My Advice to You This Christmas

Christmas

If I may borrow from Charles Dickens’s famous opening line, Christmas can be “the best of times, and the worst of times.” As pastors, we have them both, don’t we?

Who hasn’t cringed in September as stores drag out and display the artificial Christmas trees? Who hasn’t felt uneasy about the obligatory exchange of gifts with individuals you hardly know?

Something about those annual experiences can make them seem like “the worst of times.”

But they don’t need to be.

Learn to be a Servant, Not a Celebrity

Cleaning
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Exactly what does our heavenly Father want to develop within us as pastors? Well, rather than getting over my head in tricky theological waters, I believe the simple answer is found in Christ’s own words.

Read His declaration of His primary reason for coming:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

No mumbo jumbo. Just a straight-from-the-shoulder admission. He came to serve and to give. It makes sense, then, to say that God desires the same for us.

Flexibility and Fighting Through the Flatland Fog

Flexibility
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Are you open to change? People who make a difference can be stretched, pulled, pushed, and often changed. You heard it from me: traditionalism is an old dragon, bad about squeezing the very life out of its victims.

So never stop fighting it. Watch out for those age-old ruts!

Let’s be careful to identify the right opponent. It isn’t tradition per se; it’s traditionalism. I’m not trying to be petty, only accurate. The right kind of traditions gives us deep roots—a solid network of reliable truth in a day when everything seems up for grabs.

Among such traditions are those strong statements and principles that tie us to the mast of truth when storms of uncertainty create frightening waves of change driven by winds of doubt.

Whatever is in First Place

First Place
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If some ministry position is the god of your life, then something terrible occurs within when it is no longer a future possibility. If your ministry, however, is simply a part of God’s plan and you keep it in proper perspective, you can handle an unwanted dismissal just as well as you can handle a promotion.

It all depends on who’s first and what’s first.

Breaking the magnet that draws things ahead of God is a lengthy and sometimes painful process. But God loves us enough to wrench from our hands everything we love more than Him.

Committing to Excellence

Excellence
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Mediocrity is fast becoming the by-word of our times. Every imaginable excuse is now used to make it acceptable, hopefully preferred.

Things like . . .

  • Budget cuts
  • Time deadlines
  • Majority opinion
  • Hard-nosed practicality

These are outshouting and outrunning excellence.

Swimming Upstream

Those forces seem to be winning the race. Even for pastors. Incompetence and status quo averages are held up as all we can now expect. The tragedy is that more and more people have agreed.

  • Why worry over the small stuff?
  • Why bother with the genuine now that the artificial looks so real?
  • If the congregation buys it, why sweat it?

Are You Dreaming?

Dreams
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We dare not miss an important dimension to hanging tough. It is the thing that keeps you going. I call it a dream. I don’t mean those things we experience at night while we’re asleep.

No, by dream, I mean a God-given idea, plan, agenda, or goal that leads to God-honoring results.

Most pastors I know don’t dream enough. If someone were to ask you,

What are your dreams for this year? What are your hopes . . . your agenda? What are you trusting God for?

Could you give a specific answer? I don’t have in mind just ministry objectives or goals, although there’s everything right with those. But what about the kind of dreaming that results in character building, the kind that cultivates God’s righteousness and God’s rule in your life?

The Church: A Safe Place to Hurt

The Church
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Everybody hurts. But not everybody lives such honest and vulnerable lives that they admit the pain. Why? Because, most often, there isn’t a safe place to do so. The church should be that place (second only to the home). Regrettably, it isn’t.

I heard of a research study where psychologists discovered the top three places where average people “fake it.”

  1. We tend to put on airs when we visit the lobby of a fancy hotel.
  2. We typically fake our true feelings alongside the salesperson at a new-car showroom.
  3. Can you guess the third place we wear a mask? That’s right. In church!

Tragically, in church where authenticity should be modeled, we’ll paint on the phony smiles, slap backs, and shake hands, all the while masking what’s inside our hearts.

In reality . . . we’re hurting.

You Need 3 Individuals in Your Life

You Need 3 Individuals in Your Life
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A church as God intends it is not a gathering of people who sit back and listen to one person preach. Instead, one life touches the life of another, who then touches the lives of people in his or her sphere of influence—those whom the originator would never have known.

To make it even more exciting, those recipients, in turn, touch the lives of others also. That is a contagious ministry.

The medical profession models the idea of multiplication very well.

Is Your Church a Place of Mentoring?

Is Your Church a Place of Mentoring
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Jesus gave the church its marching orders in practical terms. You’re familiar with His words:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)

Here, in Jesus’s Great Commission to His followers, we find no greater challenge . . . and no more comforting promise. This is what Jesus meant when He told them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

But you probably have never considered the Great Commission as part of what makes a church contagious.

A Word about the Emerging Church

Areopagus6
(The Acropolis in Athens, with Mars Hill in the foreground. By Χρήστης Templar52Templar52 at el.wikipedia, from Wikimedia Commons)

When Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens and proclaimed the grace of God to the lost, he preached to a crowd of skeptics, critics, and those we might call “sophisticated eggheads.”

Rather than beginning with the Scriptures, Paul began with the created world in which these unbelievers lived in order to introduce Jesus to them. He began with their spiritual hunger and pointed them to Jesus as the satisfaction for their longings . . . and the payment for their sins. Paul even quoted a well-known pagan poet as a means of building a bridge between the lost and the Lord (see Acts 17:16–33).

A number of ministries have adopted for their churches what I call a “Mars Hill philosophy of ministry.” Modeled after Paul’s message on Mars Hill, their goal is to connect with the unbeliever, or the postmodern, or any person they would call a “seeker.” In recent years the emerging church movement has attempted to “do church” (or be the church) in a new way amidst our postmodern world. Their purpose is “missional living,” that is, to get involved in the world in hopes of transforming it. This style of ministry engages the culture in a “conversation” rather than preaching to people like a prophet. A wide range of theologies and strategies exist within this current movement. Some individuals hold to orthodox beliefs but have adopted very unorthodox ways of communication.

I have read of sermons that use language that would make most believers cringe . . . and cover their children’s ears.

Are we to minister as those in the world?