The Difficult Work of God

Difficult Work

Have you ever wondered about God? We all have at some time. Why does God act the way He does? Why doesn’t God act the way we think He should? To our minds, God is difficult to figure out. I’ve often wondered why God has been so tough on Israel. Sure Israel wandered away from God; broke His law; worshiped pagan idols; and generally lived more like the pagans of the world than as God fearers. But think about what the Jewish people have gone through over the past several thousand years of world history as a result of God’s judgment: the Assyrian captivity (northern kingdom), the Babylonian captivity (southern kingdom), 400 years of silence from God before the birth of Christ, the Roman occupation and ultimate destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., world-wide dispersion since the first century, the holocaust, pogroms, attempted annihilations, hatred, multiple wars intended to destroy the Jewish nation, and constant terrorism. Talk about shock and awe! Hasn’t God overdone it just a little bit?

Then I read this passage in the book of Isaiah: For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:7-8).

Wow! God said that His judgment of Israel is just for a mere moment and His wrath was little – but in comparison His mercy to Israel is going to be great and everlasting!

There is no comparison between His judgment (which has a Divine purpose) and His mercy. That’s why the prophet Jeremiah could state unequivocally in the middle of the book of Lamentations, This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:21-23). Even when we cannot understand God we can hold onto the truth that His mercy is far greater than His anger; that His kindness will far outweigh His judgment.

When you don’t understand why God does what He does, remember that His mercy is great and His kindness is everlasting. And that He is working in the events of your life for His glory and for your good. Trust Him and let Him build you into the image of Christ, even through His difficult work.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Secret Life of a Pastor – Part 2

Pastor

In my last blog I began a review of an article from churchleaders.com titled These Are Your Pastor’s Secrets: Read Slowly. The article shared the thoughts of a former pastor and the struggles and frustrations he faced in the ministry. I added a few personal comments to each of his points.

After reading the first blog a pastor friend sent me an email with the question, Have you gotten any hate mail yet? I have to honestly say that I have received a number of comments and they were all positive and encouraging!

Here’s part two.

6. We are often spiritually starving.

Probably the most closely guarded secret among pastors is how spiritually empty many of us are.

Like a worker at the chocolate factory who no longer likes the taste of chocolate, or the prostitute who gets no pleasure from sex, we deal with spiritual matters so much that they often no longer have much meaning for us.

Worship, for us, is a program that must be organized and executed. It’s work. It’s not for us. It’s for you.

And then, when we’re not ‘on,’ often the last thing we want to do is something spiritual. Because it reminds us of work.

We can’t read the Bible without thinking of sermon ideas. We can’t pray without thinking of leading prayers. We can’t meet with other church people without talking shop. So we’d rather play golf, or watch TV, or anything else.

Which ultimately leaves us empty. Not everyone, not always. But often.

    My thoughts

This can certainly be true and probably is often true of most pastors. However, it doesn’t have to be. Pastor’s have to guard themselves in the spiritual realm just like everyone else.

They also have to guard themselves in the physical realm. In the early years of my ministry I always felt guilty when I took a day off, or escaped for a couple of hours from the pressure. I’ve learned, however, that much of my spiritual emptiness came about as a result of my physical emptiness. Few men can grow spiritually when they are exhausted physically. So I’ve tried to maintain a balance. Sometimes that means that I don’t do everything everyone thinks I should do at exactly the time they think I should do it. I understand that. I also understand what I need to do to be the most effective. It’s a delicate balance.

7. We are sinful, no different than you.

We don’t just think about sinning. We aren’t just tempted to sin. We commit sins.
The same kind you do. Believe it.

But also understand that this doesn’t make us less qualified to talk to you about sins, but more.

If you’ve ever sat in the pew and heard a pastor rambling on about temptations and sin and thought, “Whatever, there’s no way she understands what I’m dealing with,” think again. It’s very likely that she does, first hand. And that what she’s saying comes from her own life, not just from a book.

    My Thoughts

Yes pastors are human and struggle with everything you struggle with. All I can say is pray for your pastor.

8. We are lonely, because it’s hard to trust.

Pastors often have trust issues.

As well they should. All pastors have heard stories about Reverend so-and-so who confided in someone in his church about his addiction to whatever, only to have that person tell the elders about it, which ultimately got him fired.

It happens. We know it does.

So every time we interact with you, even if it’s in a prayer group or some very intimate setting, we’re not 100 percent open. We can’t afford to be.

It’s not your fault, it’s not our fault, it’s just a bad system that doesn’t allow pastors to be as human as it should. You can’t fix that, but you can have understanding and compassion for the man or woman who loves and serves you week after week, who counsels you and hears your confessions, and yet often has nowhere to go to get the same healing and relief.

    My Thoughts

I agree with the first part of this point but not necessarily the second part. It’s not always about trust. Yes, there is a lonely side to the pastorate. Some of it is self-imposed; some of it is the nature of the job; some of it is, as the writer said, trust issues; some of it is fear (for a number of different reasons); some of it is our personality. Different pastors handle it in different ways – each one has to figure out what works for him.

9. Ministry is a hard job.

Sometimes it’s said as a joke, sometimes it’s said in anger, that ministers don’t work very hard. That it’s a cushy gig.

If that were true, I doubt I’d know so many ministers who have quit, swearing never to return, including myself.

The best way I can think to explain why ministry is hard is to compare it to being the parent of a young child. From the outside, it might not look like a lot of ‘work,’ but from the inside, it’s the most exhausting thing you’ll ever do.

Because it’s not just about the amount of things you do, it’s the total emotional drain of it. It’s worrying all day every day about the people and programs you’re in charge of, being on call and not ever feeling really free to be away, feeling like you live in a fishbowl with hundreds of eyes watching you all the time and never really knowing what they are all thinking of you (unless they complain, which some of them do with regularity).

It’s caring for people to the point that you have nothing left for your own family when you get home, yet expecting that they show a certain spiritually-put-together face to the church (because the church expects that). It’s often feeling empty, yet pretending to feel full. It’s presenting yourself and your work to hundreds of people, several times a week, for evaluation, and often getting no feedback except ‘constructive’ criticism.

And after all of this, after years of this, it’s looking out at the people in your church and seeing little or no change. Ministry is very hard, albeit perhaps in a different way than your job is hard.

    My Thoughts

This is one of the writer’s observations that is true of every pastor I know. I don’t need to add anything except to ask you to read it again.

10. We are more sensitive than you probably think.

Most ministers I know have one or two people in their congregations who send them stinky emails weekly, and another 10 or 15 who can be counted on to complain about things about once a month.

Then, of course, there are a handful of the angels, who hug and love and say encouraging things every week.

But guess what. The people who complain are far more thorough and specific and persistent than those who encourage, and they are the voices that keep us up at night feeling bad about ourselves, wondering if we suck at this.

Most ministers have skin that is way thinner than their congregants think it is. We have to be open and sensitive to you, because it’s you we are charged with caring for. This means that the things you say to us can reach far deeper inside than they could otherwise.

If you need to criticize your minister for something, please just be aware of this. Tread carefully, and with a lot of love and appreciation for her vulnerability. We are not above correction. Nobody is. But please make the extra effort to wrap it in as much care as you can.

    My Thoughts

It’s true. Pastor’s have feelings just like everyone else. We want to be loved and appreciated. We don’t like being criticized. It’s been my experience that the criticizers are the minority. The vast majority of people in the churches that I’ve been privileged to serve have been supportive.

There are, however, people in every church who feel at liberty to criticize and complain about the pastor. As if it is their right. They are not the spiritual people in the church. Pastors need to surround themselves with the godly people and pray for the others. But don’t let the others determine your value as a pastor.

11. We care about you more than you can imagine.

The best moments of being a pastor for me, by far, were the times the ministers would gather for staff meetings and talk about the week ahead.

Did we discuss worship and youth outings and air conditioning and budgets? Sure, for maybe 20 minutes.

And then for three hours we’d talk about the people we were serving, what’s going on in their lives, and how we might help them.
I always wished the whole church could be in those meetings and just see how much these people care, how much their hearts break for them, how much time and emotional energy they spend wanting to help them.

Those meetings are my most sacred memories of church, because those were the moments when I saw men and women who had every reason not to care, to phone it in, to even be resentful. And yet, in spite of all of it, at the end of every day, they still cared, sometimes to the point of tears.

You might have no idea how much.

    My Thoughts

It’s interesting that the writer put these last two points together. Because it is the people he described in #10 that are the hardest to care about (#11). It’s easy to care about most people in the church. It’s really difficult to care about some. This may be the hardest part of the ministry. When you pray for your pastor you can add this to your list.

I hope that these thoughts – both his and mine – have been helpful to you. Every Christian has a relationship with their pastor. A good relationship is built on understanding. The writer has tried to help all of us get a better understanding of the stress and pressure a pastor faces which should help to strengthen the relationship.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Secret Life of a Pastor – Part 1

PastorBeing a pastor is an interesting job. Sometimes it’s rewarding, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you want to quit, sometimes you revel in the joy. Sometimes you see spiritual progress in the lives of people, many times you don’t. Some days you wonder if God really knew what He was doing when He led you into ministry, sometimes you’re confident that He has a plan.

It’s complicated.

Recently an article was published on churchleaders.com with the title These Are Your Pastor’s Secrets: Read Slowly. Written by a former pastor it detailed many of the frustrations that pastors struggle with.

And why so many pastors leave the ministry.

The dangers in republishing an article like this are many:

-everyone will think that there are problems in my church

-someone in my church will take it personally and become angry

-people will think that I’m fishing for compliments

-it will embarrass my wife or children

I realize that I can’t totally avoid these dangers. And that even if I give a disclaimer some people will read more into this than they should. But this is much bigger than me or my church and many people outside my church read this blog. In fact there are more people outside my church who read this than there are inside.

So this is for all of us.

I also know some people think that they know everything about their pastor – what he’s thinking; why he responds to you the way he does; how he feels. Trust me, you have no idea. After reading this I hope that you’ll have a little better idea.

So much more could have been said by the author and I’ll try to resist the urge to expand too much on what he has written. However at the end of each point I’ll add some of my own thoughts in italics. I’ll mark it clearly so you’ll be able to tell what is the author’s and what is mine.

Because of the length of this article I’ll split it into two blogs, one this week and the second one next week.

So for those of you who are either curious or brave enough, here’s Part 1 of These Are Your Pastor’s Secrets: Read Slowly

“My dad was a minister in a church. My uncles were ministers. My cousin’s a minister. About 30 of my best friends are, or were, ministers.

I was a minister, until I quit seven years ago. Probably forever.

It’s difficult being a minister. In the hard times, I always felt like many of the people in the church didn’t really understand us. Where our hearts were, how we were feeling, what our intentions were, how best to help us help the church. Which often felt dysfunctional.

And I spent a lot of my down time thinking about a list of things I wish the church understood.

But while I was in the position, saying them would have sounded only like whining. Or it would have been uncomfortably vulnerable.

Now that I’m seven years removed from ministry, with no chance of returning, I want to offer some of these things to you who attend church regularly, hoping that they might be received in a different, more constructive spirit. I’ve really got nothing invested here any more, except love and respect for my brothers and sisters who do this for a living. And a hope that I can make someone’s life just a little better.

A disclaimer is in order. I ran these by a large handful of ministers this week, and most of them said something akin to ‘Yes, exactly!’ But there were one or two who responded saying that they’ve had a different, better experience with ministry, and that most of these don’t apply to them. But I think it’s fair to say that about nine out of 10 ministers relate strongly to most of what’s here.

It might also be weird that I’ve written them in the first person, as though I’m currently a minister. I’m not. But since I was born and bred and trained for it, and since I did it for so many years, I’m placing myself back into the fold for this post. Most of it comes from my own personal experience anyway.

So here’s what your minister wishes you understood. Give it a read, give it some thought and give him or her a bigger hug than usual tomorrow morning.

1. Our greatest fear is irrelevance.

It’s not losing our jobs, hurting your feelings or accidentally saying the F word during a sermon.

Those fears are there. But they are nothing compared to the nagging fear that what we say and do is making zero difference in your life.

That you are only showing up to church because of habit, or obligation or mental illness. That we are laying ourselves bare to write and deliver a sermon every week that nobody is hearing.

If your pastor has made an actual difference in your life ever, by word or deed or example or friendship, take some time this week to let him or her know, in as much detail as you can. You cannot imagine how far that will go.

My thoughts

I can relate to this. Pastors are pastors because they want to make a real difference in people’s lives. It’s not for the money (God knows!). It’s not for the fame. It’s not to live a comfortable life. It’s because we believe that teaching the Word of God can make a real difference in people’s lives. Yet we rarely see the difference. And we won’t know unless you share it with us.

I’m not fishing for compliments. I would just like to know that what I spend my life doing actually makes a difference in someone’s life. Anyone’s life.

And I take it very seriously when God says that I will give an account to Him for the people in my church (Hebrews 13:17). Frankly that terrifies me.

2. We are mama’s boys. 

Apologies to the female pastors, this one’s just about the guys. I’ve read studies that higher than 80 percent of male pastors say they are much closer to their mothers than their fathers.

This has a lot of implications, and it explains why we’re more likely to play an instrument than fire a gun, have coffee with a friend than watch a game, read a book than restore an old Mustang. It also means that nobody in the church gets our attention as much as the old ladies, who can make or break our day with a kind word or a disapproving scowl.

When you’re dealing with your male pastor, keep in mind that he’s more likely to speak the language of nurture over discipline, collaboration over competition, forgiveness over punishment. These aren’t things he learned in seminary, these are things he learned in diapers.

My thoughts

OK, anyone who knows me, knows that I’d rather fire the gun, watch a football game and restore the Mustang (although I do like to read a good history). So even I don’t relate to this point very well – sorry.

3. She or he sees you when you’re sleeping.

Some people in the pews think there’s a two way mirror between them and the pulpit, that they can see the pastor but the pastor can’t see them.

Wrong. We see you yawn, look at your phone, whisper something into your wife’s ear. Sleep.

Which is fine. If we’re boring, it’s not your fault, it’s ours.

But just be aware that we see you, and that if you can manage to at least look like you’re a little more interested, it might actually feed some energy back to us and give us more zing. Energy goes two ways.

My thoughts

I’ve been blessed in both my churches to have most people at least look like they’re interested in what I have to say. There is the occasional sleeper, but most people listen.

All I can say is thank you!

4. We think about quitting a lot.

Behind closed doors, most ministers talk about moving on with regularity.

The job is hard in a way that people who’ve never done it cannot understand. Not physically, or even mentally. But emotionally, it can wreck you. I don’t fully understand why, although I have theories.

But just know, when you’re choosing how to interact with her or him, that your pastor is probably hurting and tired and wishing she or he could quit. And that, in most cases, the only thing keeping him or her there is a sense of love and obligation to you. Be gentle, sensitive and grateful for that.

My thoughts

Thankfully this has not been my experience – at least not most days. While I don’t think a lot about quitting, I do think a lot about why I’m not more effective; why I can’t motivate people to be more godly; why our church isn’t making more of an impact for Christ.

5. We envy people who can be themselves. 

We wish we could cuss or mess up without it making headlines. We wish we could be enthusiastic about a hobby without people raising their eyebrows about how much time and money we’re spending on it. We wish we could make angry political remarks on Facebook.

You know, all the things that you feel free to do all the time.

You want us to be human, but not too human. Believe me, we know. And it’s probably for the best that we are charged with setting a good example, it makes sense. But just know, we sometimes envy your freedom to just be yourself.”

My thoughts

This is not only true of the pastor but of the pastor’s wife and children. Everyone has certain expectations of the pastor’s family. Expectations that no one has of your wife or family.

Even if you can’t let the pastor just be human, please don’t put expectations on his wife or children that you don’t want someone putting on your wife or children. Remember, you didn’t hire my wife or children. Whatever they do in the church they are volunteers just like you. Please give them space. Don’t impose your expectations for me onto them.

OK, back to me. I hope this was enlightening. It has been my experience that most people in the churches that I’ve been privileged to serve are kind and supportive. However, I think that this is still helpful, even if it’s just to give you an insight into the life and mind of a pastor.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Shocked by Heaven

Orientation2

I’ve been taking teams to Haiti for 27 years. We often travel with a mission named Reciprocal Ministries International. They’ve been helping teams go to Haiti far longer than I’ve been going. You can learn more about them at their website – www.rminet.org .

Going to any Third World country is difficult. It’s not a good idea to just jump on an airplane and go without first having a good plan. Part of a good plan includes some orientation sessions so you know something about the country, the people, the culture, the weather, the customs, what you can do and what you shouldn’t do etc, etc. Fortunately for us, RMI has put together an excellent orientation package and we spend 12-16 hours with each team learning about Haiti. The goal is to prepare people so they will be ready when they arrive. It cuts down on culture shock. It makes everyone more efficient with the little time they have to minister. It allows people to better process what they see and experience.

One of the things you need to know about ministering in Third World countries is that you need to be flexible. The only thing that you can count on is that you can’t count on anything going according to plan. So. Be. Flexible.

You see the most important thing about ministering in another culture is not what you learn about the country and the people you will go to – it’s what you learn about yourself. Who you are. What kind of person you are. What kind of Christian you are. If you are flexible, you can survive in a place like Haiti without all of the knowledge you would gain in an orientation session.

However, my experience has been that the better prepared a person is the less problems they will have. Their transition into another culture will be relatively smooth and easy. That’s because they have learned something about themselves in the process and have prepared themselves. On the other hand the person who isn’t prepared, because they didn’t take the orientation sessions seriously, hurt themselves, the ministry and ultimately the team.

Those thoughts led me to this (it’s not a perfect analogy but you’ll get the point). Christians need some orientation for Heaven. After all you’ll be there a lot longer than the average short-term missions trip. The more you learn about heaven now the better prepared you will be. I can’t prove this but I wonder how many Christians are going to experience some kind of culture shock when they get to heaven because they weren’t prepared.

But more important than learning about Heaven is learning about yourself. Learning who you are as a person. As a Christian. That’s why so much space is devoted in the Bible to issues like how you live. There are over 40 references in the Epistles about how the Christian is to live using the term walk. For example:

Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called (Ephesians 4:1)

That you might walk worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10)

In fact the theme of the Epistles is how we are to live out our faith. That’s because God is more interested in who you are than in preparing you for heaven (and He’s certainly doing that). If you are the kind of Christian He wants you to be here, you won’t be shocked when you get there. In fact, it will be a relatively smooth and easy transition for you. Your orientation will prepare you for life as well as heaven.

The key place where your orientation sessions take place is in Church. Yes, you can read the books about Haiti and get some benefit from them. But you will be much better off working through the material with people who have more knowledge of the culture.

And you can read your Bible and learn a lot about both heaven and how to live out your faith. But there is some benefit to gathering with God’s people and working through the material. The writer of Hebrews had that in mind when he wrote we should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer (Hebrews 10:24-25). That happens in the Church.

Christians who approach church attendance casually hurt themselves, hurt the ministry, and hurt the team. But more importantly, they’re not prepared for life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Don’t Expect God to Make Everything Right

God on the Mountain

Linda Randall popularized the song God on the Mountain. If you’ve never heard her beautiful voice you can listen to her sing it here. I’ve mentioned this song in some of my previous posts – it’s got a great message of encouragement.

My wife was part of a duet that sang it at our church this past Sunday. The chorus of the song says:

For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.

There’s always been one phrase of the song that bothered both me and my wife. It’s the phrase when things go wrong, He’ll make them right. I know that ultimately God will make everything right. But I don’t think when most people hear the song they’re thinking long-range. They want God to make it right and to do it now. And if that is how people understand this song aren’t we offering them a false message and a false hope?

The reality is that God doesn’t always make things right in the short-term. In fact He may not make them right in our lifetime. He didn’t make everything right for the unnamed heroes in Hebrews chapter 11. He didn’t make everything right for countless missionaries through the centuries who have been martyred for their faith. When we expect God to make everything in life right we’re missing the point of our faith

So with apologies to the author (Tracy Dartt) and to Linda Randall who made it so popular, our duet made a slight change in the wording of the song. Instead of singing when things go wrong, He’ll make them right, they sang when things go wrong live by faith not by sight.

After all that is the defining mark of a Christian – living by faith. Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). And he says explicitly in 2 Corinthians for we walk (live) by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). That’s who Christians are; it’s what they do.

The Christian life is not waiting for God to make right the wrongs of our lives. It’s not even wanting God to do make them right. That’s living by sight; by what we can see. We’re to live by faith; by what we can’t see but know to be true. So when life goes wrong we show our faith, not by asking God to make everything right but by trusting God even when we can’t see and we don’t understand. That’s faith (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t expect God to make everything right. If He does it’s called grace and you can be thankful. But if He doesn’t we still need to live by faith.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

When God Isn’t There

Where-is-God-

I recognize that this title states an impossibility – there’s never a time when God isn’t there. He’s always there whether or not we sense His presence. But there are times in life when it seems like God isn’t there. Times when we struggle with a God who is silent. What do we do then? I think there is a clue in Psalm 13. If you haven’t read it in a while, stop now and read it before you read the rest of this blog. It’s short.

Psalm 13 is a lament written by David. And he doesn’t mince any words getting to the core issue: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever (Vs 1)?

For David it seemed like God wasn’t there or at least that God had forgotten him. Just in case God didn’t get the idea David followed that question up with another: How long will You hide Your face from me (Vs 1)? In that culture when the king hid his face it meant that he withheld his blessing. David was feeling left out by a God who seemed to be absent from the details of his life.

The result of God’s disappearing act (at least that was how David saw it) was that David had a sense of being on his own in life without anyone, especially God, to help him. Ever been there? Ever felt as if God had gone AWOL and you were on your own? That’s where David was. In fact he was so alone that he thought that this might literally be the end (Vs 3).

So what’s the answer? When you feel like God isn’t there for you and you’re on your own – what do you do?

David doesn’t end the Psalm without giving us three simple things that every Christian needs to do when it seems that God isn’t there.

1. Keep Trusting in His Goodness

But I have trusted in Your mercy (Vs 5).

Even though he was going through a spiritual desert, David determined that the one thing that was always true was God’s goodness and he could trust in that.

Trusting in God’s goodness is saying, God I’m going to choose to believe that You are good to me even when I don’t see any evidence of Your goodness. It’s putting Truth before feelings. It’s putting what you know is right before what you feel is wrong.

2. Keep Rejoicing in His Salvation

My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Vs 5).

Rejoicing is difficult when you think God is ignoring you. But that’s what David resolved to do.

Rejoicing in His salvation is saying God I’m going to rejoice in what I know is true because if you can save me, you can take care of me. Do you really think that we have a God who has gone to such great lengths to save us only to turn His back on us?

And even if He isn’t doing anything that we can identify right now, isn’t the fact that He saved you enough evidence of His presence?

3. Keep Remembering His Blessings

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me (Vs 6).

Remembering has great value. It encourages. It gives hope. It stirs our emotions. It reminds us that God IS there and that He CAN help us.

Remembering His blessings is saying God I know that if you blessed me in the past you can and will bless me in the future.

It’s affirming that God is interested in your life and that without Him life would a lot worse than we think it is.

Trusting in God’s goodness, rejoicing in His salvation and remembering His blessings are all acts of Faith. It takes faith to trust God when you can’t sense His presence. It takes faith to rejoice in the fact that God saved you when He doesn’t seem to be around. It takes faith to remember His blessings when it doesn’t seem like He’s blessing you now.

So the next time you think that God isn’t there, follow David’s lead.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thought-Provoking Observations

Silhouette-question-mark

If you’ve read my blog for very long you know that I occasionally reblog (is that even a word?) something I’ve read that I think is worth passing on.

The following was written by Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto Canada. He’s one of a group of pastors that I call the young guns. They’re young, energetic, passionate pastors, mostly under the age of 40 who are making a noticeable difference for Christ.

I think you’ll find his article enlightening even if you don’t agree with him on every point.

I’ve had to remove many of his links so if you want to follow them, you can find his original blog at http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/07/5-stupid-things-the-church-needs-to-stop-doing-to-make-progress/. Just clip and paste it into your browser.

So here it is, weird Canadian spellings, thought-provoking title and all.

5 Stupid Things The Church Needs to Stop Doing to Make Progress

The church has more than its share of critics these days.

Sometimes the criticism is unwarranted. People project their issues onto a congregation or onto the church, which is never healthy.

And, of course, the church will inevitably run into criticism.

What we’re doing is counter-cultural and will never be met with universal applause. The Gospel, even when powerfully shared, got John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, Jesus and the prophets killed, just to name a few.

While it seems strange to say it, even love, when seen fully and magnificently, gets rejected.

But other times we absolutely deserve the criticism that comes our way.

Often these days, it seems, we’re not ridiculed or persecuted because we’re fighting nobly. Nope, sometimes we just shoot ourselves in the foot.

Here are 5 things that, in my view, would help the mission of the church become more authentic and more effective if we could just stop doing them.

1. Being So Weird Online

Too many Christians come across online as either

Toxic (Hello angry ranters, trolls and haters);

Cynical (Yes, we know you’re disappointed with everyone all the time and no one gets it as right as you); or

Syrupy (So sweet we can’t stand the taste and are not really sure you live in the real world)

Why do so many Christians think their social media feed is a place to show the world their weirdness?

It gives the impression that if you’re going to follow Jesus you also need to become socially awkward.

I know people might say “no, I’m just being authentic”. But being authentic does not mean being weird.

I think a general rule is if you can’t imagine saying it in real life to a person, you shouldn’t say it online.

If you go to post something and you think, well, that would be braggy if I said that to someone, that’s a healthy check. It means you’d be bragging. So don’t post it.

Similarly, if you think “Well, people would just walk out of the room if I said that in real life,” then maybe don’t say it.

If you’re always angry or cynical or all you do is complain online and you think “well, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that in real life,” then that’s a clue that maybe you shouldn’t say it, or be like that.

And if you think “well, then I’ll have nothing to post,” then you’ve likely put your finger on a deeper issue.

Christians, let’s just stop being so weird online, okay?

2. Commenting on Politics

Part of the weirdness is political.

God is not a Republican or a Democrat, or in my country, a Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat. Nor is God an independent.

God is God.

When your church becomes a mouthpiece for a political party, you cease to be the church.

Your job is to share the Gospel, not to change the government.

As I shared in more detail here, Jesus and Paul spend surprisingly little time trying to influence the government. Jesus completely rejected the idea of becoming the government when people asked him to become their political leader.

I know some will say “well, God has opinions about things happening today”.
I’m sure he does.

But when authentic Christians sincerely share different views on subjects, we should be very careful about speaking for God.

And, after all, when God happens to have all the same opinions you do, you’re probably not even worshipping God anymore.

You might be worshipping yourself.

3. Handling Conflict So Poorly

The church should be the best in the world at handling conflict. We were taught by Jesus exactly how to do it.

Yet we often side step. We gossip. We talk about other people rather than to people.

We avoid conflict. Or we run into it like a bulldozer claiming we’re all about truth.

If we just handled conflict humbly, gently, introspectively and bravely, we would be so much better.

If you really want to see how to restore someone in love, listen to this message by Andy Stanley on judgment and helping others who are sinning. It’s brilliant.

If we handled conflict more healthily, our churches would be so much healthier.

And a healthy church is a church that can help other people get healthier.

4. Ranking Sin Selectively

Christians have become fairly good at focusing on the moral failings of others while ignoring their own.

We pretend that the worst sin you can commit is sexual. And—don’t get me wrong—sexual sin has serious implications.

But so does gossip. And divisiveness. And quarrelling—sins Christians routinely ignore. Mostly because we commit them.

I would suggest that just as many congregations have been ruined by gossip, divisiveness and quarrelling as have been stained by sexual sin. But you’d never know it given the way we talk about sin.

I’m all for surrendering our sexuality to Christ. But I’m also all for submitting our propensity to gossip, our divisiveness and our quarrelling to Jesus and dealing with that seriously.

Imagine what the church might look like if that happened.

And we haven’t even touched gossip, gluttony or envy yet, all things with which Christians routinely self-medicate their pain.

Maybe if Christians humbly confessed their sins first, the world would be more likely to come to terms with their sins.

So here’s an idea. Instead of pretending someone else’s sin is worse than your sin, confess your sin.

You’ll be in such a better place if you do that. And so will they.

You might actually be able to help them.

5. Judging Outsiders

This is a pet peeve of mine.

As I outlined here, we in the modern church have largely ignored Paul’s injunction to stop judging non-Christians. Even Jesus said he didn’t come into the world to judge it, but to save it.

I completely get the urge to judge our neighbours and even the world. Things bother me too.

But I have to refrain. Our faith in Christ demands it.

Before ministry, I was a lawyer. In first year law, I remember having a crisis because I couldn’t imagine representing a client I believed might be guilty.

I stayed after class one day to talk to my criminal law professor about it. He assured me of a few things. First, if your client tells you he’s guilty, you can’t ethically enter a non-guilty plea.

That made me feel better.

But then he told me that almost every client says they’re not guilty.
I got nervous again.

“Well what if you think he’s guilty but he says he’s not…doesn’t that put you in a horrible bind?”

I’ll never forget his answer.

“You’re confusing you’re role, Carey. You’re not the judge. You’re his lawyer. Your job is —ethically, morally and legally—to give him the best day he can possibly have in court. The judge will decide whether he’s guilty or not.”

I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.

So Christians, the world has a judge. And it’s not you.

He’s fairer than you. More just than you. More perfect than you. And far more accurate.

In the meantime, do your best to help reconcile your brothers and sister in the world to their heavenly father through Christ. That’s your job.

Take some comfort in that. And for all these reasons and more, stop judging.

Some good advice.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve