Monthly Archives: January 2013

Inspi(re)ality: Being a Grown-Up in Ministry

inspireality-navy

“When I was a child I thought as a I child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.” -Paul

When I first started working at a church, I was pretty set on wearing jeans to the office. And I didn’t want anyone to ever use the word “professional” to describe me. Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

And I understand the reasoning for not wanting to be a “professional” in ministry, but too often what we really mean is not being mature. So I’ve asked my friend Steven Hovater to talk about what it looks like to serve a church “professionally.”

Steven lives in Tullahoma Tennessee with his wife Kelly and three rowdy daughters. He values community, discipleship, and the creative work of God, so these things tend to show up in his preaching at the Church of Christ at Cedar Lane

Here’s Steven:

I get it. You didn’t go into ministry for the regular hours, tidy dress code, and opportunities to be an amateur accountant. You don’t see your primary work as being done at a desk, and you hate going to meetings.

Further, I get that there are good reasons for not wanting to let the secular world dictate what ministry looks like. There are good reasons that ministry should look differently than jobs molded by the pragmatic production cultures of twentieth century America. Those cultures don’t have a place for wasting time by lavishing care on widows and orphans. Nor do they honor prophets who speak truth, even when it brings the house down, nor time for stewing over a text, or listening to a problem that will remain unsolved. We cannot allow ministry to become about acquiring respect on the terms of the world. We’re not simply “employees”, and the church is never simply our “employer”. Ministers should always come to work dressed in a little camel hair, with a packed lunch of locusts. We should always be at least weird enough to remind the church that the normal world is broken. I get that, and so I want you to know that I’m with you in your struggle against The Man. Fight on, Brother/Sister. Fight on.

But…

We still need to have a little talk about what it means to be a professional in ministry. We don’t talk about it enough. Maybe it’s because of our desire to avoid being too secular for reasons like those outlined above. Or maybe we have bought into a set of old assumptions. For instance, in some corners of the church, ministers still try to maintain the impenetrable holy facades and suicidal workloads from a set of unquestioned professional expectations inherited from the last century.

For whatever reason, we often fail to engage in balanced discussions of our professional expectations. And yet, failing to describe our professional expectations and ethics never prevents those expectations from existing. Instead, it leaves those expectations to grow wild in all their conflict-generating splendor. Or, having successfully hidden ourselves in unquestionable priestly garments, we fail to meet reasonable, baseline obligations. When we do that, we foster frustrations that can eventually undo our partnerships with God’s people. Worse, we may abuse the church’s willingness to support us, thus wasting decades of holy time and thousands of consecrated dollars doing bad work in the name of God. A healthy professionalism honors our calling from God and our partnership with the church by translating the concept of being good stewards into concrete expectations and behaviors.

And so, the big question is: “What marks a healthy professionalism among ministers?” This deserves a much broader discussion, but let me suggest four commitments that can begin to form the core:

1. The commitment to doing your job with excellence, and improving over time. God has gifted you with raw talents and skills that can be used in your ministry. You are absolutely ethically responsible for making use of those gifts as well as you can. Beyond that, it is important to continually refine your capacities so that you’re not only giving God your best right now, but making sure that your entire body of work will demonstrate intentional growth. Part of ministry is encouraging people to be intentional about growing. Model that. Don’t just be a steward of the gift you already have, but what that gift could turn into.

2. A commitment to impartial service, regardless of what people can or cannot do for you, how much power they have, or how much you like them. I’m not saying you have to be the one that addresses every pastoral crises—the work has to be spread around and shouldn’t all depend on you. But, if you want to be a professional in ministry, your pastoral ministry has to be broader than your social group, influential leaders, and people who make it easy for you. This is an incredibly important professional ethic because it places a check on why you do the things you do, making your work more intentional and less dependent on your whims.

3. A commitment to a healthy work ethic that takes seriously your obligation to be a good steward of your ministry, as well as of your own health and family. By now we all know the dangers of burnout, even though some continue to recklessly ignore them. However, what I see among many peers in my generation is far, far on the other side of the spectrum, and a mix of bad work habits and laziness keeps them from doing consistent hard work. Don’t ignore your own need for rest: keep Sabbath. Don’t rob your family by taking what they need from you and giving it to the Church. But don’t rob the Church either, wasting time and calling it work. Work hard, and learn to work well.

4. A commitment to doing the little things that come with your job which are unimportant to you but not to others. I want to be careful here—all work is not created equal, and you can spend so much energy doing busy-work tasks that you leave important things undone. You can’t let people pull your priorities out of alignment. But understand: doing little things communicates big values. Showing up on time tells people that you respect them. Responding to people shows that you’re listening to them. Keeping your receipts and meeting your budget tells the accountants you respect their work and take stewardship seriously. Blowing those things off sends the opposite messages.

I’m reasonably confident that at least half of what I’ve written is completely misguided, that there are a dozen commitments that might be more important than the ones I’ve listed, and that the whole premise of this article is theologically dangerous. But Storment asked me to write to rookies, and I’m reasonably confident of one last thing: If I could have heard (and I mean really heard) something like this fifteen years ago, my work in the church would have been healthier. I hope it’s helpful to you.

God at Work: The Priesthood of Burger-Flippers

“Christian people, specifically Christian clergy must get it firmly planted in their heads that when someone is is called to a particular job of “secular” work, that is as true a vocation as if they were called to specifically religious work.” -Dorothy Sayers

“I wish I could do what you do.” -Cletis Storment (my dad)

Jesus at the office

Her name was Katherine and she was trapped in a convent, secretly writing letters to her future Romeo. She no longer wanted to be a Nun, but she couldn’t escape, so she wrote letters asking for help. Eventually Romeo rolls into town and packs up all the nuns into some empty wine barrels (like you do). He loads them up on his wagon, and takes off hauling the sisters as fast as his horses go. His name was Martin Luther, the original Protestant. He went on to marry Katherine, not for love, but in his words, “To spite the Pope.”

Nicolas Sparks eat your heart out.

But Luther did this because he was not just picking up a wagon-order bride, he did this to fight for a different idea of work.

Churches tend to overestimate their importance, and by doing so minimize their impact in the world. And history is no different than today. The Church at the time had bought into the ideas that there were some jobs that were more important than others. These were the Spiritual jobs, the ones that involved praying and studying Scripture or preaching. And then there was everything else.

But that isn’t anywhere near the story the Bible is telling.

The Fingers of God

When Genesis 1 tells us that God made humans in His Own Image, that’s royalty language of the surrounding culture. God is in effect, saying that everyone has divine blood pulsing through their veins. In fact, the Bible starts off with God shaping dirt and making it a person. It’s manual labor. And if that doesn’t convince you, think about the way Philip Jenson talks about the difference between the Judeo-Christian view of labor:

“If God came into the world, what would he be like? For the ancient Greeks, he might have been a philosopher-king. The ancient Romans might have looked for a just and noble statesman. But how does the God of the Hebrews come into the world?… As a Carpenter.”

On average, most of us will work 100,000 hours in our lives, the majority of our lives will be spent doing our job. And if the only thing you ever hear from church is about how you should work/serve/volunteer more inside the building, there’s a chance that you might miss out on how important God thinks your job is.

All through the Bible, we hear about how God does stuff like “strengthen the bars of the city gates” or how he “feeds every living thing” But one of Luther’s greatest contribution to the world was by asking the question…How exactly does God do that?

He uses blacksmiths and farmers and maids to serve the people around them. They are the “fingers of God” working in every section of the world, and they are not working secondary callings, they are the means by which God is blessing others.

They are priests.

Human Flourishing

God’s dream for the world is human flourishing. It is for us to create cultures that serve our neighbors, and helps each person live and flourish.

This is the calling of all Christians from the the banker who gives loans to the manager who flips burgers. It is the calling of the journalist who tells the story of one neighbor to another, and the teacher who helps a student understand what kind of world they live in.

The only difference between wilderness and culture, is work. And God’s call for our work isn’t to just one institution (the Church), but to serve the world in the way we’ve been called.

So When I was a kid, my dad was an assistant manager at Wendy’s. And he was great at his job. We visited him every day (explaining my pear-shaped body) and I loved watching him work. He was good with people, and his employees loved him. He was respectful and kind and he cared about the quality of food that he was serving customers.

When someone he worked with was sick, our whole family would visit them, and when someone died, we went to their funeral. He would give employees that screwed up second chances a dozen times. To this day, people still talk about the joy of working for him.

But about 2 or 3 times a year, normally after a sermon, my dad will come up to me, put his arm around me and say something like, “I wish I could do what you do.”

It breaks my heart every time.

Because I know what’s behind that. Somewhere along the way my dad heard a message that implied that his work was not serving God. That if he really wanted to please God he should work at a church, or be a missionary, but that his calling really didn’t matter.

And that’s why Martin Luther smuggled nuns out of a convent like he was James Bond. He did it for my dad and people like him all over the world.

Because God isn’t creating a community of second class citizens. He’s creating a community of priests.

My dad is a part of the priesthood of burger-flippers. God is feeding all living things, in part, through him.

He is the Fingers of God serving the world through his work.

I wish I could do that.

Everyday Idolatry: Love is God

“You’re nobody till somebody loves you.” -Dean Martin

Temple in Chennai, India

She sits in my office as her eyes dart nervously around the room, and we continue to make small talk. Eventually, her eyes settle and she tells me what she’s been dying to get off her chest. Over the past few years, she’s developed an eating disorder. The body that she had wasn’t attracting the attention she had been taught to expect, so she started making changes. She dreams of being happily married with kids, and so she started making certain sacrifices.

____________________

He stares at the picture of his old family, before placing it back in the drawer. He sincerely hopes they’re doing well, he loves his kids and misses being such a large part of their lives. He even misses his Ex. He misses the memories that they had and how they almost always knew what the other was thinking. But now that he’s met someone else, it’s hard to explain how powerful the desire he has for her. It was like nothing he had ever experienced before, she was worth certain sacrifices. And he had made them, and would continue to do so every time he placed his families picture in the drawer.

____________________

For days she had been dreading having to tell her kids that she was getting married again…she knew how they would respond. After all, they’d been down this road several times before, and they had seen this coming.  For the last month they’d been seeing the same old patterns emerge Their mom was withdrawing from her friends and family to spend most of her time with a new man. And the kids knew they were going to lose their mother one more time to another infatuation. The mother loves her kids, but she dreams of a life where someone loves and appreciates her as a wife, and for that life she’s willing to make certain sacrifices.

_____________________

When I was a junior in college, I spent a semester in Greece touring the ancient temples and ruins. We walked around the famous museums and the same ground that Paul travelled and the first Christians bled on. And we saw lots and lots of idols. Looking back, it’s ironic to me that I thought that was the first time I had seen an idol.

The truth is it was just the first time I had known I was seeing them.

Ernest Becker, in his book, The Denial of Death talks about the new development of “apocalyptic romance” We look to sex and love from another to give us a sense of transcendence. We want to be a part of a story larger than ourselves, we want to worship, and so we will.

Here’s how Becker says it:

“We still needed to feel heroic, to know that life mattered in the scheme of things. Man still wants to merge himself with some higher, self-absorbing meaning, in trust and gratitude, and if he no longer has God how else is he to do this?..The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one’s life. In one word, the love object is God…Man reached for a “thou” when the world-view of the great religious communities overseen by God died…After all, what is it when we elevate the love partner to the position of God? We want to be justified, we want to know our existence has not been in vain. We want redemption-nothing less.”

If you are to ask someone from my generation to describe God in one word, we would say God is love. And I like that description…a lot. I think the apostle John did too, but I’ve come to learn that words only mean what we want them to. And when the Christian story talks about love it already has a definition for it.

But the larger problem is that I don’t think we actually mean what we say we do. I think we are saying God is love, but what we really are trying to say is that Love is God.

Back in the day that Jesus and Paul lived in, there was actually a god of Love. Her name was Aphrodite and she was a fun god to worship and a horrible god to please.

She still is.

In her day, Aphrodite was worshipped by temple prostitutes, they were known as “sacred slaves.” She was worshipped by sexual encounters with girls who were slaves. Today we would call them brothels and we would want to kick in the doors to free those girls.

We hear about temple prostitutes and we think how primitive, but we are still making sacrifices to the same god they served.

They are the certain sacrifices that to those around us seem ridiculous and self-destructive but to us seem divine.

I’ll write more about the idolatry of love next week, but for now.. if there is one thing I’ve learned in ministry, it’s this: idol worship is never what we think it is. And it can never deliver what we think it will. I can’t tell you how many families I’ve sat with in the aftermath of “certain sacrifices.” And as sad as that is, the worst part isn’t sitting with the victims. It’s sitting with the people who’ve created them. The husband who left his family, or the mother who neglected her kids, and watching the realization dawning on them that they are in love with love. And love isn’t worth what the sacrifices they thought it was.

God is Love, but Love isn’t God.

God at Work: Mission Work

Jesus at the officeA few months ago I had a friend ask me when I was going to be going on a mission trip again.  She had gone with us on several international mission trips, and had really come alive while serving in different parts in the world. And now years later she and her husband owned a restaurant in another state, and they missed missions. Their business was successful and thriving. She loved her job, but she felt guilty about serving chicken fried steak to customers but not orphans in another country.

Sometimes I hear people say something along the lines of “No one ever thinks on their death bed, I wish I would have spent more time at the office.” And I get what I think they’re trying to say with that. I think they are trying to say that there are unhealthy work-a-holic like patterns that we need to veer away from.

But I know a lot of people who are glad that they are doing what they do with their lives, and feel like their work is one very important reason why God put them on this earth. And they’re right.

 

The Myths of Retirement

 

In the world that the Bible was written it was extremely countercultural. Specifically, it’s view of work.

Most of the Creation stories of the ancient world involved this idea that the world was created from warfare and violence, and the body of a dead god decayed into the creation. So the Greeks viewed work as a curse, they thought that what it meant to be really alive was to be uninvolved in this world.

The Greek view of work was that it was a necessary evil. They believed that in the beginning, the gods and people lived together in “a golden age” and that in that age there was no work. Work was something to be suffered through. It was a means to an end.

But Genesis, starts off radically differently. It involves a God who intentionally works and creates the world with care. In fact, the word that Genesis uses for God’s creative word is just the Hebrew word for everyday work.

The Bible starts off with God working. And then he creates Adam and Eve and immediately puts them to work And that’s important, because before the fall, there was work. God didn’t finish creation, he started it and then joins in a partnership with them as they create culture, name animals and pioneer…well basically everything.

God works with them.

And in the Christian story, this all happens before sin entered the world.

It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t have this idea of retirement. Instead the Bible has the idea of Sabbath. That is you don’t just work yourself to death until you turn 65. You work with the pace of someone who knows they aren’t the Savior and creator of the world. You rest for a season and then work for a season. But you never just decide to not work again.

In fact, the closest thing in the Bible that would resemble what we call retirement is death.

Which tends to stop most people from working.

Tim Keller points out in his book, “Every Good Endeavor” that if you ask most people in nursing homes how they are doing, they will report that they miss having someway of feeling useful to others. They miss work.

Work as Mission

I like the way that Dorothy Sayers says this:

“The Christian understanding of work…is that work is not primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties…the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

I think this is extremely important. Because the majority of time we tell ourselves a story that has a subtext that our work doesn’t matter. But our work can be the very way we partner with God the most in our lives.

And that brings me back to my friend who owns the restaurant. She had brought up the idea of going on another mission trip because I was telling her about how we had just gotten back from Nepal. I was telling her about the great ministry of the Red Thread Movement and rescuing girls from sex slavery. And she immediately felt guilty for not doing enough good in the world.

And then, 5 minutes later in the conversation, her husband started talking about a girl that they had recently hired from Africa. She was a refugee who had to come to America for asylum after being rescued from a brothel. They had taken her in, trained her to cook and serve food, and now she was a full time employee at a place that gave her dignity at a job that she enjoyed and flourished in.

And they didn’t see the irony. Because they had the wrong definition of mission.

We’ve carved up the world into mission (something that happens out there) and work (something we have to do to survive). And that misses the heart of the story the Bible is telling. God made this world and he made us to work and contribute to the good of it. That’s a part of the mission of God.

So don’t feel guilty about enjoying your job. God made you for serving Him and serving others. And sometimes that’s breading chicken breast to feed your neighbor, And sometimes that involves working to deliver someone from a sex-trafficking ring in Africa. And sometimes it’s giving that girl a job.

It’s mission work.

Loving the Dream

Dr. KingFirst a confession: I’m really good at loving people…in theory. I’ve been taught how to look empathetic, how to mimic body language and at least look like I’m paying attention. I know what you’re supposed to do or say when someone is hurting.

On paper I’m pretty good at loving people.

I’ve read lots of books about loving God and loving neighbors, and I’ve given lots of thought about how to help other people love other people.

In fact, the only problem for me when it comes to loving people, is the actual people.

I also come from a generation is very cause driven. Most of the people around my age are passionate about good causes and making a dent in the universe. I think Dr. King is partially responsible for that.

Ever since I heard the story of the civil rights movement in the 60’s I’ve been drawn to the kind of ministry and churches that are working for a more Just world. I’ve read and heard a lot of Dr. King’s sermons.

I love the dream.

But all of this is not enough. Because loving the dream is much different than Dr. King’s dream of loving.

Just a few months before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church:

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize; that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards; that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.

Now I love that Dr. King said don’t tell everyone about my Nobel Prize, or my hundreds of other awards. Because in saying that, he has in fact told them about it.

I love this because I can see myself doing something like that. (Not winning the Noble prize, just the subtle bragging.)

I love it because it makes Dr. King more human, it makes me see him more as a person. Which is the beauty of his point.

I read a survey a few years ago, that said 6% of white people in America, think that racism is still a problem. To help put that in perspective, consider this: 12% of people think Elvis may or may not be dead.

But 93% of African American people think that racism is still a problem. And, at least in the world that I grew up in, and know today, they are right. Maybe not racism the way we might think of it. Not many people I know call each other names out loud, but it’s the more insipid kind.

It’s the kind that comes that involves loving ideas more than the people that are behind them.

A couple of years ago, I started testing myself. I started looking at my calendar and cell phone to see who I was regularly interacting with. I wanted to ask myself the hard question of who am I spending my time with…really. Am I spending time with people who are only like me?   Am I living the dream? Or just loving it?

Because no idea is more important than loving people. That’s What Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to tell his church.

You can’t love the dream. You can love people.

That is the dream.

So Thank you Dr. King for trying to love someone.

Everyday Idolatry: Bleeding For Bieber

“Idol worship isn’t good for anyone. Even the idols.” -John Bach

Temple in Chennai, IndiaI don’t know if you’ve ever been to a culture that has actual idols, but it can be a bit jarring at first. People actually bowing down or sacrificing to statues or inanimate objects just seems so…weird. But the really jarring part is when you come back to your own culture, because now that you had been introduced to idol worship, you can’t help but realize that you had already been doing it your entire life.

So this has been quite the bizarre week. If a fiction-writer would’ve written the headlines this week, we would have called it over the top. College athletes with imaginary girlfriends, Lance Armstrong finally confessed, and of course the newest Justin Bieber scandal.

Now just in case you’re not caught up on your latest latest teen-idol news, a couple of weeks ago the Paparazzi saw Justin Bieber smoking something, and they immediately knew that this was media gold. So they chased him…there was a wreck…and a member of the paparazzi died.

There’s a time in 1st Kings where Elijah confronts King Ahab for worshipping idols. Specifically, Ahab has started setting up temples to the Canaanite god Ba’al all over the country, he’s been killing the prophets of the LORD but couldn’t never find Elijah and that’s when Elijah strolls in with a challenge.

He tells ol’ Ahab that today we’re going to decide today once and for all who Israel should worship. And we’re going to do that with a showdown. Basically Elijiah sets up an Old Testament cage match. He’s the Don King of prophets.

And Ahab takes him up on the offer. After all, he’s got 450 prophets of Ba’al, and there’s just one Elijah.

So they set up this showdown on Mount Carmel, there’s two dead bulls laying on an altar and the challenge is the prophets of Ba’al will pray for Ba’al to send fire down, and Elijah will pray for the LORD to send fire down.

Now the whole story is brilliant…eventually the LORD sends fire down and the prophets of Ba’al are exposed as a sham and defeated. But what I want you to notice is how this showdown played out. The Ba’al prophets go first, they set up their bull and they starting banging their false god drum, and dancing around…and look at what Elijah tells them:

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping (or in the bathroom) and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.

I love that Elijah taunts them here! Imagine the courage it takes to be outnumbered by 449 people and to say something like this. But what I’m drawn to is the way they worshiped Ba’al. They cut themselves, as was their custom. In the ancient world people bled for their gods.

We still do.

So back to Justin Bieber. Whenever the word started getting out about Bieber’s new smoking habit, someone started a site about “Cutting for Bieber” and the idea was to get all of Justin Bieber’s fans to cut themselves and put pictures up the web to get him to stop smoking. It sounds crazy.Justin Bieber Cutting

But the fans did it.

 

Thousands of pictures of teens cutting themselves started to roll in, along with comments begging Justin to change. On Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr…as was their custom.

Paul Tillich famously talks about how nobody is really an atheist. The question isn’t whether you worship or not…it’s what you choose to worship.

So this weekend I’m speaking at Winterfest, to lots of teens who are trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a world that has so many idols.. And after a week like this, I want to say to them, be careful of who you bleed for. Be careful of giving other things, even good things, the place reserved for God. I want to tell them about how easy it is to see idol worship in others, and how hard it is to see in the mirror. I want to tell them not to bleed for Bieber.

Because unless you are a teenage girl it’s probably pretty easy for you to see how crazy that is.

But…

Thursday night Lance Armstrong finally confessed to the world what we had suspected for a long time. He had cheated to become one of the most successful athletes of all times. And when his world started to crumble he had ruined those around him just to save his own reputation. He worshipped his legacy. And we worshipped him.

A few months ago I was having lunch with a guy I’ve known for years. He was going through a hard time in his marriage. His wife had looked him in the eyes and told him he was being unfaithful, not because he was having an affair with a woman, she said he was unfaithful with his time. He had been worshipping work, and she was finished waiting on him to change. He had worshipped his vocation, and it was costing him his family.

There’s lots of ways to bleed for our gods.

It’s easy to read the story of Ba’al, or teens hurting themselves for an icon, and say that’s a mistake, but it’s something we are tempted to do every day. From famous athletes to heartbroken husbands.

And it’s just as empty and hopeless today as it was then. Or as Elijah would say…

Ba’al is in the bathroom.

Inspi(re)ality: Before You Go

inspireality-navy

One of the conversations I have at least once a week, is with a minister thinking about leaving their church to go to a new church. I always refer them to Wade Hodges ebooks. Wade is the preaching minster at the Preston Road Church of Christ and for this blog series he adapted the following from his ebook: Before You Go: A Few Sneaky-Good Questions Every Minister Should Answer Before Moving to a New Church.

Last week he talked about when the right time to leave a church is, adapted from his book When to Leave. If you’re interested in purchasing both. You can  download both When To Leave and Before You Go as one ebook here.

Here’s Wade:

How Do You Know When You’ve Found The Right One?

“Every time I fall in love I feel a little sick to my stomach.  I’m going to marry the one who makes me the sickest.”-Someone Funny

“You’ll know when you know.”-A Four-Time Divorcee

In Before You Go, I spend quite a bit of time coaching readers on to how to tell if a church isn’t a good fit, rather than helping them figure out which one is the right fit. My goal in writing it was to help ministers avoid making unwise decisions, due either to lack of information about the church or lack of personal insight.

Still, the question remains: How do you know when you’ve found the right church and can celebrate saying “yes” to a great new opportunity?

It depends on what we mean by the “right” church. “Right” doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t mean trouble-free. It doesn’t mean you won’t be in for a few unpleasant surprises a couple of weeks after you’ve unpacked the moving van.

However . . .

If they have a vision based on an honest assessment of their strengths, weaknesses, and history and you can’t help but feel attracted to their vision because of your strengths, weaknesses, and history, then it may be the right church for you.

If it’s obvious they’re not looking for you to be the solution to their problems, but rather are looking for someone like you to come strengthen their team with your specific gifts, then it may be the right church for you.

If after hearing about their past mistakes, current problems, and potential difficulties, you still feel drawn to them, and maybe even worried that you would forever regret passing on the opportunity to join them on their journey, then it may be the right church for you.

If you sense that you will be loved and accepted as a broken human being who is still trying to figure out how to follow Jesus even though it’s your job to stand up and tell others about him, then it may be the right church for you.

If they are diligent in listening to and addressing the concerns of your spouse during the interview process, and if your spouse feels like they “get it,” then it may be the right church for you.

If you sense that the members of the leadership team are the kind of people you would want to be friends with even if you weren’t their pastor, then it may be the right church for you.

If you would attend the church even if you didn’t work there, then it may be the right church for you. (This one is huge. I’m amazed at how many ministers wouldn’t attend their church if they weren’t paid to be there.)

None of this guarantees you won’t end up scratching your head a few years later at the mess you’ve chosen to join. But if you ask enough of the right questions throughout the interview process, you can take comfort in knowing you’ve reduced the chances of being blindsided by something you should have seen coming.

God At Work #1: God is at Work

Jesus at the officeFirst a confession: Whenever someone hands me their business card with a Jesus fish on it, it doesn’t make me want to work with them. Actually it makes me more skeptical about the quality of their work.

And maybe I’m just being cynical but in my experience there is a correlation between those kinds of cards and less than ideal work.

But I don’t think that’s just a problem with Christian business people. It’s been a problem for churches for over a thousand years.

And it is a problem.

We’ve developed a system where a persons faith has nothing to say about where they will spend the majority of their lives. We’ve begun to believe that God is at church, but not really at work.

I’d like to start a blog series for the next few months about how our God views our work. And how God works through our work.

Did you know the first person the Bible talks about as filled with the Spirit was a guy named Bezalel, he’s not a priest or prophet. He was a skilled craftsman, the Bob Vila of the Bible.

We’ve had this idea for the past hundred years or so that the really Spiritual people are the ones who work at church (which I can see why we’d think that).

But the best way to tell whether or not we are doing our work for the Lord well, is by seeing if you are doing you’re work for the Lord well.

Somewhere along the way we bought into the idea that really Spiritual people work at the church, or at non-profits.  But the majority of Stories in Scripture aren’t about God working through the Levites, or priests. They’re about God working in accountants, or trumpet players, or carpenters.

For Example…

There’s a guy named Nehemiah in the Old Testament, and when we first meet Nehemiah he is in Exile.  But he’s doing okay, He’s the cupbearer for the King, which sounds like the easiest job ever.

But in reality he drinks the wine before the King does to make sure no one is gunning for the King’s job. And in the beginning of Nehemiah he is asking the King of Persia to let him go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall.

And the King, who seems like a nice guy, but has way too many x’s in his name says yes. So the rest of the book of Nehemiah is about men building a wall. It’s some of the more boring chapters in the Bible, they’re just filled with these random names of guys who were just stacking bricks.

In fact, look at what the text actually says:

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

They worked with the help of God.

Now this work doesn’t seem that spiritual does it? It’s just ordinary guys, stacking ordinary bricks.

And if the Scriptures didn’t come out and say it, we might never know that God was in this story. Working behind the scenes in making ordinary jobs into extraordinary vocations.

Or what about Genesis 24?

It’s a story about Abraham’s kid Isaac, Abraham wants to find his kid a wife, and since they didn’t have Eharmony yet, he does the next best thing.  He sends his servant to find a bride for his son. Continue reading God At Work #1: God is at Work

Restoration in Memphis

I love this video. And I really love this church’s vision. Josh Ross is a very good friend of mine (he’s another young preacher in Churches of Christ) and we found out last year, that our church shepherds, independent of one another, were working on very similar visions. Visions that hoped to partner with God in the Restoration of All Things.

We believe that the Kingdom of God is bigger than Churches of Christ, but that God is not done with Churches of Christ’s. And it’s exciting to see these movements of the Spirit prodding churches across the country in similar directions. Thanks Josh for sharing this video, and thanks Sycamore view for your courage to have a vision bigger than yourself!

Well Done Dr. Neller

Dr. Ken NellerThe most influential people in my life have been more humble than they should have been.

Last night, one of the people who has shaped me the most passed away of a sudden heart attack. Ken Neller was a Bible professor at Harding University. He was one of the most academically accomplished people I’d met. Everyone knew he was brilliant, but not because he let you know that.

I remember how I was preaching in Chapel on Galatians, and I took him to lunch to talk about it. I remember him talking about the Grace of God in that book, and feeling like I was hearing something that was true in the deepest sense of the word. I remember taking my Greek final and him telling me that my translation reminded him an awful lot of the NIV. I remember him talking about never cheating your family to serve the church. I remember taking his preparations for ministry class (what he called the Marry and Bury class) and him telling us that the Kingdom of God was alive and well today, and we could serve it by these practical ways of serving the local church.

He taught me how to do ministerial finances, how to do weddings and funerals and how to read the Bible. He taught me how to use redaction criticism to write a sermon, but to never say redaction criticism in one. But the greatest lesson he taught me was one that only really makes sense now.

He was teaching us about how each of us have a canon within a canon. That is, everyone who reads the Bible, privileges certain verses over others, and it’s important to acknowledge which passages we lean into. Because, he said, this will affect the way you do ministry and the way you view God.

And that’s when he told us something that has blessed me every since.

He told our class that his hermeneutical center, the verse that meant the most to him was Matthew 25:21. When Jesus tells his people Well done, my good and faithful servant.

And then Dr. Neller teared up.

Which was not what any of us in class saw coming. He wasn’t the crying type, but you could tell that this was embedded deep in his idea of what it meant to serve God and to teach.

And then Dr. Neller went on to tell us that we each had no idea what we were about to step into, the amount of criticism we would face, and the temptation that we would have to be people-pleasers, but that this was not a big enough dream to give our lives for. And then Dr. Neller said this, “When I realized that God was the only one I really wanted to please, I realized what it meant to serve a church.”  Continue reading Well Done Dr. Neller