Are You Serious? I’m a Pastor and Failing Christianity 101?

•March 16, 2013 • 5 Comments

“Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus

Many commands are given to Christians in the Bible regarding the outworking of their faith: slaves are to obey their masters, husbands are to love their wives, pastors are to watch over the flock God has given them, and ALL Christians are to make disciples. This process of making disciples is basic, foundational, core, and largely ignored, dismissed, and disobeyed by the church today.

Here’s what I mean. It has been my observation that most Christians spend their “Christian” time doing one of two things: either evangelizing the lost or helping mature Christians become better Christians. What I haven’t seen much are examples of Christians who see people become born again and then walk with those people until they reach maturity as spiritual “adults” with spiritual “children” of their own. This is true of most churches, and it’s true of most Christians. Before you say, “Now, I don’t think that’s entirely true,” let me ask you a couple of questions.

1) How many people have you seen come to know Jesus in the last year? 3 years? 5 years?
2) Who are the 3 people in your life who you are actively discipling in the faith (family members don’t count)?
3) What excuses just popped into your head about why you’re not currently accomplishing questions one and two?

To the people tempted to hide behind the sovereignty of God on the evangelism question, how many people have you presented the gospel to this year in such a way where they recognized a decision had to be made regarding the person and work of Jesus?

For those of you who thought, “Wow, three people? I don’t see a verse in the Bible where Jesus commands we always be discipling three people,” my guess is that your number is closer to zero than 3.

And on the whole matter of excuses, I’m happy to confirm that yes, your circumstances truly are unique and have been for as long as you can remember, and Jesus wasn’t thinking of you when He commanded His church to make disciples. Good thing.

Wow, Kevin, I didn’t read your blog to get yelled at. It’s ok. I’m yelling at myself, too. I’m yelling because I’m writing about my own failures and taking the chance that I’m not alone in my excuses and disobedience.

When it comes to making disciples, I’ve never hit a stage of life where it was convenient. High school? I don’t know enough and all my friends are Christians. Bible college? I need to really focus on my studies right now (and all my friends are Christians). Life in Denver? I’m devoting my life to spending time with these kids and don’t want to spread myself too thin. I can only imagine how the list of excuses could continue to grow for the next 50 years: I need to focus on my family. Life just has a lot of transition right now. I struggle to connect with the younger guys. I get tired at 8:00 and can’t keep up like I used to. Nice, I have my excuses planned already.

Our excuses have become so ingrained, that one preacher/author says, “Simon says ‘Pat your head’, We pat our heads. Jesus says ‘Go make disciples!’ We memorize that verse.” This neglect is true of deacons, church ushers, family members, possibly your pastor, and maybe you. So what do we do?

To young singles and young marrieds, until your kids grow up and leave the house, you likely won’t ever have a stage in life where you have more time than you do right now. I would encourage you to reorient your accountability group (c’mon, I know you have one) to be about holding one another accountable to disciple less mature Christians in an intentional fashion. Nothing will help your own spiritual growth as much as seeking to help someone else grow.

For those of you with families who see your kids as your primary disciples, don’t let them grow up thinking it’s ok to not seek out and disciple men and women who are younger in the faith. Discipling your kids is good and right, however if that is the extent of your discipleship, then there will be no one to disciple not-yet and new believers. Paul’s charge to Timothy and his church is to have men disciple faithful men and have women disciple younger women. If the church is to grow and operate as a spiritual family, men and women must not be allowed to spend their lives only discipling their biological family – as noble of excuse as that might sound.

For pastors, please do not be so busy that you are unable to model for your church what it looks like to disciple a not-yet or new believer in the faith. Speak about this discipleship relationship from the pulpit. Communicate what you’re learning as a result. If you’re not discipling anyone, take the opportunity to model repentance and ask for your church’s forgiveness for your failure to live out a life of obedience in this area. Then, live a life that you can commend to your people so that you echo Paul’s words in saying, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” I would add, that if the time you spend “discipling” happens primarily while you’re on the clock, you’ll never train your church to be a church of disciple makers. Discipleship will be subconsciously communicated and perceived as a professional endeavor that is best left to the paid pastors.

Above all, seek to be obedient and be willing to ask for help if necessary. Maybe you know someone who’s just good at this whole discipleship thing. Ask them if you can meet up for an hour and ask them how the heck they do what they do. You’ll probably find out they’re just a normal person who doesn’t realize they’re doing anything special. And then pray that God brings people into your own life.

I began praying for men to disciple last fall. I was in a fatherly role with a lot of neighbor kids, but a friend told me that if I just focus on the kids, I’m like many men who say “my responsibility is to my family,” as if Paul’s command to disciple other men is left entirely up to men with no family of their own. I submitted to my friend’s exhortation and confessed, “I don’t know how or when this will happen, but God will make a way.” In early 2013, I met a 50 year old guy named Dennis who is a young Christian and wanted to learn about the Bible and how to live as a godly man. About the same time as I became friends with Dennis, I received an email from another guy, Michael, who’d been at our church for about a year, but with whom I’d never spoken beyond exchanging a casual Sunday morning greeting. He asked me if I could help disciple him in the faith and help him become a man of God so he could responsibly lead a Christian family one day. For the last two months, Dennis, Michael and I have been meeting during the week to read the Bible and discuss it’s implications for our lives.

These were connections God made and had been planning, but it wasn’t until I asked Him to bring men into my life who I could disciple that the relationships were formed. God loves to see his children make disciples who make disciples, and will not be intimidated by your busy schedule or fear of not quite knowing enough yet.

Ask, and see what He does.

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Pastor Porn in an Age of Podcast Preachers

•January 31, 2013 • 1 Comment

Pastor porn. A pastor-friend of mine dropped this term on me a few years ago when we were a lunch at a little restaurant near Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was referring to the unhealthy idolization of popular podcast preachers whose sermons were being consumed by young men aspiring to be pastors and future ministry leaders. He said this addiction to pastor porn was becoming an epidemic – and it concerned him.

Like many guys, I was first introduced to pastor porn during college. I stumbled across it online while looking up information on Rob Bell one night and was instantly hooked. It grew to consume hours of my time and gave me a distorted and unhealthy view of successful pastoral ministry.

Pastor porn is primarily consumed through young men and/or women accessing the millions of hours of audio/video sermon content made available online through websites, podcasts, and various other download mediums. Much of this preaching is really good and helpful and biblical, and it is an unbelievable gift to the church for which believers should give great thanks to God. But, like any good gift can has given us, the gift is often abused and I fear it has turned into a popular idol, serving more harm than good. Here’s what I mean.

For the most part, preachers who have popular podcasts are good communicators, really good. At a minimum, they’re probably better communicators than you and are likely considerably better than the pastor at your local church. They probably have funnier jokes, have a higher percentage of effective illustrations, know the names of a couple indie bands, and manage to consistently “really bring the gospel to bear” at the end. But, like airbrushed photographs of supermodels, these guys are not representative of what’s real life for most of us, and the process of a their sermons going from private Bible study to public podcast might not be all you think it is. Let me address 3 main concerns with pastor porn.

1) A lot of podcast preachers get a lot of help. Many of the popular podcast preachers get to spend an unusual amount of time on Bible study or sermon prep, and/or some have “research teams” who do a lot of leg work in mining resources for helpful background information, thereby freeing up the preacher to devote his time to “sermon assembly.” Most pastors don’t have this luxury and are lucky if they have their sermon done by the Saturday or Sunday morning before they are supposed to preach. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that many podcast-preachers preach their sermon up to five times per weekend, and the sermon posted online is the best of the five. Consequently, preaching five times a weekend (plus a couple other special engagements during the week) means that the podcast preacher gets to get better at preaching five times faster than the pastor who preaches once or twice  a week.

2) A good preacher isn’t necessarily a good pastor. Just because a preacher can stand in front of 10,000 people each weekend and hit a home run sermon and nail it with his joke about about UFC and seminary students, that doesn’t mean he’s a good shepherd of his church on Monday through Saturday. The truth is that some popular preachers have reputations of being authoritarians with their staff or fail to maintain healthy peer relationships, while I suspect others do more CEO work than pastor work. My guess is that most pastors would agree it’s easier to hit a sermon home run than it is to effectively shepherd a staff and congregation throughout the week. And while we’re on it, take note that the Bible has no place for a skilled preacher who can’t and doesn’t pastor his church well. In my opinion, podcast preachers viewed as pastor porn inspire a lot of church planters who want to preach, but not a lot of church planters who want to pastor.

At risk of pointing out the obvious, remember that your favorite podcast preacher won’t be sitting by your bedside when you have cancer. It will be your local pastor. The podcast preacher won’t cry with you and your spouse when you suffer your third miscarriage in as many years. It will be your local pastor. And the podcast preacher isn’t going to walk with you and pray for you when your marriage is in shambles. It will be your local pastor. Being a good preacher is different than being a good pastor, and if I had to pick one over the other, I’d pick a good pastor, and I think you would too.

3) A good preacher isn’t necessarily an obedient Christian. Would it surprise you to know that many podcast preachers probably aren’t sharing their faith with their friends in a meaningful way (preaching from the stage doesn’t count) and helping disciple new believers to maturity? If each pastor took Paul’s charge to “imitate me as I imitate Christ,” their churches could end of with a bunch of people who love preaching to crowds but don’t know how to walk with a new believer and make a mature disciple maker out of them. A preacher’s knowledge of the Heidelberg Catechism ought not be gained at the neglect of his failure to carry out the great commission, and I fear this might be too often the case. I would suspect that many popular preachers have gone too long since they last made a friend, led them to Jesus, and helped disciple them to maturity in his or her Christian faith.

The opportunity to preach on stage on a Sunday morning can be an easier sell to an aspiring church planter than the call to meet with a new believer every Monday morning at 6:00 am  for two years to teach him how to study his Bible and love his family well. No pastor gets invited to speak at conferences because a blogger heard he regularly visits a church attender who is locked in county jail for beating his wife, but that faithful shepherding care is often what real pastoral ministry and obedient Christianity really looks like.

So I want to encourage those pastors who still put their sermons on CDs and cassettes for their church shut ins. I want to exhort local church members to encourage their pastor this week and tell him to appreciate his faithful dedication to the ministry of the Word and prayer. And I want to challenge podcast preacher listeners to consider these three questions and consider, in closing, if your appreciation of these men has turned into addiction to pastor porn.

  • Do you commonly find yourself criticizing the Sunday morning sermon preached in your local church because, while Biblical, it “just wasn’t very good?”
  • Do you find yourself listening to your pastor’s sermons with a half-heart, all the while planning to later go download a sermon on the same text from a “good preacher” when you get home?
  • Do you find yourself praising podcast preachers more often than you find yourself encouraging and praying for your local pastor?

Huffy Money

•January 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This was written by an “urban outdoorsman” friend of mine named Bob. He shared this with me at lunch on Sunday. I felt it was worthy of being shared with people beyond my dining room.

——-

I sometimes fly signs. Not just for money though. Sometimes I fly them just to see the different reactions that I can elicit from people.

On this particular day my sign only had one word on it. I flew it for about four hours when a snazzy car pulled into the parking lot there on the corner.

A tall, statuesque beauty stepped out of the card and was followed by two adorable little girls. The girls were hopping around and begging their mom for a dollar each, to give to me. All mom said to them was hush, no, and stand still. However, they continued to pester their mother. In a huff, she stood up and walked over to me, extended her hand, and haughtily said, “Here!” She gave me a dollar and stomped off.

The two little angles were dismayed and pouted because mom had ruined, what so far, was going to be the highlight of their day.

The word on the sign…Compassion. I gave the only dollar I made on that sign to someone begging change. I couldn’t keep it because it wasn’t given to me in the context asked? for.

P.S. Lady, you shoulda given them the dollar.

Book Review: Why We Love the Church (5 Stars)

•September 23, 2010 • 6 Comments

Kevin DeYoung’s latest book, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, is his second collaboration with fellow author and good friend, Ted Kluck. Both collaborations have received Christianity Today’s “Book of the Year Awards” so the duo is rapidly gaining attention as two of the finest authors in the Christian market.

What makes this book special is its balance of scholarship and accessibility. Few books today prove themselves to be so well thought out from a historical, cultural, and Biblical perspective while at the same time mixing in genuine humor and relatability (this may or may not be a word) at the layman’s level.

As with their previous collaboration, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), DeYoung and Kluck alternate chapters with DeYoung providing the pastoral angle and Kluck bringing the “I grew up in the church and work a job and am raising a family just like everyone else and I still really love the church” perspective. In my opinion, there is not a single boring page in the entire book (including the acknowledgements at the end), and each topic is presented in a memorable and graspable manner.

The book is essentially a response to the recent wave of people who are leaving the church to find Jesus. The book addresses many concerns of today’s church-leavers and offers honest, balanced, and Biblical responses to them all. The book is careful not to gloss over the many short-comings of the church, all the while patiently pointing out that the church has never been perfect and never will be until Jesus returns. The point of the church and Christianity is not that it is or ever has been comprised of perfect people assembling themselves together to comprise faultless churches. In fact, it’s just the opposite. And regardless of the church’s many flaws, it is nonetheless the bride of Christ and Jesus is its head and chief-cornerstone, and for those reasons it is to be loved and never abandoned.

I really could go on, but I suggest that you read the book yourself. I give it my highest recommendation.

———

Here are some quotes I enjoyed that will, perhaps, persuade you to go buy the book yourself.  — Don’t try to burn your friend’s copy. It’s not like a cd; it will only turn to ashes. Ok, the quotes:

“Church isn’t boring because we’re not showing enough film clips, or because we play an organ instead of a guitar. It’s boring because we neuter it of its importance (102).”

“Churchless Christianity makes about as much sense as a Christless church, and has just as much Biblical warrant (164).”

“Christianity is not whatever we want it to be. It is, whether we like it or not, organized religion. And the church is what gives its organization shape and definition. That’s why people don’t like the church. Sure, she’s old, stale, and sinister at times. But the other reason -the main reason, I think- people don’t like the church is because the church has walls. It defines truth, shows us the way to live, and tells us the news we must believe if we are to be saved (178).”

“It’s more than a little ironic that the same folks who want the church to ditch the phony, plastic persona and become a haven for broken, imperfect sinners are ready to leave the church when she is broke, imperfect, and sinful (211-212).”

“What we need are a fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church – God’s redeemed people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency (222).”

“So I guess this is my final advice: Find a good local church, get involved, become a member, stay there for the long haul. Put away thoughts of revolution for a while and join the plodding visionaries. Go to church this Sunday and worship there in spirit and truth, be patient with your leaders, rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, bear with those who hurt you, and give people the benefit of the doubt. While you are there, sing like you mean it, say hi to the teenager no one notices, welcome the blue hairs and the nose-ringed, volunteer for the nursery once in a while. And yes, bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everyone else, invite a friend to church, take the new couple out for coffee, give to the Christmas offering, be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet, enjoy the Sundays that click for you, pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t, and do not despise ‘the day of small things’ (Zechariah 4:10).”

Just Give ‘Em a Fighting Chance (pt. 1)

•September 21, 2010 • 9 Comments

Craig Redd is the founder of Strong Tower Ministry, a local church centered ministry assisting prisoners as they transition into life on this side of the walls. The ministry gets its name from Proverbs 18:10 which says, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and are safe.” Craig was recently released from prison following a nine-year stint in a Colorado correctional facility and has been attending Providence Bible Church (my church) ever since. While in prison, Craig was a chaplain’s clerk and a very involved member of the church within the walls.

The Strong Tower Ministry re-entry program is much needed in Colorado, since the state currently is experiencing a 10% growth rate in prison population (4.3% national) with a total prison population of 34,000 inmates as of 2008. 50% of these prisoners come from Denver and three of its surrounded community. Statistically speaking, 70% of these men will return to prison within 3 years of being released. [The big word term for this is “recidivism.”] These stats are not good, no matter how you look at them.

The ministry is still in its early stages, but it keeps Craig busy full-time as he meets with prospective donors, speaks to area churches, and works to secure housing, employment, mentors, and a Christian local church community for ex-offenders as they are released. Many of these men were saved while in prison and became friends with Craig there, meaning that for many of them, he is the only Christian they know on the outside.

Many of these men leave prison without any money, any place to stay, and without any healthy, constructive relationships on the outside. It is common for them to have burned all their bridges so-to-speak living their old life that sent them to prison in the first place. Godly mentors and people who will help give these men a fighting chance to succeed in life are hard to come by, especially when all you have to your name is the clothes on your back and the tracking bracelet latched onto your ankle. It wasn’t the crowd they typically ran in before, and it’s not generally the crowd that is running to meet them the day they’re released either.

Wendy, Craig’s fiancé is also a former inmate. As she tells it, back in 2001, she was married and had two young kids. The marriage was unhealthy and led to fighting and, in her case, fighting led to drinking. In March 2001, Wendy and her husband had a big fight and she left the house around 11:30 PM to go to hang out at a friend’s house and get drunk. The weather was nasty that night, with much of the Denver area experiencing blizzard-like conditions. Wendy said she doesn’t remember what happened next because she was drunk, but she has been told what happened next through reading the accident report. She ended up driving the wrong way (against traffic) for 3 miles on the interstate before hitting a car head on. Wendy was cut out of her car with the Jaws of Life and rushed to the hospital where doctors determined that she suffered from a broken neck in two places, a brain injury, and a broken femur. The man whose car she hit did not survive.

Wendy was in recovery for two years before the legal process got around to arresting her and she still cries as she tells her story, obviously heartbroken by the heartbreak that she caused in so many others as a result of her actions. But Wendy also sees God’s hand in this tragedy. One blessing was that she was able to go to the top-rated hospital in the country for brain related injuries. Because of this, she has experience a significant recovery, although she will always carry with her some visible symptoms of the internal injuries. A second blessing is that while in prison, a woman taught her about the Lord and Wendy because a Christian. She was incarcerated for 4 years and 7 months and has now been out for 3 years, this October. She met Craig while in prison through a friend who was a pen pal with him. When Craig was released almost a year ago, Wendy met up with Craig to seek counsel on spiritual matters and to get advice on some relationship problems she was having. Yup, the rest is history (see: “Wendy, Craig’s fiance”).

Wendy says that her caseworker essentially told her there was no hope; that she would end up on in a homeless shelter and would certainly get no social security. God had other plans for her, and now Wendy believes that her role in the Strong Tower Ministry will be to touch the hearts of women getting out of prison, not as an uppity-up peering down her nose as these women, but as a woman who’s been there.

A woman named Kathy was also in attendance Sunday night and shared about her experience in prisoner re-entry programs. Kathy has been involved in the work since 1996 and said she initially got involved “because no one else wants to do this.” Wendy’s husband has been in prison from 34 years now and most likely will never be released. Her mission is to help men who get out, to be able to stay out. She gets around 30 letters a week from prisoners and ex-cons seeking her assistance. She regularly sits in on the parole hearings of men who request it, drives men to job interviews if they need transportation, serves on the boards of two different prisoner re-entry assistance organizations, and works with six different prisons, one of which is the Sterling Correctional Facility. This is where she met Craig. She was the only person to sit by his side at his parole hearing and is now thrilled to see all that he is doing on the outside.

When asked about the apparent dangers of what she does, Kathy says that these men are commonly viewed as the scum of the earth, and that while some people might think that she will inevitably be raped and murdered by one of these men, her experience speaks otherwise. She says that ex-offenders tend to be very appreciative of the help she provides and treat he with respect.

Kathy was also asked to dispel the top three myths about the prison re-entry program. Here’s what she said:

1. “People in prison are all violent criminals and will never change.”

According to Kathy, a lot of prison staff would allow ex-cons live next door to them if that were allowed (I’m not sure if it is) and they ever got out. She goes on to say that many men are in prison for crimes that would make you say, “You got sent to prison for that!?”

2. “All sex-offenders are going to snatch your children off the playground.”

Kathy says that people need to be educated on what a sex crime actually is. It’s not just men abducting and doing terrible things to young children. Getting busted for public urination can qualify a person, legally, as a sex-offender. Trying to pee at a park behind a try and getting seen by a child might be a stupid move, but it hardly qualifies someone as a sick-o. A 20-year-old man who has consensual sex with a 16-year-old female results in the same. Again, not the decisions we’d like to see happening, but a far cry from the stereotypical sex-offender image that typically enters a person’s head.

3.”Criminals are just going to break into your house the moment they get out.”

– Remember, prison isn’t fun. Men don’t want to go back. They might break into your house, but it’s really not likely.

——————————————-

Stay tuned for (a much shorter) Part Two.

Rules for Talking Trash During Football Season

•September 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

5. Don’t ever run up and ask me “Did you see the *insert my favorite team* game on Saturday/Sunday!?”

They’re my favorite team. That means I either a) watched the game or b) caught the highlights on ESPN – thereby saving 2 hours of my life and still seeing all the parts you want to talk about. That is, unless you want to talk about the tremendous number of 4 yard passes out of the backfield my favorite team’s running back caught. But I doubt you want to talk about that. Good, I don’t either. An appropriate, beginner-level conversation starter would be, “Wow, Saturday’s game was great!” That way you don’t insult me and, simultaneously, do start the conversation on a positive note.

4. An undefeated preseason does not constitute grounds for prophetic claims about “turning it around this year” (see: Detroit Lions, 2008).

Bragging about winning in preseason is like bragging about hanging out with your “super-hot cousin for like, 3 hours on Saturday.” It really doesn’t say anything for your ability to compete with the big boys and, more importantly, makes everyone else question how well you understand the system.

3. You can’t talk trash if your team hasn’t had a winning season in the last 5 years. Attention: Raiders, 49er’s, Rams, Bills, Lions, and Texans (via @aaron_solomon).

For those who cheer for perennial losers, the more you get excited about your “near win” in week one or your 2-0 start this season, the more you point out how bad your team has been and most-likely will be again this year.

2. Don’t console me for losing over the weekend. I did not lose. The team I cheer for lost. Please don’t accuse me of losing.

Do not walk up to me on Sunday or Monday and say, “I’m sorry you lost, dude. That sucks.” Know why? Because I didn’t play in the game. I sat on my couch and ate Doritos. That means I won no matter what the final score was. Furthermore, I view this type of team-identification as an insult to those NFL players who worked hard for 3 years in college to cheat in class AND accept booster monies without getting caught AND be a full-time athlete. I never juggled that many responsibilities.

1. If you choose not to cheer for a particular team, you are also thereby choosing to forfeit your right to talk trash when the team I cheer for loses. [Necessary political parallel: This point is the same for politics; If you don’t vote, don’t complain.]

Self-explanatory.

Try to Not Wet Your Pants

•September 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s called “Contact Juggling.” Check it out…