottom of each division.

CORRELATION

Reflect on the formative experiences and identify any recurring themes in your life that seem to stand out.

Based on what you have identified, go back and create titles for each of your divisions. Record the title on the Life Story Worksheet.

Communicate your story creatively—drawings, photographs, graphics, magazine cut‑outs, video clips, music, poetry, etc.

APPLICATION

Share your life story/timeline with others

While it may sound scary to reveal your past, here are a few good reasons:

  • The grace of God is revealed
  • Others can relate
  • Relationships are deepened
  • Accountability is established
  • Greater self-understanding is achieved

Listening to a Life Story

Respond to another’s story with attention and affirmation

Drawing/Writing your Life Story/Timeline Drawing/Writing your Life Story/Timeline lifemap-mark-2016-update-1 lifemap-mark-2016-update-2