“Be careful criticizing the bride that Jesus died for,” said my mentor in response to a student’s criticism of a particular large church. In the not new but currently trendy challenge of deconstructionism, my mentor’s wisdom is even more profound. The intended nebulousness of defining … Continue reading Abusing Jesus and His bride
“Why on Earth are you using the New Living Translation!?” said many a friend of late. This question is asked for good reason. Being an ardent believer in expository preaching, a functional equivalent translation does not seem to fit that belief. Personally, I even questioned … Continue reading You’re using what Bible!?
My last article dealing with the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” had interesting responses. There are some who loathed the article because of what the phrase specifically refers too. Others said they felt heard by a pastor for the first time. We should not discount pushback … Continue reading Living by faith and let’s go Brandon
Should I take a stand on public matters that are political when I am a church? This is a question, in various forms, asked of me in the last month. In my prior article on this topic, found here, I address areas where repentance is … Continue reading Engage: Solutions to getting involved
We are forgetting that the Gospel is the solution. We too often treat the Gospel as a side issue, even though the current buzz states the Gospel is central. The questions we are asking right now is how do we live justly? The cycle of … Continue reading Lost, stuck, and the way out
With the slow re-opening of the country back up, and the likelihood of church gatherings being restricted for awhile, leveraging small groups is critical. Many churches want to be a church a church of small groups. This crisis is a great test of how well … Continue reading Small Groups: the amazing opportunity of now
It is weird to be on the other side of the sabbatical. Loads of planning and coordination to pull the venture off, the actual sabbatical, and now back to grind and figuring out what a new normal will be. Here are some random thoughts, and again another push why pastors should take a sabbatical.
You’re more tired than you think
In interviewing people who went on a sabbatical, this was a common phrase stated. So, I wasn’t too surprised when I realized I was more tired and fried than I thought I was. We need rest, and sometimes we need TONS of rest. Be tired is often a good sign that we hopefully worked hard.
You’re more broken than you hoped
Sabbatical is that wonderful time in the mirror when all your brokenness jumps out at out. This can happen in many forms. But the cessation of activity allows you to evaluate deeply where you’re struggling and need to change. Often this isn’t because of some volitional sin. We wear out and can slowly get off track.
You’re better than you realized
This may sound like a contradiction, but there are moments when you look back and realize that you handled things better than you thought you did. You accept the outcome, and you realized you did all you could do. This allows you to see strengths, and it gives you confidence to move forward.
You’re not as essential as you think, and more important than you realized
Life truly can go on without you. At the same time, people realize the void that you fill. This builds appreciation on all sides. It’s healthy to see a church work hard on mission without you. It’s also important to help people see what you do. It’s better together, but a brief season apart helps all.
You’re a big deal to God
This is truly the bottom line. All this combined leaves you with an incredible appreciation for the grace God grants you to pastor, despite the errors and exhaustion. But that’s not the point. You get to spend more time just being with the one you work hard for. It allows you to see that “God has this, you’ll be ok.” This isn’t because you’re superman. It is because God chose to be your friend, and despite who you are and because of who you are, God loves and uses you. Time with God is THE reward of sabbatical.
The bottom line:
Pastors, going on a sabbatical is essential for your ministry. Not because you’re tired, broke, need to see strengths, or help appreciate your role. You need to go on sabbatical because you need to trust God and be with him. To draw deeply from his grace. A layman, who was initially a skeptic or critic of sabbaticals, said this: “Then I realized, do we really want a climate of pastoral ministry where we don’t help pastors meet with God.” No conference or course can take the place of our ultimate source. Pastor, you need God.
Based on actions, I find that love is the most hated concept in Scripture. Love is the most wanted yet least acted on focal point in Christianity. Often the worst perpetrators are those who scold the church for being judgmental and unloving. If we are honest with ourselves, there really is very few people who have this concept nailed down. Ironically, they most likely don’t read blogs and do much social media. Likely that’s correlation not causation. We despise love and the church would be radically different if we acted on love. Here is what I mean…
Love fights for the relationship
A friend once stated that many Christians lack the relational maturity to fight for the relationship. Personal preferences, demands for perfect justice, hurt feelings, etc drown out what the Bible instructs is love. When these occurrences arise, we blame the church for being unloving/judgmental when the person standing in the mirror is guilty. A HUGE part of love is the concept of reconciliation. In North America we can walk across the street to the next church, but biblically we often shouldn’t. Biblical love fights for the relationship.
Love is servant minded
The first offerings of the church were 100%. The Biblical patter of church giving was sacrifice and not 10%. People cringe when a discussion of money comes up and pastors often have to couch carefully the discussions on money. This is a lack of love issue. The flip side of the coin is how we invest our time. We are a very impatient and demanding society. Church leaders have to be cautious when asking people to invest time into ministry given busy schedules. When people say they are burned out, it’s often things outside of church life that is the cause. Often people will give money so as to not have to sacrifice their time. (Ask most churches about volunteering to clean.)
Love assumes the best
A significant portion of christian misunderstandings happens from people assuming the worst. The “yeah, but…” crowd is the worst offender. Their hair-trigger on being easily offended and church-correct language demonstrate this in spades. So does the last election. (Oops, a card game reference.) The social justice crowd in the church is quite guilty of this as well. In some extreme instances, people often have to prove why something is not wrong before they can teach how it is right. Bringing up the needs to act on social justice issues brings this to light. I bet many reading this are thinking: Who is T. Woznek addressing? Is he guilt tripping someone?
We need repentance
Repentance is the key. Those not guilty are the exceptions. If you find an exception, spend time with them to learn what it means to be loving. I find every church has a least a couple. Christians as a whole need to repent and realize we are not loving, as defined by Scripture. Seeing as this is the greatest commandment, a new commandment, and the most excellent way, perhaps we should be much more focused on dealing with this area of repentance.
We need sanctuary
Church is to be a safe place where people can be wrong and broken so healing may result. Often we do not what to go through the pain of making that happen. This would mean fighting for relationships, being a servant, and assuming the best in people. It means choosing forgiveness over justice, submission over arrogance, being a listener over being right. On the other side of the pain is healing and worship, because there we so how profound the Gospel is. Jesus already modeled this for us.
We need a mirror
We hate love. Some reading this will think amen and be thinking of names. Others will say this is laying on the guilt trip. A group has a whole list of “yeah, but…” while another will try and read between the lines. Theologically right of center will say Im going liberal, left of center may ask the the same. The guilty will trying to reason their way out of guilt. The offended will scoff and roll their eyes. Love takes work, it takes choosing to value people first. It means there is a lot of bridges that need to be rebuilt. It is inconvenient.
The bottom line:
Look in the mirror and read what Paul wrote about love in First Corinthians Thirteen. Jesus and the Holy Spirit invested a ton of time teaching on love because we really don’t want to be loving. We need to be. We really do want to be loving. We really what our churches to be a place of sanctuary. If it really is about Jesus, we must master this area of repentance. Jesus already died for this, demonstrated it, and gave us a road map. So, look in the mirror, repent, and why not make love the most cherished concept instead of the most hated. That would be a radical.
P.S. Ok. Who or what am I thinking about? What is between the lines? You, because in biblical love there is no catch. I think our actions speak differently than our words in how we value this concept. So, let’s repent together and be better, because change is possible.
This questions was raised recently and I thought I had blogged on it. I did, but never posted it. In today’s religious climate, much of what people can gain from going to church can be seemingly obtained from other avenues. What makes going to church unique is something that is critical for the church to rediscover.
Yeah but crowd
At this juncture someone is no doubt thinking we are the church, we don’t go to church. It is really both. I said often I need to leave a particular meeting and go to family time. That time, designated family, doesn’t mean that I’m not family when I’m apart from them. Quite the contrary, we set aside- make holy- special times for family. The same is true of church. Yes, we go to church.
Categories of Christians
Many of the non-church going Christians, or sporadic church goers fit into a few categories: naive, so-called spiritual, spiritual abuse survivors, and unspiritual. The naive suffer from a simple lack of theological development. So-called spiritual crowd border on either being heretics or idol worship of which sports is a major one. Spiritual abuse survivors stem from either over reacting to legalism of ‘if the doors are open you have to be there’ or they were traumatized to the level that a physical reaction to going to church is hard to overcome. Unspiritual are people who claim to be Christian, understand the importance of church, but choose to put other priorities over the church.
What Jesus couldn’t explain
In John 3, Jesus describes the workings of the Holy Spirit as a mystery. We know that he works, and we see fruit of his working, but not even Jesus could explain it. The Father and the Son send the Helper for our benefit. There is a critical function going to church fulfills in our relationship to God. Specifically the working of the Spirit. The Spirit’s mysterious work incorporates the Scriptures, our spirit, and the Spirit’s work in other believers, as we gather. Much of North American Christianity has a too individualistic view of the Spirit when it is clearly a corporate issue. We- the church- are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Danger, danger, danger
Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of the church family, there is a dangerous element if treated too casually. Warnings against putting out the Spirit’s fire, grieving the Holy Spirit, or lying to the Holy Spirit in worship is connected to church gatherings. Being dismissive of the Spirit in worship can, has, and does cause death or maladies. As Jesus died once for all sin, that does not mean we can do what we want. We can grieve God to the point where he sends us home.
The tension with church is this: Not going to church is a sin, but having to go to church every time the door is open is a sin of legalism. Discernment is the key. That said the sin isn’t so much in performance of church going as it is in priority. The purpose of going to church is building up other believers. It is to serve your church family. That simply cannot happen well with sporadic or non-attendance. Failure in this grieves God, much as failing to make family a priority grieves parents.
Think garden not weeds
Weeds grow organically, great, and everywhere. Gardens are organized, take time, and require nurturing. The church is a garden and not a bed of weeds. This no doubt ticks off the organic church or spiritual crowd. Organization, logic, programing is not the antithesis of spirituality, it is actually the expression of it! Order and filling are key aspects to a biblical worldview. Such is about nurturing like that of artistic expression, not the coldness of manufactured products.
You cannot be a Christian, spiritual, or have a great relationship with God, and write off the church. This grieves the Holy Spirit. Jesus died for the church. God the Father gave the church to his Son. Part of “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” is in relationship to the church. John says that if we say we love God, but hate our brother, we are a liar and the truth is not in us. Much church bashing or neglect demonstrates a lack of love for God. Answer this, how would you feel is someone consistently dissed you, neglected you, and at the same time said they loved you?
So why go to church?
Christianity is a religion based on a relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that is expressed in a family we call church. For the Christian to neglect church is a sin. There are a variety of reasons to have that sin struggle, but it is not legalistic to say one needs to be engaged in church. Church, like all families, is not about what you get but about what you give to the relationship.
Let us change the discussion from navel gazing at ‘the why’ of our problems and look to solutions. One sentence on the why of the “church” problems: Unbiblical thinking combined with lack of thought and theology leads to poor discernment and a mess. Now that the problem is out of the way, we can stop reading numerous church is blah blah blah articles. A wise professor drilled three concepts that will help us overcome: Think. Judge. Redeem.
Proverbs teaches us to be wise is to be godly. Ephesians 5&6 teaches us to be godly is to be wise. In Ephesians 4 as well as Romans 12 the Spirit points directly at the life of the mind. Christianity must work in the midst of suffering and chaos of our current world. And it does. Our fear stems from a lack of thought. Reason and faith are not opposed to one another. Our devotional life must ponder the deep questions of life as we study the Bible. Renewing our mind is a critical aspect to worship. Jesus did say we will not only worship in spirit but also in truth.
God is the source of all truth. In our current reality there is evil and suffering in the world. The question we then need to ask is how to we discern good form evil? Developing the mind is for the pragmatic result of discerning between good and evil, and between better and best. It is to, as Jesus stated, be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. This level of discernment is expected of us as Christians. (Read Hebrews 5:11-14)
Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. The world is not a mere reference to people, but all creation as well. As we discern truth from error we must answer the question of how to redeem it. As Paul states, redeeming the time for the days are evil. How can we take an object that is depraved, discern the truth of it, and then use such for God’s glory? We are not to live life as a great waiting room for heaven. We are to engage in life and assist in the process of making it new in anticipation of Jesus return. This takes courage.
Lights. Trees. Action.
Think. John talks about Jesus being the light of the world. Judge. Martin Luther, a pastor in Germany, is faced with the paganism of the people he is trying to reach. One pagan ritual was bringing in evergreen trees to celebrate the winter solstice. The people needed to move away from false religion and instead focus on Christ. Redeem. The solution was to add lights to the evergreen tree to represent Jesus as the light of the world. A tradition once tied to paganism is renewed to a symbol of an incredible truth.
Act, don’t react.
We react negatively when our mind and discernment lacks development. Worse, we act in fear. Developing the mind is a critical spiritual discipline. Discernment is essential if we are to not only speak the gospel but also live it. Redemption is a critical role we play as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. Developing the mind does not take away from faith. Truly, developing the mind bolsters the reasonableness and truthfulness of the gospel.
The bottom line:
Developing the life of the mind is a solution to help the church radiate the truth of the gospel, bless our culture, and act with gracious courage.