30 October 2015

Take Great Risks

           Why is it we never associate risk with Christianity? Think about it. When was the last time you thought of a great risk when you thought of your relationship with Jesus? How often do you connect the dots of faith and risk in your regular dealings with church and spiritual things? Most of us have our faith down to a science. We have found ways to eliminate any and every possible risk from our lives and we like it that way. For many to risk in anything is to test God’s will and to show a lack of faith.
Ironically enough, faith itself is a huge risk. John’s Gospel shows us that, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” No one has ever seen God, yet we trust that he exists and desires an intimate relationship with us by faith. That’s a risky proposition. We trust that there is eternal life or eternal death and that our souls are protected by the sacrifice of Jesus for all eternity by faith in the words of those who claim to have been eye witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That sounds pretty risky to me.
There are other places in our lives that we take risks with regularity. Marriage is a huge risk. Two people who can’t see beyond the moment into the future declare their undying love for each other in a day and age where half of every marriage ends in divorce. Think about those odds in other areas of life. Few people would fly in airplanes if 1 out of every 2 planes crashed. How many people would commute via automobile if 1 out of every 2 cars crashed. I wonder how many people would eat fast food if 1 out of every 2 people to eat fast food dropped dead? Yet we let love push us into marriage where the odds are nearly against us. It’s a risky proposition, but one that we choose to take.
If you were brave enough to risk getting married chances are your friends decorated your vehicle with “just married” all over the back windshield and tied cans to drag behind the car as you ran through a storm of raining rice into your newlywed car. As you and your new spouse pull out into oncoming traffic headed toward your honeymoon destination be careful because you just took another huge risk. In America approximately 1 person dies every 16 minutes due to an automobile accident. That means that in the time you sit through one church service around 7 people die in a car accident. So you took a tremendous risk just getting to the church for the wedding ceremony!
We take more risks than we acknowledge every day. Chances are we have become so numb to the reality that we are taking a risk that we simply fall into “autopilot” and mindlessly perform the task at hand. I think that we do the opposite of that when it comes to our faith. I believe that we slip into “autopilot” and mindlessly walk away from any chance of a risk when it comes to Jesus and Christianity. Somewhere along the line we have bought into the lie that to be a follower of Jesus means that we simply go to church regularly and say a few prayers from time to time and by all means avoid any and all risks. That may be a form of American Christianity, but it is in no means authentic Biblical Christianity.
To be a Christian is to be a risk-taker. To step out of the boat and onto the water requires us to let go of all that is familiar and walk out onto the risky waters of the unknown. We will never fully experience the breathtaking heights of Christ by avoiding the risks God directs us toward. We have to be willing to strap into his plan and hold on tight trusting that every twist and turn is part of His great plan to create within us the traits necessary to light up the world with love and truth. We cannot hold tight to the reigns of control while gripping the mane of the Wild One whose image we bear.
In my walk with Christ I don’t always live as risky as God would want me to. I have had moments of risk, but most of the time when the dust settles I wind down into a more manageable lifestyle. The greatest risk I ever took was to adopt our children. I had no idea how in the world to take care of twin boys, yet I knew with all my heart that God wanted us to move forward with faith and trust him. Today we still encounter places as parents where we don’t know how God is going to do it, but we trust that if He is leading us to the risk then there will be a reward eventually.
Another risk that was pretty big for our family was to pack up everything we owned in a U-Haul truck and move nearly 600 miles away from everything we knew. We had no guarantee that Forward Church would grow. We had no idea that you would eventually make Forward Church your home. What we did have was a strong sense that God wanted to use this place to do something special. We set out in faith and took a risk that is still paying off today. As I look to the future of our church I know that as long as we continue to trust God and take great risks we will continue to see lives changed and people who are far from God be brought near and begin a new life with Jesus.
I’ve found this rule to be true: The greatest moments of my life have always been on the other side of a great risk. I am married to the most amazing woman on the planet who loves me and has been there every step of the way. I wouldn’t have her without taking a great risk. I have the most awesome, curly-headed kids around. I wouldn’t have them in my life without taking a great risk. I am literally living my dream of being a part of a life-giving church that helps people connect to Jesus. I wouldn’t be a part of this at all without taking a great risk. The greatest moments of my life have always been on the other side of a great risk.
What about your life? Do you see that rule to play out in your life? Think for a moment about the greatest moments of your life. Are they tied to taking a great risk? Maybe the greatest moment in your life is your marriage. That certainly was a great risk…if not for you trust me it was a great risk for your spouse! Maybe the greatest moment of your life was the day your children were born. That was (and still is) a huge risk. Maybe the greatest moment of your life was graduating High School or College. You had to take some pretty big risks along the way to achieving that moment. Maybe the greatest moment of your life was overcoming a huge obstacle. Maybe your parents divorced when you were young and you had to overcome feeling like you were the reason or that nothing would ever work out for you. That takes great risk to overcome. Maybe you were the one in an abusive relationship and you experienced a divorce and now you’re starting to find yourself again and learning to trust God as He restores your life. That is a tremendous risk to overcome. Maybe you are pursuing a Master’s Degree or deciding to go back to school. That’s a great risk. Wherever you are in life your greatest moments will always be closely connected to great risk.
The Bible is full of stories of great risk-takers too. There’s Abraham who took a great risk when God tested him asking him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. It was in the context of risk that he experienced God in a powerful way. What about Noah? He took a huge risk by building an ark to save his family and preserve life on the earth during the
Great Flood. By the way, it had never rained before when God told him that rain was coming. Everyone in his life ridiculed him as he trusted God and build the boat. His salvation came because he took a risk of faith and trusted God. Think about Moses standing up to the most powerful man on the planet at the time and demanding that Pharaoh release the Israelites from their slavery. He led a revolution because he was willing to risk it all. David would have never slayed Goliath if he hadn’t taken a life-altering risk that day. In the New Testament, none of the disciples would have encountered Jesus without risking everything to follow him and become his disciples. Peter would have never walked on an ounce of water without risking getting out of the boat. Paul would have never started a missionary and church planting movement if he didn’t risk leaving his old life as a Pharisee behind and traveling from country to country preaching about the Kingdom of God. You cannot get away from the truth that Great Christians take great risks.
            As we learn what it takes to move from good to great in God’s eyes we have to confront the reality that great Christians take great risks. They make their minds up that they’re all in. They push all their chips to the center of the table and trust God’s leading. They understand that where there is no risk there is no reward.
            In Mark 1 we read of a great risk taken by those first soon-to-be-disciples of Jesus:

            16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”
Mark 1.16-20

            One of the key words in Mark’s Gospel is the word immediately. His Gospel carries a sense of urgency. In this story those first disciples immediately, or “at once” leave everything behind and take a great risk to follow Jesus. Today the story is still the same. If you want to truly follow Christ you will have to immediately leave everything behind and trust that the reward of God is worth the risk of following. There can be no other way.
            Think about the implications of this moment. Had they decided that the risk was too great they would have missed out on the opportunity to influence the world for years to come. We wouldn’t hear about the Gospel of John because John would have stayed in the boat with his father and continued to fish. We wouldn’t know about Peter’s great teaching to the Early Church and the world because he would have continued to be a fisherman. They would miss their chance to be great in God’s eyes because they let the fear of the risk paralyze them from fulfilling God’s call on their lives.
            Make no mistake about it these men left more than fishing nets that day. They weren’t on the docks fishing because it was a nice Saturday. They were fishing because it was their career. They were professional fishermen. It’s how they made a living. John and his brother were so successful at fishing that their family had a fleet of boats and hired men to work with them. Fishing was their business and business was good yet they left it all behind for a greater call.
            Imagine if the only way you could fulfill God’s call on your life meant leaving your job tomorrow. If you had no sure guarantee that you would be financially taken care of would you be willing to let everything go to chase after God’s will for your life? What would you do if you had to walk away from your health benefits and 401k to pursue the life Christ offers? Those are serious questions with serious implications. Most of us would like to think that we would walk away from anything to follow Jesus, but I wonder if it really came down to it would we have the courage to risk it all for Jesus?
            I wrestled with this early in my life as a pastor. The first church that I was a pastor of was a small church just west of Atlanta, Georgia. They were a tiny congregation located on the “wrong side of the tracks” and couldn’t offer much salary for anyone. There were around 12 people in the building and it was everything they could do to keep the lights on every month. My first salary as a pastor was $75 a week. On top of that after my tithe came out it left April and me with $67.50 to live off of. She never said it, but I’m sure that was not the fairytale marriage that April had dreamed of when she was a little girl.
            While I served as the pastor there I also had another job. I was an assistant manager of a retail store. I had great benefits and the job was easy. It was really a great setup. When our store manager heard about me taking the position as the pastor he was excited for me and offered to work my schedule around my duties as a pastor. I had every Sunday off and they would let me work early shifts on Wednesdays so that I could make it to the church for the mid-week service. They were very kind and accommodating to me then. The only problem was the store I worked at was 118 miles away! Twice a week I was travelling to and from one job to the next. I was commuting 472 miles each week from one job to the other. It was grueling. I knew that eventually I would have to make a difficult decision about these two jobs. For nearly 3 months I made the drive – over and over and over again. If you do the math I drove approximately 6,000 miles in 3 months from one job to the other.
            Around that same time I heard a sermon from Andy Stanley the pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. The big idea from the sermon series was that our lives are a series of stories that we will eventually tell others and he challenged us to ask this question: Do I want to tell my story to others or do I want to change the story before I tell it? I couldn’t get that idea out of my head. My story at the time was: I’m serving as a pastor of a small church, but I’m too scared to risk leaving my ‘good’ job behind and trusting God to provide for me. It was a harsh reality check for me. I had to come to terms with the reality that I was trusting more in my job to provide for me than I was in my God to provide for me. So after much praying and fasting and talking with April and other mentors in my life I decided that the story I wanted to tell was a story of how I trusted God more than anything else. I quit my job as an assistant manager and moved into a small house about 2 miles from the church and although it was tough financially for a while I knew that the risk was worth taking because God never fails those who are willing to trust Him with their whole heart.
            Let me ask you the same question that Andy Stanley asked me: What do you want your story to be? Do you want your story to be like that of those early disciples? Do you want to say you trusted God or do you want to say that you were too scared to take a great risk? Do you want to tell your children that you “immediately left your nets and followed him” or do you want to say you passed up the risk of a lifetime? Let me encourage you to take the risk. If God is leading you to it He will see you through it.
            For those first disciples they had to ask some tough questions. Can I trust this young teacher named Jesus? How will I take care of my family? What will I do to provide for myself? How will this pan out? It’s never easy to walk away from what has been a good thing. It’s never easy to chose risk over certainty. If we are truly honest we would all say that we would rather follow Jesus while still being fishermen. After all we can have it both ways right? Later in Mark’s Gospel he records Jesus’ response to that question:

            34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Mark 8.34-35
            The truth is Jesus demands all of us not just part of us. He told the crowd – and his disciples – that the only way to follow Him is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and then follow after him. There is no other way. Our story has to be a story of risk.
            Imagine what your life would look like if you decided to trust God and take a great risk. Think of the payoff to actually pursuing God’s call on your life. Maybe God is leading you to go back to school, but you’ve been putting it off for years…stop avoiding the risk and step out in faith. Maybe God is calling you to start a ministry to serve scared, pregnant teenage girls, but you are too scared to try…step out in faith and take the risk. Maybe God has been nudging you to ask that girl out that you see at church every week, but you are scared of rejection…spray your best cologne on, comb your hair and take the risk. Maybe God is calling you to serve in the nursery, but you don’t want to leave the nets of the comfortable church service…let go of yourself, take the risk and volunteer. Maybe God is leading you to start a Bible study with your family at night after dinner, but you don’t feel like you know enough of the Bible to do it…buy a study Bible, join RightNow Media, open Google up and take the risk. Whatever God is leading you to do stop waiting for the perfect conditions and step out in faith. If you want to move from being good into being great in God’s eyes trust him and take a great risk!
            When Jesus talked to the crowd in Mark 8.34-35 he taught a profound reality about how life works. He said that everywhere we try to save our lives we really lose our lives. We can’t save love by never giving it away. We only experience love when we take the risk to give love away. He taught that in life when we hold onto things what we are really doing is holding onto the potential for a great life. If you remember your high school science class you’ll know that potential energy doesn’t move anything only kinetic energy makes a difference. Your life is full of potential energy. You have potential energy to make a difference in the world. You have potential energy to be a great Christian. I hope that you will be willing to take great risks and turn your potential energy into kinetic energy and see movement happen all around you. Jesus promised that, “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” In other words, when we make the decision to let go of what is holding us back then (and only then) will we really gain what matters in life. Losing our life means letting go and taking the risk. It means getting out of our comfort zones and getting into the kinetic zone.
            I’m willing to bet that there is at least one area in your life that God has been leading you to take a great risk. Chances are there is more than one area. You’ve heard his voice and felt his hand pulling you toward a greater life. Make your mind up today that you will begin to leave your nets behind and follow him. I know that the nets are a security blanket and it’s hard to leave the comfort of them, but I also know that your greatest moments are on the other side of great risk.
            God understands where you are today. He knows how hard you fight to keep a tight grip on the nets. He understands how painful and scary a great risk is. After all He modeled great risk for us in His Son Jesus. Think of the risk it took to leave the security of Heaven and be born in a manger. He extended His hand of grace to us by showing us the greatest of all love and dying on the Cross for the sins of the world. He was willing to do whatever it took to redeem and restore us. Yet in all that Christ did on the Cross he never once demanded that we love Him in return. He doesn’t override your own decision to either love him or walk away from him because real love doesn’t demand a response. He took a risk that you and I would experience His love and turn to Him for salvation and freedom. That’s not the message of the Gospel…that is the Gospel. Jesus risked it all for you and me. He let go of the nets and he trusted the plan of the Father. My prayer for us all is that we learn from Him as we love on Him.

            One day you will be able to tell your children and your grandchildren a story of complete trust in God’s will because you decided to take great risks. You won’t look back with regret on the risks you didn’t take because today you made your mind up to trust with your whole heart. One day you and your spouse will look back on the way God carried you through the times you stepped out in faith and smile. One day you will be sitting across a table from someone who needs the lessons you are learning today because of your trust in God through great risks. You won’t have to say how you wished you had taken that new job or started that ministry or gave that money to feed the homeless or led that small group or moved to that new city because you have decided to trust God and take great risks. One day you will look with joy and pride at your children when they tell you how they trust God because they saw you trust God. One day you will hold hands and pray with a close friend knowing that God is in control of their situation because you have lived out his faithfulness since you trusted God. One day you will stand before the Throne of God and hear him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant” because you chose to take great risks and trust an even Greater God.

26 October 2015

Thinking of You

            Sometimes I catch myself late at night lying in bed thinking about my kids. I have twin sons that are 3 years old and they can be a handful at times. My investigation has shown me that most toddlers have that same trait! They’re very fond of climbing these days. They’ll climb anything and if I tell them “no” that only adds fuel to the fire. I often catch myself raising my voice demanding that they get down. Most of the time they look right at me and smile and climb even higher. It can get really frustrating at times.
            Toddlers seem to be on a mission from God to completely disregard any instructions given by their parents. Whether it’s climbing something forbidden or pulling everything out of the refrigerator and tossing it into the washing machine they simply love being disobedient. As a parent this can be very challenging. On the one hand I desperately want to encourage their curiosity and sense of adventure, but on the other hand I want them to learn to obey the rules in life.
            Many times their mother and I lie in bed and talk about how they’ve been acting during the day and we often wonder if we are cut out to be parents. We tend to have a lot of great moments as parents like how recently Asher, the oldest, correctly identified all of the shapes that we showed him. Score one big one for the home team! Just the other day Jayden, the youngest, said almost all of his ABCs in order. Talk about a win! Some nights we talk about the good things that they are doing, but other times we talk about the areas where they aren’t listening or minding well. Those times seem to wipe all the scores off the scoreboard in our minds. We know that this isn’t fully true, since they are learning and progressing way better than the times they are disobedient, but it’s still something we talk about.
            At times I catch myself lying in the bed just thinking about my boys. Most parents can identify with me here. You think about how lucky you are to have them in your life and can’t imagine what you would do without them. Every now and then I will think about special moments that we had in the day or the week and as I’m lying in the bed I get this overwhelming urge to go and wake them up just to hug them and play with them. If you’re a parent reading this you know how crazy I sound right now! The Golden Rule with raising toddlers is: when they sleep let them sleep! Thankfully I am smarter than that so I resist the urge to wake them up and squeeze hug them and simply let my happy thoughts of them lull me to sleep.
            I can’t help but love my kids. If you’re a parent you know what I’m talking about. You think about how talented they are and how smart they are and your heart nearly bursts with pride and gratefulness. In those moments it’s like the only thing that matters is grabbing them, pulling them close to you, and losing yourself in the moment of love. I sit and think about what they will be like when they get older. I picture them as school kids learning science and math and I smile. I imagine what they will be like when they first understand the message of the Gospel. I dream of them growing up and finding out what their purpose in life is and me being able to help them grow closer to Jesus. These are the moments that cause me to thank God and beg him to keep my boys close to him. I just can’t wait to help them become everything they were created to become. That’s just how parents think.
            Now you’re probably thinking, “Brian, this is all nice and everything, but what does this have to do with leadership and ministry?” I’m glad you asked. I believe that God, our Heavenly Father, dreams about us the same way that I sit in bed and think about my kids. God sees you and he sees me and his heart is full of hope and excitement that we will become all that he designed us to be. Even if we’ve been climbing something that we shouldn’t or if we’ve taken the ketchup and dumped it into the washing machine, God still dreams of our best. As leaders if we never fully embrace the truth that God cares about who we are way more than what we do we will always chase the wrong things. We will chase success and wind up empty. We will chase more people attending our churches and wind up empty. We will chase the next big ministry opportunity and wind up empty. We have to chase Him and Him alone.
            As a leader I have fallen victim to the lie that success will fulfill me. I have done all sorts of things to get people into our church. I have spent hours crafting messages that will make people “like” our church. I have invested money into growing our church. I have read tons of books to get better. I have done so many things to be happy and fulfilled as a leader, and although those are good things they aren’t the central thing. What matters is that I live every moment of my life knowing that God loves me no matter what.
            I’m not saying that we don’t have to do “things” to grow ourselves as leaders. I believe that if we stop growing eventually we will stop leading at the level that God desires for our lives. I have devoted my life to helping people and leaders grow and fulfill the call of God on their lives. What I am saying is that all of those things lose their edge if we substitute them for a life lived from the security of our loving Father. Let’s face it we will never preach a good enough message that makes God stand up and say, “Wow! That was deep!” God doesn’t love us more when our churches grow and he doesn’t love us less when people leave. God loves us because God loves us!
            Imagine how different your life as a leader will be if you start living from God’s approval instead of for God’s approval. Picture yourself leading with God’s love in your sails. I bet you would have more confidence. I bet you would make different decisions in your meetings. I bet you would enjoy the journey more.
            As leaders we have a tendency to seek approval from man. That’s normal (and I believe that it’s okay if we have a healthy balance). The downfall of needing others’ approval is that we can let their voice become louder that God’s. We can become more concerned with what they think instead of what He thinks. That is when we are out of balance.
            Recently I went on a long motorcycle ride with my neighbor. It was a beautiful coastal Virginia day and we decided to make the most of it by breaking out the Harleys and hitting the road. When we got back home he immediately got on his knees at the front of the motorcycle and for a second I was wondering if he was going to pray to Harley-Davidson! In a few seconds he stood up and said, “I lost a weight.” Vehicle tires are tested for balance and small weights are placed on certain areas of the wheel in order to help it roll in balance and if you don’t have the proper amount of weight the ride can be a little rough. That day he could tell that the ride wasn’t as smooth as it should have been because a tiny weight had thrown the whole tire off balance. If we live without embracing God’s view of us we live lives that are out of balance and in the end the ride is rougher than it should be. Take some time today to start balancing your leadership from the view of God and not only the view of man. Remember: God thinks of you when he’s lying in bed each night!*

*I know that God doesn’t lie in bed and that he doesn’t sleep…it’s a metaphor. Enjoy it!

19 October 2015

6 Things I've Learned About Being a Pastor

Yesterday marked my 6 year anniversary as a lead pastor. Over the course of those years I've been privileged to serve as the lead pastor of two churches. I have had a huge deal of fun along the way as well as many disappointments. So today I decided to list 6 things I've learned about being a pastor. So in no particular order here we go:

1) Being a lead pastor is hard. 

Yup. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. I never understood the level of stress on the lead pastor until I became one. Being a youth pastor didn't compare. Being a worship pastor didn't compare. Being a young adult leader didn't compare. It wasn't until I was the guy responsible for the whole ship that the weight of the call became its heaviest. 

As John Maxwell says, "If you're out front you're gonna get kicked in the rear." Well if you're the lead pastor you're gonna have a sore rear!

2) It won't happen as fast as you want it to. 

A few years ago I hear pastor Craig Groeschel say, "Most of us overestimate what God wants to do in the short run of our lives and underestimate what God wants to do in the long run." What a powerful statement! Ministry is a marathon and not a sprint. Those grandiose dreams you have for your church and ministry will take longer to accomplish than you think. Along the way God will have to break you and make you into the leader capable of handling the dream. Don't give up. Don't let discouragement stop you. Enjoy the journey more than the destination. 

3) The relationships you build are more important than the stuff you do. 

Here are two important truths every lead pastor needs to remember: Your life will be drained by ministry. Your life will be enriched by healthy relationships. 

If you spend more of your time "doing ministry" than you do building relationships with others eventually it will catch up with you and I promise you won't like what you see. Us lead pastors suffer from a disease called "drivin-itis." We live for results and often sacrifice relationships on the altar of results. I promise you that the people who are in your life matter more than you realize. Don't get me wrong, the stuff you do is valuable, you are building God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That's important stuff! What we have to learn along the way is that there will always be more ministry opportunities than relational opportunities and in the end when we are at our best ministerially it is a direct correlation to being in healthy, life-giving relationships. 

Slow down. Make some friends. Spend time win people outside of your church. Don't talk about church all the time. Go to a ballgame with friends. Catch a movie with another couple. Laugh. Enjoy life with people who don't always want something from you. Relationships matter. 

This is so important y'all. As the lead pastor everyone wants something from you. It is impossible to function at the level God desires without taking time so unplug from the machine and reboot with others who can let you be you. Find a handful of friends (more than likely outside of your church) who will let you be you and not "pastor you." You'll thank me later. Your spouse will thank me now!

4) Don't be scared to lead. 

Early on in my time as a lead pastor I was scared to ask people to trust my leadership. I would often sit in leadership meetings and give easily-attainable ideas and goals because I didn't want to ruffle too many feathers. After all I needed buy-in from the people. During those early days God was gracious to us and in spite of my sometimes timid leadership our church grew. The problem was we were limited in our potential because I was too scared to lead fully from where I knew we needed to go. 

One evening after a meeting with our leadership team one of our elders came to me and said, "Pastor, we really need you to lead us." At first I was somewhat offended. I thought I was leading the church. Then he explained that the value I added to our team was in knowing what steps we needed to take to reach people for Christ and if I held back because I was scared they wouldn't like what we had to do then I was limiting our effectiveness. That night I realized that I was too scared to lead in a big way. Ever since that conversation I have tried (and prayed) to lead big and not be scared to ask people for a big commitment. 

Don't be scared to navigate the course of your church where God is calling you to go. Of course you need to take into account the ideas and thoughts of others on your team. Don't dismiss the concerns of those around you, but at the end of the day you have to make progress by taking risks and leading big. I promise you that along the course of your ministry people will leave because of a decision you make. Thats the nature of our business. It hurts and it happens. However there is another byproduct of leading big...new people will show up. Don't be scared to lead. 

This means being the final voice on decisions that will cost thousands of dollars. Lead big. That ,exams being the final voice on decisions that will upset long standing members of the congregation. Lead big (Don't be a jerk about it. Make every effort to meet with them and lovingly hear their concerns as you explain why you and the team feel God directing you to change). This means being the final voice on decisions that will change the direction of the church for years to come. Lead big. 

One more thing is important for me to mention here: the guy who challenged me to lead big was younger than me. I didn't ignore his words or get offended because I was older and had more experience Han him. I knew he had my best interest in mind and he was the voice of God that evening.

5) You're gonna hurt...a lot.

We live in a broken world. We work with broken people. We are broken people. The reality is that hurting people hurt people. The nature of our business is to help restore broken and hurting people. People will look to you in the most emotionally and psychologically charged times of their lives. No other profession requires you to be the strength of entire families from birth to death. You will visit the nursery of the hospital to rejoice over the newborn baby and you will visit that same hospital to cry with the family that just lost their newborn baby. You will marry people who have been high school sweethearts for years and you will help that same couple recover from a nasty divorce. You will be there at the gravesite offering hope to those who are saying goodbye to their loved ones. You will be in the stands on Friday night when their son takes the field. You will be there at the best of times and you will be there at the worst of times. 

That's just what we do. 

What happens when our faces are associated with so many dynamics of life-change is people can often connect us with pain and sorry just as quickly as they connect us with joy and hope. 

Another dynamic at play here is the reality that you will make some mistakes along the way. You're going to preach a message that's too harsh one day and people will be hurt by your words instead of helped by your words. You're going to make an unpopular leadership decision and people will leave the church. You're going to miss an event and people will be offended. You're going to miss a hospital visit and people will get mad with you. You're going to have someone on your team make a bad decision and you are going to be blamed for it. You are going to be accused of being lazy and only working 2 hours a week. You are going to be considered too theologically liberal or too conservative or to Pentecostal or not Pentecostal enough. You are going to be constantly criticized. Your sermons will be too long for some and too short for others. You will read too many bible verses for some and not enough for others. You will have some people who love you and some who despise you. You will hear about everything going wrong and rarely hear about things that you are doing right. Your family will be under an unhealthy and unrealistic microscope. As the lead pastor you (and many times your family) are going to hurt. 

People will praise your church as "the church they've always wanted to be a part of" and then months later leave because you "aren't meeting their needs" and they're "just not getting fed." Someone will challenge your authority and persuade others to lose confidence in you. Others will tell you everywhere your sermon wasn't perfect. Some will chose to leave and start their own church and will take others with them. Some will hold you responsible for mistakes other pastors have made. Some will constantly tear down your church and your character publicly. 

As the lead pastor you are going to hurt a lot. 

It has taken me a long time to understand this truth. I pray that you don't get disillusioned by the pain. Don't give up on the dream God has placed inside of you. Let God turn your pain into fuel for your destiny. In the book Good to Great in God's Eyes Chip Ingram says, "Every great dream will be taken to the Cross." When you are experiencing pain chances are God is taking you by the Cross. Before God can get the new wine of His Spirit in your life and ministry he has to crush the grapes of your life and ministry. Learn to navigate pain with the help of God, good friends, and great balance of work and pleasure. The pain will produce a great promise. 

6) It's ALL Worth it. 

Pastor Ferrell Hardison of The Bridge Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina says, "We pastors are crazy people. We're the only people who are ready to change careers on Monday and then on Saturday night can't wait to go do it again!" He's right you know. We have been bitten by the big of God and we can't get away from the joy of serving Him and helping people. We have seen God use us to make others' lives better and we just can't give it up. 

In ministry the highs are higher than anything else and the lows are lower, but in the end it's ALL worth it. If you've been struggling with the lows of ministry life remember God has called you and He will fulfill you. Your life and your ministry matters. I know that I am grateful for you. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. You are making more of a difference than you realize. Try to take your mind off the issues and look at everything that you are doing right. One of my mentors, pastor Brett Cooper always says, "You can quit, but you've got to start over again tomorrow!" Don't give up. Your life matters and in the end it's ALL worth it. 

11 September 2015

More Than Rising Taxes and Gas Prices: A Reflection on September 11th, 2001

"Now taxes and gas prices are going to shoot way up!"

I don't think I will ever forget those words. They were uttered by a truck driver at the company I worked for on the morning of September 11, 2001. As the nation stood in horror watching the largest attack on American soil in history I was crowded into a small break room with truck drivers and the people who unloaded their trucks. Like most people, I didn't think that it could be real. It has to be an accident. 

Sadly, I was wrong. It was no accident.

The waves of that day are still splashing the shores of our world today 14 years later. In one act 2,977 victims were lost. Say that number out loud - two thousand nine hundred seventy seven people. That's nearly half the total population of my hometown. On that day the world changed forever. 

I know that we all deal with tragedies in different ways and I am trying to remember this as I write out this post today, but I think that those words are indicative of a deeper issue within all our hearts. The world is starting to stand still, thousands of people have lost their lives, America has been attacked - and all you can think about is taxes and gas prices going up? Therein lies a deep issue of the heart: our selfishness. That day in North Carolina over 500 miles away from the tragedy in lower Manhattan we weren't immediately affected by the events of 9/11, yet all the driver was concerned with was a possible tax increase and gas prices rising. There were no tears for the victims. There were no prayers made for the families. There was no outrage over the attacks. There was only complaining about having to spend money on taxes and gas. That day I couldn't help but wonder how the families felt knowing that their loved one was inside one of the twin towers. Did they care about a tax increase or higher gas prices? Were they concerned about money over the lives of their lost family members? 

When tragedy hits your doorstep you realize that life is more than higher taxes and rising gas prices.

One of the leaders of the Early Church made famous the statement, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12.15). On Tuesday morning September 11, 2001 it was a time to mourn with those who mourn. Today on the 14th anniversary of that day it is still a time to mourn with those who mourn. If we seek to make the hurt and loss of others a venue to talk about our own needs and agendas we have forfeited the basic human characteristics of compassion, empathy, and sympathy. Simply put - it's not about your taxes and gas prices.

Let's remember that today as we say a prayer for the families of those impacted that day and for those who are still serving our country in the defense of our freedom.

03 March 2015

Mission Critical: Why the Mission of the Church is More Important Now Than Ever Before

            Recently I have been catching myself repeating one of my favorite catchy one-liners in a lot of conversations. For those of you that know me you know that I tend to enjoy a classic one-liner. They’re simple, portable truths that can stick with you after the meal is done.

            Plus they make me feel smarter than I really am which is a huge plus!

            Back to the story, I have been saying over and over again this statement: This is proof that our mission is more important than ever. That has been my tagline to a myriad of separate issues.

Someone is having marriage problems? This is proof that our mission is more important than ever. Someone else is wrestling with identity issues? This is proof that our mission is more important than ever. Someone just got a negative health scan from a doctor? This is proof that our mission is more important than ever.

You get the picture?

Honestly I haven’t been trying to flippantly respond to any particular crisis. I have simply been reminded that our mission – Pointing people to the love of God through personal relationship with Jesus Christ – is more important now than ever. It is that life-giving relationship with Christ that will ultimately sustain. Jesus came to bring healing and freedom and my job isn’t to try and overcome your issue my job is to point you to the One who already overcame.

Again, this is proof that our mission is more important than ever.

People need the love and mercy of God. Every day we encounter countless men and women who are struggling with self-worth. We are constantly bombarded with images that tell us that we aren’t good enough if we don’t live in a certain type of home or drive a certain type of vehicle. Media outlets remind us that value and worth is tied to what we own so we constantly chase our tails in an endless struggle to obtain more stuff only to find out that in the end the stuff owns us and we don’t own it.

People are committing suicide at earlier ages now than ever in history. Marriages are struggling and falling apart. Young girls are looking for love and beauty and willing to pay anything to anyone who shows her a little attention. Teenage pregnancies are on the rise. Sexting runs rampant even in children as young as middle school. We glorify films and music that objectify women and glorify sex in any way, shape, or form. We live in a generation that wasn’t satisfied with the twerk and therefore created the wall-twerk.

This is proof that our mission is more important than ever.

People need to know that there is a God who loves them and validates who they are as people apart from anything they could do to earn his acceptance. This world needs to hear that there is someone greater than they that desperately desires to be connected to them in a meaningful way not in an abusive way. Our mission – The Mission – matters and people need to be forever made whole because we rise up and get on mission.

This is proof that our mission is more important than ever.

I’m not trying to be preachy here. I’m just struck with the reality that if we don’t get fired up about our mission then we will never meet the needs of humanity that is lying – even dying – at our doorsteps. I’ve found that in the church world we would rather sing about it, talk about it, preach about it, small group about it, blog about it (myself included) than be about it. We like to do the above because it satisfies our guilt for not doing it while never actually holding our proverbial feet to the fire pushing us out of our comfort zone and actually doing what Jesus told us to do.

And in regards to our theoretical Christianity – this is proof that our mission is more important than ever. The mission has to work on us before it will work in us. If we aren’t compelled by The Mission then we need to reevaluate whether or not we have been touching The Mission. Don’t let a counterfeit mission give you empty calories focus on The Mission and leave with a full belly.

3 quick suggestions:

1.   Engage in mission everyday. That’s right. Everyday. It can be as simple as saying, “Jesus love you” or as challenging as crossing a jungle-river to share the Gospel with a local tribe of people in a remote corner of the third world. The size of the external is no indication of the size of the internal. What matters is that we are actively seeking ways to engage in mission everyday.

2.    Do Mission Together. That has actually become a rallying cry at our church. We plant the flag of mission in nearly everything we do. From Sunday morning services to small groups we are all about doing mission together. Three words: Do – Implying that we have to be active. Mission – The reason we are all here. Together – No more “Lone Ranger” stuff. We are doing this thing as a team. Jesus taught and modeled that mission is at its most successful when others are involved. He could have completed his mission alone, but he chose to take along 12 guys in a close-knit family. Let’s take a page out of Jesus’ playbook and do mission together.

3.    Pray missionally. God’s greatest desire is for his lost children to come home. We will never have more of God’s power than when we are seeking to engage in God’s mission. Peyton Jones, author of Church Zero, recently said, “Everywhere you see the power of God in the book of Acts it is in reference to people living on mission.” The truth is that when we pray missionally God begins to pour out his power in ways that we will never fully experience in other ways. Praying for God to open doors for the Gospel yield powerful times of God opening doors for the Gospel. He wants to get his message out and he wants you to be a chief brand manager. Begin to ask him to open doors for the Gospel in your life and then be ready to walk through those doors when he does!

Those are three simple suggestions to become more mission-oriented in life. There are many other suggestions and principles that many can add to this list. The important thing is that we are doing something to fully engage in the mission of God by serving those far from God and serving those close to God. To quote Nike, “Just Do It!”