Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is the Record Player Broken?

I've recently given some thought to how preachers go about selecting the topics and passages that they will preach on - mostly because this is a challenge and struggle for me. Because I'm only preaching a few times a month, I want to make sure that I make every one of them count. That's sounds a little strange, if I preach the Bible wouldn't it automatically count? Yes, but . . . somtimes there is a specific need in the congregation. Sometimes that need exists at a macro level; and other times there is a specific issue or challenge that needs to be dealt with. A good preacher will understand, appreciate and respond to those needs in a manner that brings glory to God and feeds the flock.

So back to the question: how do some preachers go about selecting the text or topic that they will preach on? Sometimes I wonder if there isn't selfish motivations. For example, preaching on a topic or sacred cow that the preacher knows will win favor with the congregation. How about consistently or constantly preaching on their own personal soapbox issues (that's what blogs are for ;-). Neither really bring glory to God or serve the church effectively. Yet, how often do we hear the same sermons over and over again and not raise an eyebrow because its "scriptural"? Perhaps our standards are bit low?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jesus or Snoop Dog?

Okay, I'm pushing it with the title. I wanted to get your attention. But check this out. Earlier today while I was lost in the great metropolis of Jasper, Alabama, I ended up in a residential area. As I was turning around I noticed a couple of white statues sitting in a yard. That's not uncommon - people often display icons like depictions of angels, Jesus, etc. But these two were different. Both of the faces had been painted black (actually dark brown).

When I looked back a second time, I didn't realize it was supposed to be Jesus (even though it was clothed in a white robe which I guess is what Jesus always wore?) because it looked just like the entertainer Snoop Dog. I'm not kidding - it looked just like him. Long curly hair with a touch of jerry curyl, skinny face and a goatee. It was hilarious. Once I realized that it was supposed to be Jesus I couldn't stop laughing. It looked so funny.

Now, I don't know what Jesus actually looked like. I could make an educated guess that, based on his heritage and where he lived, he probably had dark, olive skin color and "darker" hair. But you know what, it really doesn't matter to me. He could have been a black man. It doesn't affect my faith in Him or my salvation through Him at all. But because I'm a preacher (and could find an illustration in a pitch black empty room) I immediately starting thinking about why people try to make Jesus out to be a person that they can be comfortable with - even if it doesn't match up to what the Bible says He is? Does that make sense?

The person who owned those statues is obviously a black man or woman and is more comfortable thinking of Jesus as a black man. I think about the pictures of Jesus I have seen, like the one on the cover of our big family bible that has been handed down through a couple of generations. It's a nice looking pale white guy with a neatly trimmed beard. The artist who painted it had a definitive picture of what he thought Jesus should look like.

We do this all the time. We try to alter who He is, what He did and what He said so that it can fit into the life that we want to live. I wonder how that makes him feel now? When we read some of the things he said and did we're left feeling loved and comforted. And at other times we read things that leave us feeling guilty, ashamed or convicted. I hope all of those feelings will lead us to make good decisions to change our lives - and not to change Him, His life or His teachings.

By the way, the angel looked just like Scooby Doo - i'm not kidding. And once I'm done preparing my sermon tomorrow my only goal for the day is to find that house again and get a picture!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

. . . For Works of Service

Each time I read Ephesians 4:11-12, I am reminded that there are really two types of leadership in the church. Those who lead by trying to do it all themselves. And those who lead by trying to enable and empower the people who are being led. That's what this scripture is about. And when I look around at congregations that are growing, I notice that they are committed to this practice of leadership.

The bible says here that Jesus has commissioned us to be pastors, teachers and evangelists to prepare God's people for works of service. By default, this scripture gives two commands. First, all of God's people are to be working by serving. And second, for those of us that bear the responsibility as a pastor or teacher or evangelist - we are supposed to be preparing God's people to be the best servants they can be. Simply speaking, are you fulfilling your responsibility? If not, then why? Are you being given opportunities to serve? Have you been challenged to discover your spiritual gifts and to put them to use? Leaders, are you wearing the burden of doing everything yourself?

Here's the problem that occurs in congregations where people are not challenged to step up, discover their strengths and glorify God by serving with them: people become stale and cold; and their faith grows old. So instead of looking for opportunities to serve others, they "come to church" sit in their seat and wait on someone to serve them. Then both the shepherds and ministers can't figure out why the church isn't growing and why everyone seems to be going through the motions.

It's time for all of us to look in the mirror.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Leadership Redefined

John 13:1-20

If I were to ask you what this scripture is about, you would probably answer humility. If that’s your first response then you’re right. It’s definitely teaching about humility. But, read in the context of the circumstances, it’s about something even greater. Look at v.7, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter." The disciples were still thinking about Jesus, His plan, His mission and His purpose from the wrong perspective. They thought of him as the anointed one; the Messiah who had come to earth to reestablish the old earthly kingdom that had been taken away, and to sit on David’s earthly throne. They were wrong. And that’s why Jesus told them that they wouldn’t understand what he was doing until later – as in after his resurrection.

Jesus wasn’t just teaching them about being humble and living with humility. It goes much deeper. Jesus was teaching them a lesson that they would need to carry in their hearts as they set out to grow and lead the Church. You see, they completely misunderstood leadership. They thought it was about being more holy, more worthy, more powerful – as they defined those terms. But Jesus completely re-wrote the book. By taking off his robe, taking a towel and kneeling down before his servants and washing the dirt off their feet, he redefined leadership. Jesus taught them that a person’s holiness is acquired through what the Father has done for them – not what they had done on their own; that a person’s worthiness is not defined by who you are, but instead by whose you are; and that a person’s power is found not in their own strength, but in the strength of the one they put their faith in.

Consider the lyrics to this song – Make Me a Servant. Consider saying them as a prayer to God. What a powerful prayer that would be!

Make me a servant
Lord, make me like You
For You are a servant
Make me one, too
Make me a servant
Do what You must do
To make me a servant
Lord make me like You

To love my brother
To serve like You do
I humble my spirit
I bow before You
And through my service
I'll be just like You
So make me a servant
Lord make me like You

Open my hands, Lord
And teach me to share
Open my heart,
Teach me to care
Service to others
Is service to You
So make me a servant
Make me like You

Leadership and Growth

No doubt about it, there is a direct correlation between leadership and a congregation's growth. Think of some of the congregations that you are familiar with. What about the one where you attend. Is the church growing? If it is - why is it growing? Can you pinpoint and narrow down to a few factors, exactly what is causing the growth? I think you probably can. In fact, if you keep narrowing it down and peeling back the layers you'll probably end up at leadership. Specifically, the leadership from the Shepherds. Sure, you may have a great preacher who draws people in. Or you could be in a great location that is real convenient for many people and is geographically in the middle of an area that is experiencing population growth. But those are just surface issues. We both know that growth and decline can, and have, occurred regardless of those factors.

However, you will not find scriptural, healthy and sustained growth from a congregation that does not have scriptural and healthy Shepherds guiding and leading towards that growth. It just won't happen. So, if most churches are not growing - does that mean that most churches have unhealthy and unscriptural Shepherds? Perhaps. It has definitely been that case that men are serving in that capacity when God has not truly qualified or called them. Or (probably just as common) when they have grown out of their qualification.

However naive, I'd like to think that's not the answer for the majority of congregations. Instead, a more likely answer is that there are capable, qualified, Godly men who have been charged with a responsibility, role and task that they don't truly understand and are prepared to carry out. Here's what I mean: over time, the Elderships of many congregations have degeneratively shrunken into positions of glorified deacons. Where they feel a need to step in and be hands-on with too many different ministries and activities of the church. When this happens, they lose sight of the responsibilities that God has for them. So, instead of spending a couple of evenings each week checking on families and visiting peoples homes, they are spending those evenings doing work that a deacon should be addressing.

Or, even worse, groups of Shepherds have evolved into a team of managers running a non-profit business. This is not what God intended; and it's often a symptom of control problems. This often turns into a situation where no money is spent and no decisions are made unless the Elders are first consulted and have given their blessing. If the Shepherd are spending their time in this capacity, then there is little time left to spend on shepherding the flock.

Both of these mistakes are too common and are great vehicles that satan uses to set up shop in the middle of congregations. Shepherds (both individually and collectively) need to do a self-evaluation; and assess whether their time is being spent well. And whether or not they are effectively fullfilling the role that God has called them to. When Shepherds are shepherding - churches are usually growing.