Do Things That Don’t Need a Vote

vote

Do Things That Don’t Need a Vote.

While in seminary, I was given a book written by Dr. Paul Powell, former pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, TX.  The book was called “Shepherding the Sheep in the Smaller Church.”  There was a little hidden gem in the back of the book that I have never forgotten.

Dr. Powell encouraged anyone shepherding a smaller (or any size) church to do things that didn’t need a vote.  He encouraged pastors and ministers to do the little things that didn’t need money or permission to be done.  Little things that as a pastor no one could say yes or no to like starting a small group in your home or visiting shut-ins.

Over the years in ministry I keep going back to that little mantra – “do things that don’t need a vote.”  I have added a few other suggestions to my list like…

1.  Send hand-written thank you notes.  Those still catch a surprised and grateful eye.

2.  Send small group leaders a mid-week encouragement email as they are studying for Sunday.  Their study and teaching preparation is as important as yours.  Don’t you love it when someone writes/calls and says “I’m praying for you as prepare.”  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It goes a long way.

3.  Personally invite people to come to your church.  Invite your friends.  Invite your family.  For me, I invite my students all the time.  When you brings guests, it encourages others to do the same.

4.  When preaching, communicate vision and direction in where you see the Lord moving.  Tell your people what you see happening.  While the church newsletter or blog is fine to share vision dates and details, your “face-time” on Sunday morning should be used wisely in casting the direction.  You only have their undivided attention for the first 5 minutes of the message, make it count in moving the ship forward.

5.  Pray for people who come to the altar by laying on hands.  If you believe in the power of prayer (as I do), encourage your people by praying over them.  If possible, invite some others to join you in praying for their needs.  There is nothing more unifying and humbling.

6.  Walk the isles before worship and spend time with your people.  Dr. Ken Hemphill called the 10 minutes before worship the 10 most important minutes in ministry.  Don’t seal yourself off in your office or “green room.”  Be among your sheep.  Talk with them.  Visit with them.  Sit down and pray for them if they ask you to.  Trust me, they all know you are thinking about the sermon and the service, but you have been called to be their “pastor”, not their professional Bible teacher or speaker.  A pastor spends time among their sheep.

I could go on and on.

I feel like church leaders, especially in smaller or mid-sized churches, feel as if they have limited authority in leadership.  While there might be policies and procedures in place for spending larger amounts of money or specific steps to take in securing prime real estate on the church calendar, there is much ministry that can be done without any red tape.

Spend your energies doing those little things that don’t need a vote and you will find greater success in your overall ministry leadership.

Serving from a Place of Fear

fear

Serving Christ from a place of fear.

Over the past several months, I have had numerous conversations with pastors, ministers, and key denominational leaders in various leadership positions.  These are men and women I highly respect and admire for their calling, their efforts to expand the Kingdom of God, and their passion to make Jesus’ name great.

But there is also something that worries me and brings me pause. Many of these amazing Christian leaders are serving from a place of fear.

There is a place within their hearts that are always cautious, afraid, anxious, and nervous about what people will think, what people will say, how people will respond.  This fear makes them second-guess everything they do and never feel as if their work before the Lord is satisfactory.

I have personally struggled with this type of fear (especially when I was on full-time church staff).  Honestly, it is strange to be afraid of the people you are trying to serve.  Are shepherds afraid of what their sheep will think about them?  I sincerely doubt it.

Yet when this fear sits in, there is no confidence and contentment in knowing you are doing the best you can with the resources you have, even though that is exactly what you are doing.  Instead you feel like you are constantly on edge waiting for the next criticism, the next complaint, the next condescending letter to come in.  You feel like you are always looking over your shoulder for someone to stab you in the back.  It is a terrible, gripping feeling.

As I reflect on these conversations and my own experience with this fear, my heart and soul goes to the Word of Life.  I think about the VBS theme verse for last year: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Great words from the Apostle Paul to a young man with a big responsibility of leadership.  But even beyond this sometimes over-used verse, I think about Paul’s words to the Galatians about himself.

He writes: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ?” (Galatians 1:10)

Could it be that when we continually bow down and seek the approval of man, we no longer, therefore, serve Christ?  Are these two approvals, that of people and that of Jesus, in opposition to one another.

I have found the approval of man to be so fleeting.  One minute you are everyone’s hero; the next you are everyone’s enemy.  But Jesus is not so fickle.  He is not so easily swayed.

He knows your heart, more than just your actions.  He knows your intentions and motivations, more than just the results.  Jesus sees your effort, even when things don’t come together rightly.   Shouldn’t He be the only one we seek approval from?

In the end when we’ve finished this race called life, no person from any church or any event is going to judge our service to the King, only Jesus will.  Maybe that knowledge will give us the kind of courage to serve not from a place of fear, but from a place of unflinching faith.

What I’ve Learned About KidMin While On the Road with LifeWay

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VBS Preview Event in Ridgecrest, NC

For the last several weeks, I have been on the road with LifeWay Kids training VBS leaders from around the country and North America.  We have traveled to North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and will be in Florida this weekend.

There have been VBS leaders from every state in the union including Alaska and Hawaii and from our neighbors in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

Once everything is finished, we will have trained nearly 6000 VBS leaders who will in turn train another 70,000+ leaders who will host and lead 3 million boys, girls, teens and adults in VBS this year.  I am overwhelmed by the power of multiplication and the enormous influence VBS has on Kids Ministry around the world.

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VBS Preview Event in Nashville, TN

Over the last few weeks of ministry, I have learned several important truths about those who lead and serve in Kids Ministry around the nation.

I have learned that…

1.  THEY ARE PASSIONATE.  These servant-leaders are absolutely passionate about their own personal faith in Christ and the work assigned to them by God in serving kids and families.  They are willing to do whatever it takes to help the next generation know Jesus and grow in Him.  Their passion and vitality is infectious.

2.  THEY ARE HARDWORKING.  These leaders go the extra mile and often do it without any appreciation or recognition.  Without exception, Kids Ministry is the largest people and volunteer network in the church.  It is usually the most demanding with all sorts of different needs among different age groups.  It is usually the most under-funded, yet all the while it is the single most effective evangelistic tool the church has at its disposal.  These leaders get it done week after week, year after year and I applaud them.

3.  Lastly, THEY ARE HUNGRY FOR HELP.  When a KidMin leader attends a training session, they sit on the edge of their seats hungry for any tip, any suggestion, any instruction we can give.  They take page after page of notes.  They listen with their eyes and ears and hearts wide open.  They are starving for anything that will help them lead better.

I have taught similar sessions for pastors, ministers and deacons and I promise you the sessions are not the same.  I am not slamming pastors (goodness, I am one), but the intensity level is not nearly the same as these KidMin leaders.  Pastors tend to generally appreciate the training but all the while are checking their phones, day-dreaming, catching up on some sleep, and running back and forth to the lobby to take a call.  Not so with the KidMin leader.  This is their chance to be equipped and they are in it full on.

My heart and soul goes out to these 6000 VBS leaders.  In the months ahead, they will labor to get volunteers, make preparations, decide about budgets, argue with the church maintenance staff, stay up late, get up early, all to share the love of Christ with kids and families.  We know their labor will not be in vain.

I am simply humbled and honored to be able to meet them, encourage them, and give them a glimmer of hope because I am a VBS salvation.  It still works and will continue to work for generations to come.

The Shift from Prof to Agent – How to Get a Good Reference from Me

Show me the ministry!!!!

Show me the ministry!!!!

This is my 6th year at Campbellsville Univ.  I have taught over 80 classes in my short teaching career, which includes lots of undergraduate and plenty of graduate level courses.

Many of my students have graduated or are nearing graduation and are starting to look for ministry positions and/or make a shift to more full-time ministry roles.

This puts me in a new position as their prof.  I was just their teacher, now I am their AGENT.  I am one of their references trying to help them get placed in ministry.

On the back page of their resume, my name is listed as someone a prospective church or para-church ministry can call to talk about this student.  So how do I comment on my students.  What information do I try to share with a prospective church or ministry about my students?

In other words, how do you get a good reference from me?

1.  First, your academic performance matters to me.  Academics are not the only thing that matters, but my exposure to you has primarily been academic.  So if you do poorly in my classes, I will probably give you a poor reference.  At its core, academics are more about discipline and hard work than IQ and GPA.  If you didn’t work hard in a ministry preparation class, then you probably won’t work hard in ministry.

2.  Second, your personality type matters to me.  Are you a team player?  Are you a natural leader?  Do you have charisma?  Are you introverted and extroverted?  How do you relate to other students in the School of Theology?  All ministries, no matter if in a church, on the mission field, or in a non-profit organization, are people-focused.  How you handle yourself around others and in groups is very important.

3.  Third, your outside of class activities matter to me.  Did you work camp in the summer?  Have you been involved in mission trips?  Do you regularly attend church on Sunday?  Have you been in campus ministry leadership?  Usually, I am asked first about your academic performance, but then very shortly after I am asked about your outside of class ministry activities.  You got to have both – in proper balance.  Academics first, extra-curricular second.

4.  Fourth and finally, your spiritual maturity matters to me.  I am always asked for your spiritual strengths and weaknesses.  Prospective churches and ministries want to know how God has equipped you for kingdom service and what areas are showing up as personal struggles.  Relationships?  Worry?  Anger?  We all have them, so don’t worry too much.  But keep asking the Lord to show you areas that you can grow in Him.

Spiritual maturity is found in seeking biblical wisdom, practicing spiritual disciplines, and allowing others to continually sharpen you. 

Why Kids Ministry is the New Youth Ministry

puppetsTwenty years ago (think vintage 1990′s), churches begged, borrowed, and pleaded with their people to find the funds to hire a youth minister.  They were willing to do whatever it took to get someone, anyone to work with the teenagers.  Whatever it required, a youth minister had to be found.  The mindset was clear: someone has to work with our teens because “they are the church of tomorrow.”

Youth ministry in evangelical churches was thriving.  Youth ministers were seen as fun, trendy, responsive to the culture, able to relate big truths to young minds.  They were creative, loved praise and worship music, and knew how to put together a rockin’ mission trip on a tight budget.  Youth camp attendance was pushing all-time highs.  Youth conferences were abounding.  Youth ministry publications were everywhere.  It was a great time to be a teenager and an even better time to be in youth ministry.

So I ask you, where is all that energy and inertia today?  Well, it is not in youth ministry.  Things have shifted younger in the past 20 years.

children-ministry

Today (think vintage 2010′s), all that energy and inertia has shifted to kids ministry.  A children’s pastor or family minister is the most sought after position, outside of senior pastor, in American evangelical churches.

Churches are desperate to find and hire qualified, trained, responsible people to lead the nursery, pre-school and K-5 areas, otherwise no sensible parent will come.  The consumer parenting culture of Gen X, which is having more babies than their Boomer parents, demand churches to upgrade every corner of the children ministry. 

The facility has to look like a McDonald’s PlayPlace, only better.  Equipped with better security, better lighting, pristine cleanliness, background checks on volunteers, slick lanyards identifying workers in matching t-shirts.  The shiny polish of youth ministry has been expanded and multiplied for young ones.  These kids ministries are well oil machines with programs and contingency plans that surpass all other ministry areas (if they are successful), including the worship ministry which used to command the show.

I was told by a high level denominational leader recently that an experienced, qualified, theologically trained, former professional educator (aka ex-teacher) who felt a call to kids ministry could name their price.  They could pick any church, any city, any denomination and just determine what they wanted to make and someone would offer it to them.  They are the rarest breed of minister in the ministry marketplace.

This trend is not dying away anytime soon.  It will be here for a while.  At least until all these kids become teens.

Enter Ministry or Go to Seminary : What Should a Young 20-Something Do First?

Seminary student

Should I enter ministry or go to seminary first?

My ministry students are primarily 18-22 years old.  They are the traditional, undergraduate college years.  They left home after graduating high school a few years back and hopefully after attaining their four year degree, they are ready to launch into the real world of ministry prepared and equipped.

Let me repeat, my graduating students are 22 years old, maybe 23 at the oldest.  Would your church hire a 23 year old to serve on your church staff?

If you were on a Personnel Team or a church staff search team, would a resume of a 23 year old college graduate jump out at you as being a top-notch choice?  They would have a basic theological education.  They might have completed a summer or semester internship working in some sort of ministry.  They are probably going to be single and dating or possibly engaged, but rarely married.

My question to you is:  Would they be a top-tier candidate?  If not, why not?

I get calls and emails every week from churches looking for staff members in youth, children, discipleship, worship, and many for lead pastors.  But when I explain that my students are usually not older than 23 and mostly single, they decide to look elsewhere.  It would be fine for these young adults to serve as an intern or even as a ministry assistant, but not in significant leadership.  The opinion is that they are just too young.  The searching church wants someone with extensive experience, but only willing to pay the bare minimum.

So what do I advise my graduating college seniors?  I encourage them to go to graduate school or seminary.  Another year or two is only going to help them enter into church staff positions with more theological education and hopefully more experience in a part-time ministry setting, and possibly even a significant other in tow.

It is sad to think we need to delay them 2 or 3 years before we will consider them “ready for service.”  We don’t say that about 18-19 year olds in the US military or a 22 year old teaching high school in the public school system.  So why do we think this way in church ministry?

I believe we need to embrace these young adults.  I believe we need to give them a shot to enter into ministry at 22 or 23 and see what God might bring to our churches through them.  I think we need to listen to them and give them a fair shake.

I was 26 years old when a church finally gave me a full-time chance to serve as their Associate Pastor.  I had been part-time youth minister for 4 years and completed two seminary degrees.  I was married, but had no children.   I sent my ministry resume to over 100 churches from NY to FL and every state in-between.  Not one gave me a call or an interview.

But a single church with no posted vacancy, no budgeted salary, and not even a search team in place invited me to  come and serve with them.  It was one of the best ministry opportunities of my life thus far.  I wonder if that same place would have given me a shot 4 years earlier as a college graduate with no experience and no wife.  I bet they would have, because it was (and still is) that kind of place.  But they are rare.

Would your church be willing to take a shot on a 22 year old in full-time ministry?  I hope so.  They have a lot to offer the kingdom of God.  They might even teach you something new.

Being BOTH Denominationally Loyal AND Fervently Ecumenical

Over this past week three events converged together to influence me, yet again, concerning my personal convictions of being BOTH denominationally-loyal AND at the same time fervently ecumenical.

  • Event No. 1 – I preached a 4-day revival at church with dual affiliation with my tribe (Southern Bapt) and a more moderate form of Baptist life, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
  • Event No 2 – The CEO of the Southern Bapt. Conv. Executive Committee Dr. Frank Page was on our campus, speaking in chapel, meeting with local pastors, and sharing in my class.
  • Event no. 3 – I finished an interim at a Christian Church – Disciples of Christ – in Hodgenville.

In one week, I was stretched to see the significant work of other baptistic forms of ministry, 2) made increasing proud of my Southern Bapt. roots and heritage and its mission around the world for the Gospel, and 3) said goodbye to a wonderful group of Christ-honoring believers of another tribe altogether who I don’t align with biblically or theologically, but was able to worship and preach for them for several months without any issue whatsoever.

My conclusion is simpleYou can be BOTH denominationally-loyal AND fervently ecumenical at the very same time.

Without question, I am very denominationally-loyal to my tribe called Southern Baptist.  I came to faith in a SBC church through an amazing ministry called vacation Bible school.  I was baptized, discipled and ordained to the ministry in a SBC church.  I have four degrees from three SBC-connected institutions.  I was married by a Baptist pastor in a Baptist church to a Baptist girl.  My personal church membership from salvation until today is in a SBC church.  I firmly believe in the doctrine, mission and direction of my tribe with all my heart.

But I am also very committed to being fervently ecumenical.  Being ecumenical is having the vision that more than one tribe (or denomination) will be in heaven and that you can do more together for the Gospel than you can apart.  We live in a post-Christian, postmodern America where faithful, biblical Christianity is moving to the periphery of the society and I fervently believe we need each other more now than ever.

I think it is all about perspective and context.  Consider this scenario.

You are in the Middle East doing underground mission work and you happen to discover another group of like-minded Christians working among the same people group, but from another denomination.  Do you work with them or reject them entirely?

Well, you carefully consider their missiological framework and understanding of salvation, that is by faith alone in Christ alone, and you begin working with them as best as you possible can without compromising your convictions and remaining biblically faithful.  You will both be in Heaven together one day, why not work together now for the Gospel and bring more souls with you.

Seems easy right.  Its not.  I have found the closer the denominations are to each other, the harder it is for them to trust each other and work together.  For example, it is very difficult for the conservative Baptists and more moderate Baptists to work together because they have purposely separated from each other for a variety of reasons.  Those reasons might be a particular theological doctrine or most likely a social issue but the intentional division drives a hard wedge between the two groups.

Likewise I have come to recognize it is tough for the Disciples of Christ tribe to work closely with the independent Christian church groups because they have purposely separated from each other and have no desire to rejoin.

Conversely, I find it is much easier for two tribes who are relatively far apart theologically to come together for a single purpose and work hand-in-hand.  For example, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are coming together on issues like human trafficking, the sanctity of human life, and the mandatory coverage of contraceptives.  You also see various groups who would differ on all sorts of theological and liturgical issues working together in disaster relief or Operation Christian Child shoe boxes.

So what is my point.  I believe the American 21st century Evangelical Christian must embrace the BOTH/AND nature of being BOTH denominationally-loyal AND fervently ecumenical.  Our culture and world is turning ever-increasingly more hostile toward the Gospel and message of Jesus Christ.  In a world where we are moving more and more toward the minority, division and isolation into tribal loyalties will not be helpful.

Whatever you might think of the Together for the Gospel movement, I believe they have embraced the right motto – We can come together for the Gospel of Jesus and be both denominationally-loyal and fervently ecumenical.

What I Would Lose If I Went Back into FT Pastoral Ministry

Pulpit view

What would happen if I went back?

I get asked all the time if I am planning to go back into full-time pastoral ministry?  The question usually comes from a well-meaning church member at a church I am interiming at.  The question is harmless and is meant to be a genuine interest in my calling and God’s will for life, but it always causes me to think.

What if I left Christian higher education and went back into full-time pastoral ministry?  What would I lose?  What would I give up?  What would I exchange to be back in a FT pastoral staff position?

So far I have come up with 5 pretty good reasons why I believe God has put right where He wants me to be.

1.  Access to numerous unbelievers.  In my general education classes and walking all around campus are young men and women from all over the world and around our country who do not know the love of God in Christ Jesus.  They have come to our Christian college for all sorts of reasons and at some point are expecting us to tell them what makes us different than other schools they considered.  They are EXPECTING us to share the Good News of Jesus with them.  Did you read that right?  They are expecting us to share the Gospel with them.  What an opportunity?  What a mission we have before us?

2.  Opportunity to teach about Jesus in an academic classroom.  Students, some who believe and some who do not, take my class called Christ and Culture as part of their general education requirements.  Get this – they have to study the Bible in order to get an A.  They have to be able to explain the Good News of Jesus in order to pass one of the tests.  That is unheard of.  While they don’t have to become Christians to pass the course, they are exposed to the truths of the Gospel by an unashamed born-again Christian who believes the Bible is true and wants to help them with their questions about faith.  This is amazing and definitely not like pastoral ministry.

3.  Invitation to walk alongside younger believers in a critical times in their lives.  Consider the number of youth group Christians who drop out of church during the college years.  My job encourages me to come alongside these struggling believers and lift them up in their journey with Jesus.  I get to ask them “how are things going between you and God?” and actually listen to their stories.  This is such a critical moment in their lives and I believe it is so helpful to have professors and campus staff who care enough to ask.  This happens every single day.

4.  Freedom to serve alongside various churches, pastors, ministries, and even denominations for future generations.  Because of my role at CU, I have freedom to help numerous churches and pastoral leaders.  Unlike pastoral ministry, I am not confined to one single congregation as their pastor and therefore am more fluid and flexible to help whoever needs help.

For example, because of my work at CU and connections to fellow CU alums, God opened the door for me to work alongside LifeWay’s CentriKid camps and VBS for the past couple years.  These ministries alone will reach 27,000 and 4 million kids and adults each year respectively.  My part is little and somewhat insignificant.  But being a small part in these huge ministries makes an enormous kingdom impact.  Last year at CentriKid, nearly 1000 children come to faith in Christ.  VBS is estimated to have seen 80,000+ children, teens, and adults make professions of faith last year.  Again, my part is small in comparison to others, but I am humbled to even be on these teams in a small capacity.

5.  Lastly, I have a chance to give back to a place that radically shaped me.  Campbellsville Univ. is not only my employer, it is also my alma mater.  I love this place!  Words will never express what God did in my life during my 4 years here.  Now I am sure there are many fine Christian institutions and universities.  I am sure God is working mightily on all sorts of campuses – state, private, Christian and otherwise.

But I get the chance to give back to the place that shaped me personally.  Not the institution, but the people who served within the institution.  They took time to invest in my life, my ministry, my personal development as a man and my academic abilities as a student. I am indebted to this place and love getting the chance to replicate my experience in the lives of others.

For those reason and probably a hundred others, it is easy to answer those who ask if I would ever consider going back into full-time pastoral ministry, “No. I don’t think so. God has got me right where He wants me.”

Who Do You Really Work For? Part 2

Because I work, I am…

  • I am a better husband to my wife.
  • I am a better time manager.
  • I am a wiser steward of God’s resources.  It all belongs to Him.
  • I am a more generous person because I have something to give away.
  • I am a better example to my sons of manhood, fatherhood, and husbandry.
  • I am a stronger contributor to my local church.
  • I am a more invested member of my local community.
  • I am given opportunities to use my strengths and improve upon my failures.
  • I am exposed to different people than my normal circle would provide.
  • I am given a chance to use my talents as unto the Lord.
  • I am participating in something outside of myself.
  • I am less self-centered and more collaborative.
  • I am taught humility and servant-leadership.
  • I am given a platform to make a difference in the lives of others.
  • I am blessed with resources to provide for the wants and needs of my family.
  • I am given a chance to see the world through others’ eyes.

Because I work, I am growing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Who Do You Really Work For?

workrailroad

“I’ve Been Working On…”

Over the weekend, I was able to listen to Dr. David Platt from The Church at Brook Hills preach an amazing sermon called “The Cross and the Christian’s Work” on the meaning of work in the life of the believer (Listen here).

Several key passages were very meaningful to me, but two in particular that I wanted to share.

  • Colossians 3:23-24  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Whatever your job may be, whatever position, occupation, or means of making an income you have, work it in such a way as to serve the Lord Jesus Christ as an act of worship.  Everyday on the job, make it your mission to work as an act of devotion and honor to Christ, not to a man, a boss or even a company.

Certainly you are getting rewards in the form of a paycheck, benefits, vacation days, experience, and the like, but there are other rewards at stake – eternal rewards.  Your eternal reward is an inheritance of eternal life though the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, which propels us to do our job “heartily” as unto Him, not satisfactorily to just get by.

Ask yourself this question:  If Creator God was your direct supervisor at work, how would your annual evaluation be this year?  Did you work heartily for Him?  Did you worship Jesus by doing your job with excellence, diligence, competence, and integrity?

The second passage is comparable.

  • 1 Timothy 5:8  But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Our call to provide and care for our families, through the resources provided by our work, is an outward witness of our faith in Christ.  By not providing for our families, the Apostle Paul equates a denial of the faith and being “worse” than an unbelieving person.

Dr. Platt was quick to point out that those suffering from chronic illness or debilitating disease are not commanded to work when their bodies simply won’t cooperate.  Additionally, this is not a command for children, teens, or students preparing in school and college for their working careers.  But for those who are able physically and mentally to work and hold the responsibility of provision for their families, there is a call to get up and go to work.

The job, task or the amount paid for the work is not a factor.  We need to work and provide for our families because it holds up the witness and testimony of God’s saving grace in our lives.

I wrote these thoughts in my journal back in May 2013.

Why Does My Work Matter to God?  What Does It Produces in Me?

  • Work gives me a sense of individual purpose and direction. Not divine purpose and direction, but purpose and direction nonetheless.
  • Work provides for our families needs and wants and gives me the ability to make financial investments in kingdom work.
  • Work creates an opportunity for the spiritual discipline of stewardship to grow in me.
  • Work creates an opportunity for spiritual gifts like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and definitely self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) to be birthed in me.
  • Work builds in me a pattern of suffering, character, hope, endurance, and perseverance in good times and in bad (Romans 5:3-5).
  • Work provides an opportunity for me to witness to unbelievers both verbally and visually (Matthew 5:16).
  • Work teaches me how to be a life-long learner, a good steward of other people’s stuff, a manager of people & time, and to be a leader, trainer and equipper of future generations.  All of these traits are be transferable to ministry within the local church.
  • Work helps me learn to lean on God’s provision by using the talents, gifts, interests, passions, and skills He gave to me to be best used for His glory and great name.

I love my job, there is no question about it, but I know I am the rare breed.  Most people dislike or barely tolerate the work they do.

But possibly if your perspective shifted so that you began to see your work as a gift from God, you might start to love it more.  You might even be able to see God as the one you work for, not just a paycheck.  I promise you, He is the best boss you’ll ever have.

The Words Missing in Today’s Church Business Meetings

yesnoRecently a dear friend and mentor said something to me that has proven to be profound and eye-opening.  He remarked that it has been 15-20 years since he heard something particularly said in a church business meeting.  This one particular phrase has seemingly gone missing from a whole generation of believers.

He said, “You don’t hear anyone say in church business meetings anymore, ‘I disagree with the decision, but whatever the church decides, I will get fully behind it and support it the best I can.’”  Those sentiments of support and togetherness, no matter the vote, is radically missing today.

I believe my friend is on to something huge here.  I have been in many church business meetings as a Southern Baptist, both in my local church and in the churches I’ve served as interim, and I haven’t heard those words in years.  I used to hear them as a teenager when we were made to go to the business meeting instead of our youth Wednesday night Bible study, but that was a very long time ago.

His explanation for the absence of those words is that our culture has changed.  We still do business meetings, but our people are not the same as they were 20 years ago.  We are now a consumer culture.  We believe our voice must be considered and heard on all topics.  We leave comments on social media, give reviews of products on blogs, critical feedback on hotels on Trip Adviser.  We rate our experiences on everything from customer service on the phone to table service at a restaurant.  Then you have the impact of huge TV shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent where everyday people have a voice.

But what we have not been accustomed to lately is losing a vote and still being supportive.  When we lose a vote, we feel entitled to continue the discussion, let our feelings of dissent be publicly known, cause a stir, get a petition started, and even push for a re-vote or a recount…all within the local church.  Yikes?

In church business meetings, where congregational polity is at play, there are always winners AND losers.  When you take a vote, you are giving the people a chance to let their feelings be known, either publicly or privately, and some are going to win and some are going to lose.

Those that win feel as if the majority has spoken and things are moving in the right direction.  Those that lose feel as if they have been personally harmed and they begin to harbor feelings of animosity toward the church, the leaders and their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

The vote might have moved the church forward on a particular issue, but the vote also created sides, teams, parties, divisions, and segments within the church who now feel injured.

Twenty years ago when a difficult vote was on the table, you would hear the words from a wise man or woman before the count was taken say, “I have my opinions about the matter, but whatever the church decides, I will get behind fully and support it as best as I can.”  It was a way forward in unity and harmony.

Those words are not said anymore.  Instead, nothing is said.  Nothing moves forward in complete unity and harmony.  The vote may pass, but feelings of resentment and hostility brew and fester.  Not in every case, but in most.

It makes you wonder why staff-led decision making is growing exponentially.  It makes you wonder why a plurality of elders has become common place among congregational churches.  It makes you wonder why monthly business meetings are being cut from the calendar in lieu of a once-per-year family meeting.

It’s because we have changed.  The culture has changed.  The words we use in the face of a vote have forever changed.

Fall 2013 Ministry Preview

fall leavesThe fall school year has officially started.  My classes are packed.  I am really excited about this semester and how God is going to work in and through my students.

Along with school, the Lord has been so faithful and kind to opened several opportunities to encourage folks here in KY and around the nation.

Here is a snapshot of the fall ministry plans.

  • Through September – Preaching each Sunday morning at the Hodgenville Christian Church.  Helping out my new friend and pastor Bro. Carlton Puryear as he takes a few weeks off.
  • Sunday, Sept 15 – Leading “The Calling of Every Christian Parent” workshop at Ormsby Heights Baptist Church in Louisville.  Joining my long-time friends Pastor Steve and Michelle McKelvey, who serve on the staff there.
  • Sunday, Sept 22-25 – Preaching the fall revival for Stanford Baptist Church.  I will be joined by some great worship leader friends: Caleb Phelps, Kristina Critcher, CU Sound, and my old friend from Lancaster BC, the one and only Nehemiah Wilkinson.
  • Oct. 8-9 – Jennifer and I will be leading 3 breakout sessions for the LifeWay Christian Resources Kids Ministry Conference in Nashville, TN.  We will be teaching: 1) Teaching Children Contemplatively, 2) The Full Spectrum of Family Ministry Models, and 3) Memory Makers.  This will be our first time to lead together as a couple.
  • Oct. 13, 20 and Nov. 3, 10, 17 – Preaching Sunday mornings at Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.
  • Oct. 27 – Preaching for Campbellsville University Day at Lancaster Baptist Church in Garrard Co.  I can’t wait to visit my dear friends at LBC.  I have missed them greatly over the past year.

And I am getting ready for another huge January, February and March, 2014.

In January and February, I will be joining the LifeWay VBSi Team again at Ridgecrest, Nashville, Fort Worth, and Kissimmee, FL as we train over 6000 VBS leaders from across North America.  I will be preaching during the main worship service and leading a breakout session.

And then in March, I get the great privilege of traveling back to Israel and Jordan for the second time in 5 years as part of the Campbellsville Univ. School of Theology Holy Land Tour.  This time I will be joined by my dad and brother in Christ, Danny Garrison, along with many CU faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends.  Space is available, if you are interested in joining us.

I would really covet your prayers for me, Jennifer, the boys, and these opportunities to preach and teach about our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Pros and Cons of Interim Transitional Ministry

moving-forwardIn April, I finished my fifth interim/transitional pastorate. In a little over 4 years, God opened the door for me to lead four churches who were in transition – one church twice. In some ways it is a very Paul-like ministry. Moving around from city to city, learning different church cultures, trying to discern the needs, spreading the Gospel to different people in a different place with different backgrounds.

In other ways, it can be utterly heart breaking. From the onset you know you are not going to be there forever, but you still develop deep relationships with the people and know that as some point, you are going to have to go.

Now with a few months behind me since the last completion, I wanted to reflect on the pros and cons of interim transitional ministry and try to outline a few things I’ve learned on this journey.

3 PROS

1. Helping When a Church Needs Help the Most – A church who has recently lost their pastor is a hurting church. Even in the best case scenario, there is still someone they love who has left them behind taking family and children with them. There is significant pain, heartache, and a real sense of abandonment.

The interim transitional pastor can help with this pain by speaking well of the former pastor and helping the healing process begin through intentional methods, such as extra communication, fellowship, and opportunities to serve together to show unity and togetherness.

2. Helping When a Church Needs Leadership the Most – Immediately following the exit of a lead pastor, there is a HUGE leadership vacuum. The power players come out of the woodwork and start plying for more influence and leverage. You might think this “hawking” is only for the largest of churches, but you would be wrong. Even the smallest church has power players and the interim transitional period is an opening for conflict and confusion.

The interim transitional pastor must manage these dynamics to make sure the selection process is done well and with full integrity, holding the power players at bay while moving the church forward.

3. Helping When a Church Needs Stability the Most – While I am not sure the numbers are perfectly accurate, the stated trends tell us that a church will decline by 15% in attendance and 25% in giving during an interim period. And the longer the interim, the greater the declines, especially in giving. Those two trends alone will cripple a church in transition.

The interim transitional pastor provides stability in the pulpit, which is paramount. Stability in the leadership vacuum to limit the grabbing forces. And stability in casting a vision for this all-important transitional period so that in 12-24 months everyone will be okay and headed in the right direction.

3 CONS (These are a bit more personal, so be aware.)

1. Leaving All the Time – In four years, I have had to leave several great churches. Now I knew this was part of the deal going in, but it still stings. As an interim transitional leader, you are effectively a “temp.” You are meant for a particular season and no more. And while you enter the situation with this understanding, the leaving part still breaks your heart.

This is one reason why many interim pastors choose to go to different cities than where they permanently reside. Because once they leave, it makes it easier on the heart to not see everyone all the time. It is comparable to seeing an old girlfriend and not knowing what to say. “Its good to see you. How have you been? Are you seeing anyone new these days.” Awkward and gut-wrenching.

2. Limited Vision and Direction for the Long Haul – Since your time is limited, your ability to cast a vision is short-lived. You can not lead the church toward a particular ministry objective if you are not going to be there to see it through. The ministry is very 90-day driven, meaning you have a 90-day window to set a goal or cast a vision, but no more. Because in 120 days, the new pastor may be getting close to arriving and you will be moving on.

3. Languishing Over Choices Made in the Search Process – Here is probably the most sensitive of issues in interim transitional ministry. As the interim pastor, you are made privy to the work of the Pastor Search Team. You might be asked to look over potential resumes or be asked to talk to a potential candidate by phone. I have even been asked to contact a personal friend and ask them for their name to be put into consideration.

I have been brought into the meetings as they work through theological questionnaires to explain what the questions and answers mean. You must remember that most search team members are not trained theologians, nor are they equipped to understand the nuances of pastoral philosophy or ministry methodology.

In the process, you see things, read things, and hear things which cause you to cringe, but you simply can’t say too much in response. You have to let the committee find their own way through prayer and God’s direction. You don’t want to sway or divert them, so you remain neutral and only answer when asked, which is extremely difficult for most leaders.

For those considering this type of ministry, take care to learn and grow in the Lord. It is not as easy as it may seem, but serving the Lord is a calling to sacrifice, which is never easy.

The Curtain Call on Christian Pageants : Where Will Christian Dramatic Art Go Next?

roman costume

Hail Caesar!

The Easter pageant.   The Christmas pageant.  The random youth musical.  More and more Christian pageants and dramatic presentations are finding their way into a back church closet full of plywood sets, drab costumes, and fake trees.  They are probably not coming out of that closet for a while.  Even the big boys of Christian pageantry, like Louisville’s Southeast Christian Church Easter Play, have called it curtains on their annual performance.  The only thing still happening are live, drive-thru nativities at Christmas time, which are far from being called acting.  Standing in the cold is more like it.

roman costume 2

The Definition of Manhood

Why curtains on pageants?  I like to believe Mel Gibson had something to do with it.  When The Passion of the Christ released in 2004, all Christian Easter pageants looked like small-scale, comical, badly directed street theater for amateurs.  There is no way a church could ever compete with the intense violence, imagery and story-telling genius of Gibson’s production, even if theologically adrift.

A Roman solider in plastic chest armor (complete with 6-pack abs, mind you) wearing Birkenstock sandals is not going to cut it anymore with an audience who had seen something as graphic as Gibson’s Passion.

Then came The Nativity movie (2006) which actual had lowly, poor, skinny shepherds with missing teeth and scraggly beard and ethnically-diverse wise men wearing proper vestments for middle eastern astrologers.  Herod the Great looked like a real king living in a real time overseeing huge construction projects.

The Christmas pageant at your church with Mary, Joseph and baby-doll Jesus in a manger, while cute and sentimental, looked like something from A Charlie Brown Christmas, with no insult toward Charlie Brown Christmas.  Linus’ speech still captures my heart and attention.

So my question is : Where will Christian dramatic art go next?  Is there a place for drama, theater, and visually-engaging acting in the evangelical church?

Could our direction be sermon-informed, life-situational sketches which exploded in the seeker-sensitive movement?  I really do not see those returning soon. Young pastors and younger attenders (especially those from the reformed persuasion) see these as silly and misguided.  However, comedy is still well received in this delivery style.

Could our direction be children performing biblical scenes in costume in preparation for a particular message or season within the church?  Possibly, but children’s and youth choir are dying faster than visitation programs.  Still children are viewed cute and innocent.  A harsh, unforgiving audience toward adults acting in a pageant are refreshingly hospitable toward children (because that is their kid and grandkid up there on stage).

Could our direction be church-based actors creating short films, which are then shown as transitional pieces in worship?  Highly possible.  The Skit Guys are moving more and more toward thought-provoking, message-instilling shorter pieces which are downloaded and shown to illustrate a particular golden nugget of truth.  For churches to do this, they must have high quality acting, filming, and editing.  There is too much out there online that is well planned and produced to compete with something home grown.

What else is coming?  What else is shaping this particular form of Christian art and expression?  I really don’t see much else on the horizon.  Maybe some of my creatives and Creative Arts Pastors can help me out here.  What are you seeing or using that is making a connection in the dramatic arts?

May 2012 to May 2013 : A Ministry Look-Back

mayEvery May, at the beginning of my summer break, I try to stop and look back over the past year and reflect on the opportunities the Lord has opened for me to do what I love and was called to do.  This particular 12 months has been a little bit of everything.  Ministry opportunities have flowed from all sides.

From…

  • Traveling to Greece, Turkey, and Switzerland with the Apostles & Epistles Tour.  You can’t beat teaching Revelation 1 on the Island of Patmos overlooking John’s cave.  Indescribable.
  • Finishing one interim pastorate at Lancaster Bapt Church and beginning and finishing another at Living Grace Church.
  • Training young pastors for LifeWay’s CentriKid Camps and then being a camp pastor myself for a couple weeks.
  • Preaching in various pulpits around KY like Corinth BC in London, Immanuel, Pioneer, Hopewell and Bruner’s Chapel BC all in Harrodsburg, Simpsonville BC, and First Bapt Clarksville, TN.
  • Leading training workshops for Eubank BC, Beechland BC, Pioneer BC and First Bapt Clarksville.
  • Teaching breakout sessions at ministry conferences – the CU Transformational Church Summit, the KBC Seminary for a Day, and CU Louisville’s Contagious Churches & Leaders.
  • Serving alongside the tireless LifeWay VBSi & Preview Team as a speaker & breakout session leader in 4 cities: Ridgecrest, NC, Fort Worth, TX, Nashville, TN, and Kissimmee, FL.  This opportunity has been one I will never forget.
  • Great times of sharing with my students outside of class like doing the DNow Team training, teaching alongside Jennifer for BCM about relationships, pre-marriage counseling in our home with Chris Price and Anna Step, witnessing Jacob Howard, one of my guys, ordained to the Gospel ministry, and taking a group of 13 to LifeWay’s headquarters in Nashville for CU Day at LifeWay.
  • All the while completing two amazing semesters with my students in class after class.  Year 5 was my best in class teaching year so far.

It is simply amazing for me to see what God has done in my life, if I would make myself available to Him and His purposes.  As I reflect back, I am overwhelmed by God’s grace and kindness toward me and my family.  This is way more than I could have ever imagined back in 1996 when I surrendered to the call of ministry.  God has taken my 3 loaves and 2 fish and multiplied them time and time again.

Where will God lead from May 2013 to May 2014…who knows?  But wherever He leads, I will follow.

The Should-Be Motto of All Church Personnel Teams

golden ruleMy thesis:  Luke 6:31 should be the motto, slogan, vision statement and/or basic foundational rule for every church personnel-related issue.  If we would follow Luke 6:31 in our church personnel matters, I believe we would have longer tenures in ministry, happier pastoral staff, and better church administrative relationships.

Luke 6:31 in 3 different translation:  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (ESV).  And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way (NAS).  Do to others as you would have them do to you (NIV).

Having served in a variety of positions on church staff, some part-time, some full-time, in nearly every position except music, I have been in many personnel committee and leadership meetings (with elders and deacons) where personnel matters arise.  I have seen it all.

If we would mandate Luke 6:31 in our dealing with our church staff members, I believe we would be far better off and far more functional in kingdom business.  Luke 6:31 applies to every aspect of personnel leadership.  Consider a few examples.

Compensate others as you would like to be compensated.  Staff need not be starved nor overly fed.  However, if you believe you and your work deserves a respectable salary, comparable with others in your peer group, based on job performance and expertise, then compensate your church staff likewise.  By low-balling them, you are not teaching them humility and contentment, you are telling them they are not worth that much in the big scheme of things.

Reward others as you would like to be rewarded.   I know, I know, our reward is in Christ and spending eternity with him in heaven.  I could not agree more.  However, if you like being rewarded for a job well done in your field, when you go the extra mile toward a successful project, why not reward your staff with something in kind.  A gift card.  An extra vacation day.  An expanded allowance for clothing, books, or conferences.  A little pat on the back can be a great motivator.

Evaluate others as you would like to be evaluated.  No one likes to be evaluated, but everyone needs it…and should appreciate it if it is done well.  So how do you like to be evaluated in your job?  Consistently.  Fairly.  Accurately.  Sharing both areas of strengths and areas of needed improvement.  Then receiving amply time, resources, and encouragement to enhance those strengths and improve the weaknesses.  Sounds pretty fair right?  Why not extend the same grace to your church staff members.  They will be blessed by your investment in them and will be more effective in their service unto Christ.

Terminate others as you would like to be terminated.  Is there such a thing as a way you want to be terminated?  No job or position is permanently and perpetually safe forever.  The same goes for ministry positions.  Therefore as you would like to be let go, treat your exiting staff in the same fashion.   Whatever you would like to be given, extend those same graces to them such as severance, job placement assistance, moving expenses, or time on the clock to look elsewhere.  Honesty in explaining the situation to the church, not sweeping issues under the rug is also a very important step.  No one wins with deception and lies.

When Jesus gave us the golden rule, I don’t think he anticipated us forgetting it so easily.  Let’s put it back in, especially in our dealings with each other in ministry.

My Experience as a Campbellsvillian

Teaching in Druien Hall.

Rampant news has been swirling – some true, some false – about my alma mater and employer Campbellsville University with specific attention directed toward my area the CU School of Theology.

I have not had any desire to pour more fuel on this raging fire and have actually encouraged my students to stay out of the fray, however, I have been encouraged to speak about my experience at CU as a student back in the 90′s in the School of Theology.

I offer three truths about my alma mater and school.

1.  As a student, this place changed my life forever by exposing me to Christ, to his calling for my life, to the truthfulness of Scripture, to the ministry of serving others as unto the Lord, to the task of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and to the role of loving people who are from every Christian tradition.  As I had the opportunity to serve Christ in closed countries, in major urban centers, and down dirt paths, I learned that you shouldn’t get too bothered about who is a Methodist and who is a Baptist.  You are just happy to serve alongside people who, like you, love Jesus and want to tell others about Him.

2.  As a student, I was trained by great men and women of God who loved Jesus, His Word, the Gospel and the mission of the church.  Faithful men like Dr. Ted Taylor who has served 40+ years in local church ministry and Dr. John Hurtgen whose passion for the New Testament and Christian fellowship are as evident today as they were back then.  Also outstanding Christian women and scholars like Dr. Paula Qualls who loved the Old Testament more than anyone I’ve ever met and showed me how to love it as well.

3.  As a student, I formed lifelong friendships with many brothers and sisters in Christ who are now serving around the world as missionaries and in our nation as pastors and ministers.  These friendships continue to model one of the School of Theology core values: partners in enduring fellowship.

Lastly, I want all to know that I came to faith in Jesus through the ministry of a KBC church in Lewisport, KY.  I was baptized, discipled and called to ministry in a KBC church.  I have served on two KBC church staffs.  I have been an interim pastor for three KBC churches.  I have four CP-supported theological degrees – one from CU, two from SWBTS and one from SBTS.  I am a Southern Baptist and KY Baptist through and through.

I believe the Bible is true.  I believe the Gospel is the only means of salvation.  I believe that my role as a man, husband, father, pastor, and professor is to offer and explain this glorious Gospel to every person I meet.   These biblical convictions have never been questioned or prevented while attending, or now while teaching, at CU.  They have only been encouraged and enhanced.  I have a platform that most pastors never have.  I get to teach unbelieving young men and women the Gospel in class every day and they have to come and listen.  This is a wonderful mission.

I am proud to be a small part of the CU story.  I love my alma mater and employer.

An Open Letter to Living Grace Church : He Who Began

The following is an open letter to the men and women, college students, teenagers, boys and girls of Living Grace Church, Campbellsville, KY, a church I dearly love and treasure.  This is my prayer for you.

Dear Living Grace Church,

Philippians 1:6  I am assured of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

I am assured of this, that He  I am assured that He, God is with you.  I am assured that He, God dwells among you.  I am assured that He, God is near you.  I am assured that He, God is working in you to make you what He wants you to be.  Will you let He, God do more?

I am assured of this, that He who began a good work in you…  He who began this work is still at work.  He who began this work is not finished with this piece of art quite yet.  He who began this work of molding, shaping, chiseling, adding and removing wants to continue to mold, shape, chisel, add and remove until He approves.  Will you let Him work more?

I am assured of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…  Take heart, you are not complete yet.  You are not perfected yet.  You are not polished and shined up yet, ready for display.  You are still in the completion process and will be for quite some time.  Please my dear friends don’t hinder the completion process, instead beg God to cut deeper, hammer harder, bolt tighter, paint brighter until He decides when you are ready.  Will you let Him complete more?

I am assured of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.  Full completion ultimately awaits the coming of Jesus Christ.  Ultimately the incomplete bride desperately awaits the coming, glorious Groom.  The longer we wait, the more time that passes, the more our longings for Him increase.  But until then, will you let God do more?

To you my brothers and sisters in Christ, it has been my joy and honor to be your Transitional Pastor.  As we continue to live as neighbors in this little community called Campbellsville/Taylor County, let us look forward to the day when we will live as eternal neighbors in God’s holy presence forever.

Grace and peace,Shane

Resurrection Sunday Invitation

Jesus and the Cross Invitation

Ending Interim No. 4

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Children’s Sermon @ LGC

On April 14 (4 weeks away), I will be concluding interim pastorate no. 4 at Living Grace Church here in Campbellsville.  I served Living Grace Church as interim pastor back in 2008-09 during a previous pastor search process and again this time around for the past 9 months.

The people of Living Grace Church are wonderful.  They have been so kind and gracious to let me learn alongside of them what it means to be a church that is intergenerational, inter-denominational, multiracial and from every socioeconomic level in our community.

I have been stretched in my understanding of the primary Christian doctrines, built up in my belief in the sufficiency of God’s Word, and saw how stabilizing church administration is essential for a 10-year old church plant.

I give thanks to the previous pastors of Living Grace Church: Pastor Phillip Kelley and Pastor Jason Fox.  The time between my first interim and my second showed how much leadership, blood, sweat, and tears these men invested in LGC.  Thank you my dear brothers for giving your hearts (and probably lots of nights of sleep) to this people.

I also give thanks for my worship leader for the first 6 months Mr. Benson Sexton and his dear wife Kristin, our church media guru.  These two leaders have been invaluable friends to me and my family and diligent co-laborers in the Gospel ministry.

I give thanks to our youth minister Mr. Mike Humphress who has a tender heart before the Lord and a true passion to develop leaders who love students.  I am also thankful for Mrs. Anne Sanders who leads the children’s ministry.  I have been impressed time and time again with her organization and vision for our GraceKids.  Ms. Debbie Ruggles, the church secretary, has been my helper, encourager, and faithful supporter through thick and thin.  She has been a peace-giving force in my life.

I will miss seeing the smiling faces on Sunday mornings.  I will miss the warm hugs from those ladies (and a few fellas) who gave me a hug every week no matter what was going on.  I will miss watching the children of LGC run all over the place after worship.  I will miss being called “pastor” which is a term of endearment and devotion, which blessed me every time.  And “step-pastor” by one dear friend which always made me smile and laugh.

But unlike other interim pastorates which have been in other towns, when this one concludes I will still get the chance to see the people of LGC out and about in our little community, which will always be a treat.

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