THE CHURCH IS NO CRUISE SHIP

THE CHURCH IS NO CRUISE SHIP

cruikseship

Cruising.

Never imagined I would do it. Then a buddy of mine who loves me more than I deserve made me an offer I simply could not refuse. “I’ll pay your fare for a weekender; you buy Nancy’s.” What’s a pastor to do? After all, the brother attends my church. No way I wanted to give offense.

It only took that one time. Sold American. We’ve cruised two other wonderful times in the past. The last-minute deals made for a terribly cost-effective vacation. Talk about the pampering treatment. From the moment you board to the day you disembark, the staff waits on you hand and foot. Your every need gets met 24/7.

So why go on about vacationing on a boat in a pastor’s blog? Blame it on Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler. For researching my book-in-progress, The Peacemaking Church: the Best Church Fight Is the One Yours Never Has, I’m reading through those ladies’ book, Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict (Baker, 2005). Spot on stuff. Would love for the women of my church to get their hands on this valuable resource.

In their chapter on the church, the authors use the analogy of the cruising experience to describe how some folks view church. They frame it as looking to the church to meet our felt needs. Do that, they argue, and expect trouble for sure in the fellowship:

Church conflict escalates when we look to the church to meet our felt needs and something happens to disappoint us. For example, a common cause of conflict in the Peacemakingwomenchurch involves the mind-set many people have that church is like a cruise ship. When we have this view of the body of Christ, we expect everything in the church to be conveniently tailored to our wants and desires. Our expectation is that we will be served, cared for, and entertained by professionals whose sole focus is our happiness. Of course, this misguided mind-set leads us to view people in the church as resources for our comfort rather than valuable members of one body who both need us and are needed by us. As a result, we neither love nor serve them well. In fact, when our expectations are disappointed, we engage in destructive gossip, criticism, and bickering. Instead of keeping careful confidences and protecting members, we often speak ill of others. Church conflict–a terrible witness to the watching world–is the frequent result (209-210).

If you’re looking for a great vacation and can catch just the right deal, then you may well want to consider taking a cruise.

If you’re looking to do church in a way that eagerly preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3), then lose the cruise mind-set fast. Arm yourself rather with a body-mindset where members have the same care for one another  (1 Cor. 12:25b).

How To Be the Church When the Pastor Can’t Be the Pastor

 

Just Jawful

Ever since my jaw fracture forced me to the pastoral sidelines, I’ve given some thought to this question. How can a pastor’s extended absence from his church result in their greater good? In hopes the saints at OGC might actually thrive, not just survive, my health hiatus, I offer these Scripture verses as essential principles for being the church when the pastor can’t be the pastor:

  1. Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Stay anchored in the sovereignty of God. My mandible misery is no accident. His plan for His church to soldier on for the time being without me is precisely that–His plan.
  2. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). This season–8 hour surgery, week-long hospital stay, and all the rest of it–abounds with good in it for me, my bride, as well as my church. For example, some things God can only do in his servant by laying him out. He can get your attention on the bench in ways you never realize in the game. The benefits of the trial accumulate by the day for me. Keep your eyes open similarly for yourself.
  3. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Pet. 2:25). Just like I remind everybody on day one of each Discover OGC membership class–I am NOT the senior pastor; Jesus is. Only one pastor holds the title “Chief Shepherd.” And He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Church, you always have Jesus.
  4. So I exhort the elders among you (1 Pet. 5:1a, emphasis added). This balances number 3. God does give to His church pastors and teachers to shepherd them (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Sometimes we need Jesus with skin on. But in wisdom He rests the pastoral load on a plurality of elders. You almost always find the word in the plural form in the New Testament. No church benefits by relying excessively on one leader. God has plans through my leave both to grow our other elders in their ministries and increase your legitimate reliance on their pastoral role in your life.
  5. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-12). This piggybacks on number 4. Pastors don’t exist just to tend the saints’ spiritual needs; they have a calling to equip the saints for spiritual ministry. Church, the body of OGC needs every single one of you more than ever! Are you in the game or riding the pines on the sideline (assuming you have a choice)? Where are you bringing your spiritual gift(s) to bear on others in community (1 Pet. 4:10-11)? When you see a need in the body, are you asking the Lord how you possibly might be the one to meet it?
  6. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance (Phil. 1:19). I can think of no better place to end. My circumstances differ from Paul’s to be sure. But my need for your prayers and Jesus’ help doesn’t. May our heightened sense of need in this hard providence at the outset of 2016 cause us to seek His face like never before.

Lord willing, Jesus plans to restore me to the work at Orlando Grace before too long.

I look forward to coming back with a better-than-ever jaw and church to go with it. And that largely because you have been the church when this pastor could not be your pastor.

Why Family Night Matters To Me

This Sunday evening, June 14, at 5 PM, OGC will have its second Family Night Member’s Meeting. I wouldn’t dream of missing it. And not just because I’m one of the shepherds of the flock. I’m pretty certain I would make this a priority, if I were a “mere” regular sheep of the fold.

Why? Because I made promises before God and His church about being in covenant community with the rest of the membership at OGC. And that means commitments of love spelled out in a place like 1 Corinthians 13.

I love how Jonathan Leeman, in his book The Surprising Offense of God’s Love, grabs back the pretty lyrics of that passage from weddings (not that it doesn’t fit there, of course) and reads it to the local church:

Do you want to exercise, practice, embody, and define the glorious love of heaven, he asks us? Then do it in a local church, a church where factions are pitted against one another (1 Cor. 1:12-13), where people have big heads (4:8), where Surprising Offensemembers are sleeping with their fathers’ wives (5:2), where members are suing and defrauding one another (6:1-8), where members are getting drunk on the communion wine and not leaving enough for others (11:21-22), where spiritual gift one-upmanship is rife (chaps. 12 and 14), where the meetings are threatened by disorder (14:40), and where some are saying there is no resurrection from the dead (15:12). Bind and submit yourself and your gifts to these kinds of people. Love them with patience and kindness, without envy or boasting, without arrogance or rudeness, not insisting on our own way, not irritably or resentfully, not rejoicing at wrongdoing but rejoicing at the truth. 

People often complain about the sinners they find in the local church, and with good reason. It’s filled with sinners, which is why Paul calls Christians to love one another by bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. If you won’t love such backstabbers and defrauders like this, don’t talk about your spiritual gifts, your vast biblical knowledge, or all the things you do for the poor. You’re just a noisy gong. Don’t talk about your love for all Christians everywhere; you are just a clanging cymbal. But if you do practice loving a specific, concrete people, all of whose names you don’t get to choose, then you will participate in defining love for the world, the love which will characterize the church on the last day perfectly because it images the self-sacrificing and merciful love of Christ perfectly.”   

Family Night gives us one of the many ways to grow in love for those with whom He has called us into covenant commitments of membership. Here we learn to grow in that which is greatest and put the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus on display.

 

 

Ride or Shove

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I read this today from Oswald Chamber’s Baffled to Fight Better: Job and the Problem of Suffering:

The majority of us prefer to get up and ride rather than to “get out and shove.” It is only the people who “get out and shove” who really make things go. The men who are up against things just now and who are determined to get at reality at all costs, and will not accept a thing on the religious line unless that line states reality–these are the men who are paying the price for the next generation.

Tomorrow at 9:30 AM in the auditorium, the covenant members of OGC get to do Q&A with a man prepared “to get out and shove” as a new elder in our church. I am extremely thankful to God for raising up James Harvey to join our team. Here are twenty questions I hope our people will pose to him (or at least some of them):

  1. Why do you aspire to the office of overseer in Christ’s church?
  2. Where have you served in the past and how did God confirm your ministry in those contexts?
  3. What are your spiritual gifts?
  4. When the Bible says that elders must be “able to teach,” what does that look like in terms of the way you do ministry?
  5. How do you assess your personal strengths?
  6. How do you assess your personal weaknesses?
  7. What does your family think of you becoming an elder, especially your wife?
  8. What are the four “Gs” of biblical peacemaking? Note: he’d better know these!
  9. How is your reputation with those outside the Christian community, particularly in your vocation?
  10. What exceptions, if any, do you take to our confession of faith and why?
  11. Where would you like to see OGC grow and improve in its ministry in the future?
  12. What, if anything, gives you pause about becoming an elder?
  13. Just how “Reformed” are you?
  14. What do you believe are among the greatest threats to the church in our times?
  15. Who are your personal heroes?
  16. What two or three books other than the Bible have made the greatest impact on you and why?
  17. Why did you think God wanted you and your family at OGC in the first place?
  18. How do you do personal evangelism?
  19. How are you involved in disciple-making?
  20. What unique contribution might you make to the leadership team at OGC?

I can hardly think of a more important task for covenant members to embrace than the constructive scrutinizing of a potential addition to the elder team. He will pay the price for the next generation. I trust as many of you as possible will join us for the congregational meeting tomorrow. Non-members are welcome to observe, but again, we would ask that you leave the question asking to our covenant members only. See you soon, Lord willing!

Top Ten List for Teaching a New Member Class

membership class

Not sure how many times I’ve taught Discover OGC over the years, but I get to do it again starting April 26. My excitement for the task never lessens. Here’s my own version of a top ten list as to why I look forward to teaching the same stuff every time.

Number Ten: I know the content cold so there’s no additional preparation I have to do!

Number Nine: I get to meet a bunch of people who are new to the church and begin to forge pastoral relationships with them. One of the highlights of the class, a recent innovation, is a luncheon one Sunday after church where we hang out and get to know each other.

Number Eight: I get to practice my vision casting as a pastor. This is a perennial weakness for which I need all the help I can get.

Number Seven: I make a case for why church membership matters. I’ve blogged about a theology of church membership here, in case anyone is interested.

Number Six: I unpack our church’s core values starting with the one that matters the most in my mind–passion for God at the core. I exist as a pastor to labor for my sheep’s joy (2 Cor. 1:24)!

Number Five: I expose people to the rich tradition of the Protestant Reformation and the God-glorifying Solas and Doctrines of Grace that it gifted to Christ’s church.

Number Four: I argue for the necessity of the baptism of disciples alone (credo-baptism) as the only appropriate application of the sign of the New Covenant.

Number Three: I teach biblical peacemaking to prospective new members so they are prepared to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), if they choose to covenant with OGC, or not for that matter.

Number Two: I exegete each and every word of our treasured mission statement: engaging peoples everywhere for pursuing ultimate satisfaction in Jesus.

And the number one reason I delight to teach Discover OGC each and every time?

IT’S A BLAST!

No Comparison, No Way, No How

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I enjoy Fridays. Unlike a lot of pastors who take Mondays off, I work that day. Keeps me out of trouble. I started taking Fridays off years ago.  I never looked back.

One of the things I look forward to that day of the week, among others, is reading the paper with more leisure than the other days afford. Something dawned on me this past Friday as I perused the Calendar section of the Orlando Sentinel. I have no sense of loss that my delight in Jesus keeps me from certain pleasures, if you want to call them that, in this world. I don’t feel that I am missing a thing in choosing not to view “Fifty Shades of Grey,” though I must admit a day when I would not have thought that way. Thank you, Lord, for delivering me from bondage to lust. I don’t feel cheated that the club scene doesn’t make its way on to our weekend calendar, especially on Saturday nights.

Why is that? Because I want to be able to get up and go to church the next day. And that’s not just because church is what I do for a living. I have spent more Sundays that I would like to admit without a pulpit charge and I still went to church on those days. I agree wholeheartedly with the Psalmist in Psalm 84:10.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Talk about a comparison! The poet of Israel wouldn’t trade one day in God’s courts for a thousand some place else. I can think of a lot of places and things I thoroughly enjoy, but nothing, no way, no how trumps the pleasure I have in Sunday worship.  I can think of several reasons why that is true even over sleeping in, watching TV, going to the beach, eating brunch out, or whatever.

First, and the best of all reasons, God shows up at church. At least He does for me. Psalm 63:2 happens for me all the time.

Second, I hear the word of God preached. Well, in my case, I get to do the preaching. Double bonus. I get built up in my most holy faith as a result (Acts 20:32).

Third, I get to hang out with saints. That’s what the Bible calls every believer. And they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight (Psalm 16:3). I even get to eat with them tomorrow evening when we gather for family night!

I could go on. I wonder sometimes if we take for granted just how much the Lord has done for us in redeeming us from tents of wickedness and transporting us to His very own courts, even if we are only keepers at the door?

No comparison. No way. No how.

How Do You Spell “Family Night?”

family-night

God help me, I know of no other way.

F = Fun. That’s right. We’re going to have fun. Yay!

acrosticA = Adventure. Un huh. Working on it. Pray for my favor with a certain band of recruits I’m wearing down with pastoral guilt to coerce their participation.

M = Ministry. Hear about what God is doing in gospel work inside and outside the church.

I = Inspiration. We’ll do some singing and look into God’s Word for a bit.

L = Love. That’s what fellowship is all about – connecting and loving on one another.

Y = Yelling. Doesn’t every church member/business meeting have some of this? Just kidding. Couldn’t think of anything for the letter “Y”.

 

N = News. Updates on all kinds of things of interest to OGC peeps who want to be in the know. 

sam_chileI = Indigestion. Well, we are eating chili, aren’t we? Don’t forget the Beano. Can’t believe I wrote that.

G = Guidance.  Direction for where we hope to take these quarterly member meetings in the future for increasing ownership. You didn’t think I would leave that word out of this post, did you? No way.

H = Hospitality. Newcomers are WELCOME! We want you to get an up close and personal look at our church’s character and DNA.

T = Tales. Some of our covenant members will share true stories about the way God is working in their lives and using their gifts. Others of us will pray for them.

 

There you have it. That’s how I spell “Family Night.” This Sunday evening, February 22, 5 PM. Chili Cook Off in the fellowship hall followed by one of the coolest annual meetings you will ever experience. Childcare for all ages will be provided for the meeting portion of the evening.

Who cares about the Great American Race? That’s why God made DVRs. Just sayin.

Don’t miss FAMILY NIGHT at OGC!

Ownership

ownership

That’s my word for 2015, at least in terms of my pastoral role.

I hope to pray about ownership.

I hope to model ownership (the cancer battle notwithstanding).

I hope to preach on ownership.

I hope to exhort about ownership.

I hope to counsel about ownership.

I hope to rebuke (in love, of course) when I encounter lack of ownership.

I hope to disciple in ownership.

I hope to teach about ownership.

In short, I hope to eat, drink, and sleep ownership as a covenant member of a local church  AND challenge others do the same.

Why wave the banner of OWNERSHIP over Orlando Grace in the New Year? Does a text like Acts 2:42-47 suggest we should do anything less?

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

I doubt the church of Jesus Christ has seen since any greater demonstration of ownership to her mission than it did in those early New Testament days. Notice the word “devoted.” Literally it means “to be strong toward.” These folks had a passion for certain things that drew them together. Teaching, fellowship, worship, hospitality, generosity. They constantly flexed their spiritual muscles in these virtues of community. The impact in the city of Jerusalem was so profound  that God did the adding of souls to His church through their what? Ownership.

Tomorrow begins another year of ministry at Orlando Grace Church. Will we as covenant members “own” our community like never before? I pray we will. We can start by those who are able joining the prayer team at 8:30 AM in the conference room. We can continue by jamming the three new equipping hour electives (spiritual disciplines, resolving everyday conflict, and systematic theology I) at 9:30 AM. And we can peak with spirit and truth worship and praise at 10:45. We can overflow by taking lunch together, including invitations to new people God brings our way.

Let 2015 be a year of ownership like never before for our joy and His glory.

Another Conclusion That Wasn’t

discipleship 101

No, I’m not planning to make a habit of this.

The member family meeting we called for after the service today caused me to trim some things.

As promised, here is the way I planned to land the plane had the runway been longer:

Let me close this message with these eight principles in mind with nine no-brainer steps of application:

One, get equipped to disciple. Get a copy of Trellis and the Vine and read it.

Two, use means. Grab some of the Randy Pope discipling plan packets and get busy. We’ve got a bunch of these for free at the office.

Three, become a member in your local church. Membership solidifies your commitment to be a discipler somewhere and gives you the ideal outlet for it.

Four, become a sanctified busybody. Determine to be the kind of believer that gets in somebody else’s face – IN LOVE! Someone paid our church the best compliment a while back. “I’ve never been in a church where the people are so involved in everybody else’s business.” And she didn’t mean gossip!

Five, take initiative. You have not because you ask not. Reach out to others; don’t wait for them to reach out to you.

Six, get help. Ask your elder or somebody to assist in matching you up with others. Don’t expect everyone to comply. Not everyone has the bandwidth for an ongoing relationship given their season in life.  Some folks don’t want this, even though they claim to be followers of Jesus.  Also, be a discipleship matchmaker without being asked. Look to connect people wherever you can.

Seven, keep on growing in your own walk by the Word and Spirit so you have something to offer to others.

Eight, train others you disciple to do the same things with others. Multiply yourself. Plan to attend one of the new Equipping Hour classes this fall starting September 7 WITH someone else.

And, nine, mediate daily on the gospel of grace that you might not live for yourself but for Him who died for you and therefore gladly spend and be spent for others (2 Cor. 5:14-15; 12:15).

A Shepherd’s Dilemma

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Frankly, it’s hard for any pastor, I suspect, to zero in on only one. Lots of things perplex, challenge, disturb, perhaps even dismay a shepherd of God’s sheep. The one I feel the most more than not is trying to shepherd those with whom I can’t seem to make contact.

Proverbs 27:23 exhorts, “Know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds.” The writer’s main application may well pertain to literal diligence on the farm, but I dare say any pastor worth his salt will make the connection that he should familiarize himself as well as he can with the sheep of his pasture for their welfare. Add Hebrews 13:17 to the equation, the sobering truth that undershepherds ultimately will give an account to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) for those entrusted to their charge, then you have a pretty good idea how distressing it can be for someone who takes such a thing seriously to lose touch with the lambs in his fold, many or few.

As self-serving as it may seem, here is my plea to sheep everywhere to help ease this dilemma of shepherds everywhere when it comes to their obligation to feed, tend, know, and care.

One, become a member of your local church. Without your informed consent, your willing submission to the pastoral authority in your church, your shepherd has no ecclesiastical ground upon which to move into your life with the array of responsibilities with which he is charged, especially your discipline if necessary. This is why Hebrews 13:17 exhorts believers to submit and obey. You acknowledge that some ecclesiastical authority, somewhere, has your permission to keep watch and even intervene with discipline if you stray and that they are indeed responsible before God to do that. Remember, you cannot be put out of that to which you don’t belong (see 1 Cor. 5).

Two, don’t forsake the assembling of the saints together on the Lord’s Day (Heb. 10:24-25). It’s not the only way shepherds track sheep, but it’s a primary and significant way. We look to see who is hanging around the ordinary means of grace each Sunday that is the preached word and the Table. By the way, you can help your shepherd a lot if you will communicate with him in advance when you are going to be on vacation or away from the assembly for any other reason so that he need not be concerned about whether or not your absence means you have fallen into the ditch somewhere and that he needs to come with his crook to help yank you out of there.

Three, if you become discontent with your church and decide to go searching for a different sheep pen, do your present shepherd who cares about your welfare the favor of letting him know. Give him a heads up. I get that this is hard. You don’t want to hurt his feelings. You just want to slip quietly away. All I can tell you is that my default response when anyone extends to me the courtesy to communicate in this fashion is this: “Thank you for loving me well by cluing me in. You just made my mission-impossible job a bit easier.”

Four, don’s stay in limbo too long and as soon as you can take the church you are leaving off the hook for your care by resigning your membership and/or preferably transferring it to your next place of community. I’m not saying every church cares about this kind of record keeping, though I believe it should. But it helps your shepherd and it protects your soul if you make a clean and appropriately timely and sooner-rather-than later shift and inform the necessary parties affected.

My personal philosophy of people moving from church-to-church boils down to this: bless and release – EXCEPT if someone is running from sin or conflict. In those cases the same sin and the same conflict is waiting for you in greener pastures just in different garb. Deal with your stuff where you are and then if still lead, get a move on, little lamb.

And if you don’t know how to do that, ask your shepherd for help. If he can’t or won’t, you should probably leave that pen anyway.