Ministry Matters

Thursday, January 18, 2018, 11:39 | No Comments »

 

If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? 1 Timothy 3:5

 

I think you and I would agree that we should keep our families as our first priority. But exactly how do we do that. As pastors and church leaders, we know that in the real world of ministry it can be easier said than done. So many different things pull at us for our attention, not to mention the weekly routine to keep all our “ministry plates” spinning. How can we keep family first in our day-to-day ordinary lives?

Dr. Don Sisk said, “We have put our ministries before our families for far too long, and too many have lost both family and ministry.”* One of the things my wife Susie and I are most thankful for is that our 5 PK’s all love Jesus. The “Ebie Fab 5” grew up PK’s and we praise God that as adults, they and their families have faith in Christ.

I was tempted to share some of the things that Susie and I did with our kids, but are these the things that really worked, and will they work for you? So rather than talk about what we did, I decided to go to the experts and ask our 5 PK’s to share their experience growing up in the parsonage and pastor’s house. I asked them two questions, and we will focus on the first this month: “What did you enjoy or appreciate about growing up a PK?” Put simply tell me what you liked. You might want to have this conversation with your PK’s too.

A Foundation of Faith

A common theme was how growing up a PK strengthened their faith in Jesus. The example of mom and dad was genuine. My one daughter put it this way, “The teaching at church reinforced what we learned at home.” Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be. Don’t we wish more of the parents in our churches understood that they cannot expect the church to be the primary teacher and example of faith for their children. Instead it is how we live at home that can be reinforced by what kids are taught in Sunday School or the youth group. 

We all know the reality that more is often caught than taught. That’s why another daughter shared that we were always learning lessons of faith. One lesson that has strengthened her faith was the certainty that the LORD is faithful and will always provide. Growing up she knew that from time to time we made some sacrifices and that there were needs, but without fail we always had food on the table and our needs were met. She was grateful for how often God would use people around us to meet those needs. This builds her faith to know that no matter what she and her husband might be going through today, God will be there to provide for them.

They also recognized that their faith was the result of being faithful attenders at church. But they knew we didn’t attend church because dad was the pastor. We reinforced that we were there because we loved Jesus. Even if dad was not in the ministry and they could be like all the other kids, we would still go to church faithfully because it was one way we expressed our love for God.

Involvement in Ministry at the Church

Another common response our PK’s gave was how much they enjoyed being a part of what we did at the church. The “we” is key; we did ministry together. Even when the kids were young they got to be involved with mom and dad in the work of the ministry. Whether it was helping with transparencies (remember those?) cleaning, doing lawn work, serving meals, working in the church office or whatever, each of the kids had an opportunity to serve with us.

Early on we started teaching our kids that ministry was an expression of their faith in Jesus. No one should do things at church because other people expected it. Everything we do should simply be because we love Jesus. My daughter said her involvement gave her a sense of ownership and pride in the church – it was her church. And she knew that her opinion mattered; because she was involved in the ministry, dad would listen to what she said.

My son also expressed how much he enjoyed being able to let his ministry gifts and talents be developed. Four of our five PK’s grew up singing and playing the piano, drums, guitar, or bass at church. We did our best to let our kids be themselves and let who they are as an individual define their ministry involvement. Let me encourage you to not force your kids into a ministry box that does not fit them. Allow their faith to find expression in what they want to do, so their gifts and talents can thrive.

Friendships with Other PK’s and Their Families 

Each of the kids also expressed how much they enjoyed the many different friends they made as PK’s. The joke around our house was that the church provided a social outlet for our “Ebie homeschool.” Our kids had lots of peers as friends, but they also were comfortable relating with adults. These relationships helped to shape who they are today.

We took advantage of every opportunity we could. Our kids were involved in PK Retreats, family camp and other network events. Let me encourage you to have your children participate in these events and make some great friendships – some that may last a lifetime.

And the kids had the bonus of getting to know missionaries, other ministers who visited the church, as well as pastors and their families in our community. Sitting at lunch after church, they were included in the conversation. And they were always excited when one of these adults recognized them at another event. Let me encourage you to not only help foster these relationships, but take the time to recognize the PK’s you know at network events. Make PK’s special because they are known and valued as family and friends.

 

Next month we will examine the flip side of the priority of family and ministry with the second question: “What were the greatest challenges you faced growing up a PK?” Until then, remember ministry matters because the stuff of ministry is of eternal significance.

 

* Dr. Don Sisk, Balancing Family and Ministry. September 5, 2013. http://ministry127.com/pastoral-leadership/balancing-family-and-ministry. Accessed, January 12, 2018.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017, 07:46 | No Comments »

Christ’s love compels us.

2 Corinthians 5:14

As ministers and church leaders we would be quick to agree with the Apostle Paul. The love of Christ should be the reason for everything we do – as Paul went on to say we no longer live for ourselves, but for Him (see 2 Cor. 5:15). But what really compels us; what is our motivation for the things we do? If we’re honest many other things often drive us to action. I for one confess this is true for me.

John Maxwell said, “Action flows from intention. For this reason, it’s imperative for us, as leaders, to regularly evaluate our primary motivations.”*  So this month let’s take a moment for a gut check and ask ourselves why we do the things we do.

How often do we find ourselves like Paul in Romans 7 – doing the evil we don’t want to do, and falling short of the good we yearn to do? Perhaps that’s a conversation for another time, but it illustrates the reality that our motives (or dare I say, the desires of our heart) are subject to change. Even the “good things” we do in ministry may not be from pure motives.

Over the past several months I have had to examine my motives. Why was I doing what I did in pastoral ministry? Why did I resign and launch the First Faith ministry? Why am I writing books and blogs like this one? Am I trying to make a name for myself, or am I being compelled by Christ’s love?

I think you would agree that as members of the human race it is possible for our hidden motivations to be mixed even when running a good race. How can we know what our primary motivation is, and test our motives to see that they are less about ourselves and more about a response to the love of Christ? I found a story that I think helps measure our motive.

John Leonard Dober and David Nitschman are not names we may recognize, but they live out what it means to be compelled by the love of Christ. In 1732 they determined to forsake everything, even to sell themselves as slaves, so that the 2,000 to 3,000 African slaves working in the sugar cane fields in the West Indies could hear the gospel message before they died. They booked passage from Copenhagen to the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix. Family and friends from their home in Herrenhut, Germany, including a wife and small child, came to see them off. Uncertain that they would ever see these two missionaries again the cries on the pier were loud and long. But Dober and Nitschman heard another cry that was louder than the one made by family and friends; it was the cry of their LORD for the unsaved slaves who had not heard of His great love for them. As the ship set sail these men called out, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”

As it turned out these missionaries did eventually return home. But their willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of Christ began the Moravian Missionary movement that sent hundreds of other missionaries to share the gospel in the West Indies. Dober served as a Bishop in Europe and Nitschman came to America with John Wesley to found a mission in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – a work that would continue to grow under Wesley to become the Methodist Church.

I believe their story provides a key to testing our motives. What are you and I willing to lay down for the sake of what Jesus has asked us to do? Are we willing to risk everything? Jesus said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). How willing are we to forfeit our lives – to give up the American dream of success to answer the heart cry of our LORD.

Yes, let us say with an undivided heart, “Christ’s love compels us” because the Lamb that was slain is still worthy to receive the reward of His suffering!

 

*Monitoring Motivation, John Maxwell – May 8, 2013 http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/monitoring-motivation 

See more on John Dober and David Nitschman:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-1/missionaries-against-terrible-odds.html 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moravian_slaves 

https://findrefuge.com/2012/09/may-the-lamb-that-was-slain-receive-the-reward-of-his-suffering/

Thursday, October 5, 2017, 07:54 | 1 Comment »

How often do we resist change? Nevertheless change is part of who we are. Paul said that as followers of Jesus we are with unveiled faces “being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). I like how John Maxwell puts it, ““We cannot become what we need by remaining what we are.” God brings us into various seasons of transition in ministry to accomplish His purpose in our lives; we must become more like Jesus. And so as Maxwell says, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

Like it or not you and I are on a never-ending journey of transition – a walk of faith following Jesus into new ways and/or places of ministry. As ministry leaders the LORD not only wants to shape us in His image, but will also use us to help lead others on the path of transformation that they might likewise become more like Jesus.

Change comes in all shapes and sizes from the fine-tuning adjustments made along the way to the life-changing direction of God. Let’s look now at the final four of the seven steps that will help us faithfully walk the path of transition. 

4.    Walk in step – on time.

Maybe it’s just me; when I sense the LORD providing a fresh vision and direction in ministry I want to move NOW. The timing of change can either forced by moving too soon or neglected by waiting too long. The journey of transition requires being led by the Spirit. Paul put it this way; “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Gal. 5:25-26). God orders our steps as we follow the Spirit. Notice, this not only keeps us in step or on time, but also brings change from the right motive. We don’t make the journey of transition to get ahead or be like other ministry leaders; we walk the path of change because the Spirit is leading us.

5.     Walk in humility.

This is not a choice; some have called it a mandate. “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). Navigating change begins and ends with having the right attitude, which only comes out of being united with Christ. Walking in humility means putting the needs of others ahead of our own comfort. God has invested within each of us various talents that He expects dividends from as we touch the lives of other people. It is not because we have arrived that we are on the journey of transition; rather it is a test of our Christlikeness. Humility that willingly gives of oneself is one way we are most like Jesus (see Php. 2:1-5).

6.     Walk with thanksgiving.

Wherever we might be at in our journey as leaders, we are not alone. Where we are today and were we will be tomorrow is because of the people God has surrounded us with. “I thank my God every time I remember you . . . because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Php. 1:3-5). Let’s take time to express our thanks for how the various people in our lives have helped to shape us and enable us as ministers of Christ.

7.     Walk through the finish line.

The bigger the change, the more likely we are to want to get there. But let’s not neglect where we are now for where the LORD is leading us. Paul said, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the LORD” (Col. 4:17); fulfill literally means to make full or complete. Let’s not leave anything undone or incomplete; let’s finish well. A strong finish is the launch pad to the new beginning the journey of transition is bringing us to.


Did you miss the first three steps in the journey of transition? Click here for Transition (part 1)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017, 07:56 | No Comments »

Transition is another word for change. Regardless of where you are right now, you will face seasons of transition in ministry because change is inevitable. In the same way we can watch children grow and seemingly change before our eyes, spiritual growth and maturity will bring about change for of all of us as followers of Jesus. Therefore, it is not a matter of if we will experience transition in ministry, but when. 

In his book Leading Change, John P. Kotter says, “Transformation is a process, not an event.” I think the same is true for transition in ministry; it is a process and not a change moment in time. Or perhaps better said, transition is a journey, a walk of faith following Jesus into new ways and/or places of ministry.

Whether it is the subtle adjustments of ministry focus to a life-changing shift, let me share some lessons I’ve learned along the way to help us keep in step with the Spirit. As pastors and ministry leaders we need to make some key steps to successfully navigate the journey of change. Here are the first three of seven steps to help us faithfully walk the path of transition.

1.  Walk in your calling.

Sometimes our identity gets tied to our title and place of ministry. Our identity is found in who we are in Christ and not what we can do for God.  Above all else we are beloved children of God. As such every believer is set apart by God as members together of a royal priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices. Paul said, “God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News” (2 Tim. 1:11 NLT). First and foremost in Paul’s mind was the reality that God chose him. As Saul he walked a different path unknowingly persecuting the LORD he claimed to serve. Nevertheless Jesus called and chose him on the Damascus road.  That call changed everything. Saul, whose name meant “desired” could be known as Paul meaning “small or little.” With Christ’s calling he was content to serve whether as a pastor, an apostle, a teacher or simply a servant (see Rom. 1:1). As you and I walk through seasons of transition we need to rest in the reality of our calling. Our title or place of ministry may change, but the certainty of God’s call remains. Wherever and whatever He calls us to we will follow.

2.  Walk with a listening ear.

Listening is more than hearing; it is hearing and doing. Listening brings obedience. That was Jonah’s problem; he heard God’s word, but failed to listen and obey. Even after running from God and spending three days and nights in the belly of a whale, Jonah still struggled to listen to God because his heart was not transformed resenting God’s call to preach to the people of Nineveh. Let’s listen with open hearts willing to do all the LORD says to us. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27). Sometimes the LORD will use the scriptures to communicate to us, but don’t limit the voice of Jesus to only what is written in your bible. He has given us His Spirit to lead and guide us in all truth, and by His Spirit “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). God will speak to us in unexpected ways if we are listening willing to obey. Jesus will confirm the steps He wants us to take through the people we encounter as well as the circumstances we face from day to day. God wants to direct us as His children. The LORD will speak and make known the steps we are to take if we listen attentively to His voice in whatever way He may choose to speak. I’m thankful for the ways the Holy Spirit has made the written word of God alive in my heart to point the way, but I’m also grateful for the unexpected ways He will speak through ordinary people and the day-to-day happenings of life.

3.  Walk confidently.

Sometimes we hesitate to move and take the next step where the LORD is leading. Sometimes we’re unsure of the direction and want confirmation; at other times we stay in the same place and resist stepping into something new because we are comfortable with familiar things. However, in the same way it is easier to change the direction of a moving car than one parked in the garage, so too we receive direction as we step out in faith. I’m thankful for Solomon’s wisdom; “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9). What roadmap or strategy is within your heart; make a decision to step toward it and begin to move. God directs those who are moving in Him. Jesus said He is “the way” (Jn. 14:6); His Spirit will direct us if we begin to wander from the One who is our path. 

A theme in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is our walk of faith (see 2:10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15). The only time he encourages us to “stand” or stay in one place is in our struggle “against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). However, as we stand firm it is with the anticipation to continue to walk in the path God established for us. We don’t stand to stay put or turn and retreat; we stand to overcome the enemy and continue to walk confidently through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Navigating the journey of transformation is part of our walk of faith. In next month’s Ministry Matters we will think about the final four steps to faithfully walking the path Jesus has set before us.

 

- Unless otherwise noted all scriptures referenced are from the English Standard Version (ESV) c 2016 by Crossway Bibles.


Thursday, June 22, 2017, 08:24 | 1 Comment »

The First Faith

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3)

What is the first faith? It is not a doctrine or creed; nor is it a personal desire to persuade others to ‘my faith.’ The first faith is a desire, a heartfelt longing to know the faith of Jesus (or Yeshuah if you like). 


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