Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Growing in Worship

This week I was asked to oversee our worship ministry at church. What's interesting to me about that is that for 2 years I have thought about and talked about what I would do differently if I were able to lead that group... and now that I have been given the responsibility I can't remember most of those ideas. ;-)

Its exciting, humbling and scary... I realize how much needs to happen and how gently it must happen and the challenge is to bring us all forward without leaving anybody behind. I have gone through some changes in the past few months in my attitude towards worship (I am using the word worship here to mean that part of a church service where we use music to worship God).

When I first experienced Vineyard worship it moved me deeply. I loved the music, its style and passion. It was so personal and really drew me into experiencing the presence of God like nothing I had ever heard. I had heard and loved some of the contemporary worship songs from Maranatha and Integrity but there was something that drew me in the intimacy of the Vineyard songs. I spent the next 7 or 8 years leading people in that style.

When I moved to California in 1998 it was primarily to learn a new way of doing church. I spent 4 years with a church that was 'seeker modeled' and the worship service focus was more on quality and an atmosphere of excitement than in intimacy. I loved it... I embraced it... and it changed the way I viewed everything.

When I came back to Mississippi... back to a church that was, in effect, trying to split the difference between those 2 positions, I found that I leaned toward the California model. I wanted to see more joy, excitement and quality in our worship. Over the past 2 years I believe we have raised the quality bar significantly (but not as far as I would like). And we have raised the 'energy level' of the worship with more passionate music.

But lately I have lamented the loss of some of the intimacy. As I recently began to write on Vineyard 'DNA' it caused me to consider where it was we came from as a movement. As I look around these days most Vineyard churches don't look a lot like Vineyard churches anymore... most are barely distinguishable from their independent, charismatic or contemporary Baptist counterparts. The worship in most is excellent... is exciting... even passionate... but rarely moving. God is stirring me to bring us back to a place of intimate interaction with his spirit through the act of worship. To teach and draw his people into loving relationship with him by the Holy Spirit via corporate service.

The beauty of this is that it won't look like it did 10 years ago... it will have a new contemporary style... it will have a new focus on quality and excellence... it will have a new focus on atmosphere and excitement... because nothing God has taught us is irrelevant... its all part of where we are going... every lesson is to be considered as we move forward. But the primary objective of our worship is to introduce people into the presence of a powerful, personal, loving God... the God that created the universe and sculpted the butterfly desires to intersect our lives.

The destination is the journey... the Bible says that he has given us "life-- and that more abundantly". I think that describes this process of learning... evaluating... and moving on to the next place with God.

Monday, December 6, 2004


We have made the most important unit in the world, and in the church, the individual. We have made it 'all about me'. We have failed to disciple converts because we no longer relate in genuine 'koinonia' and because we have made the salvation of individual souls the conclusion of our mission. We have in many senses made the beginning the end.

Our standard definition of Christianity has become about an individual decision. We love to tell people that God has a wonderful plan for their lives - and this is true - but before that, God has a wonderful plan for His world and He is building His Kingdom not simply 'working' for our salvation,. For God so loved the World!!

The opposite of My plan for my life is not God's plan for my life but God's plan for the World - a plan that I am invited to be a part of. Our over individualization of the gospel has bred passivity. "It's like a line in the sand, and we say," The most important thing in life is to be on the other side of this line." OK. People cross the line. What then? They try to get other people to cross the line. OK. What then? I see a huge contrast between crossing a line in this way, and following Jesus on a journey. It's as if we have taken what is for Jesus the starting line and turned it into a finishing line. Sounds like another case of modern reductionism - going for the greatest efficiency, the most measurable results, the least common denominator."

Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian (San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.2001) p. 130

This individualism has also resulted in a shallow Christianity. Our churches are full of people who know so much and do so little.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Seeker Sensitive Church

I know... been awhile since I wrote. Lots happening right now. I did, however, just run across this dialog I had with a friend of mine way back in 1999. He was writing of his observations after moving to Thought you might enjoy his comments.

How do you like the "seeker sensitive" model?

I have put a lot of thought into this question. Especially since there was such a big change for me when I came to the desert. But anymore I don't think that what we do is really seeker oriented. I'll have to explain a bit. There are all of these categories that you can talk about. Seeker driven, seeker sensitive, I've even heard "seeker aware." If there was a continuum of styles it would be hard to even say how to draw it up. Lets say that the continuum goes from totally seeker-driven like Bill Hybels to believer-driven.

I'll say that Bill Hybels would look like this: concert style music that is not deep but rather entertains and conveys a message of hope or joy or about the alternative nature of the gospel as opposed to our culture. Not much about blood, lambs, thrones or whatever else. The teaching would be topical and would address needs. How do you have a great family, dealing with stress, loving better and so on. The things about this service that are seeker are these: little biblical content but rather containing biblical truth, no deep worship but rather an appealing relaxing atmosphere to get your spiritual needs met while the church is wooing you into deeper commitment to Christ.

There are obviously some things about this service that we don't do. We don't have shallow worship and we don't have shallow teaching. We have big well produced worship but not shallow. So there is a problem there. The next problem comes up when you try to define what a believer service is... fellowship, communion, deep worship, ministry, deep teaching. I think that all of these things have an evangelistic, supernaturally appealing thing about them. Deep down I believe in the evangelistic quality of a real biblical community. I believe in the foolishness of preaching, the power of worship to draw and in the power of communion and love in fellowship to draw people. So in that way I wouldn't even say we are really seeker driven. So then what is seeker sensitive? Do seekers get into our worship, do they understand when we teach on tithing? I think the issue is accessibility. A big issue is the time factor. We try to make services 1:15 because everyone is busy. We try to make them uplifting in worship style. We try to make the worship shorter so that it doesn't pass them by. I have actually found that long worship is bad for most people unless they are at a conference. Another issue is excellence. We try to have things appear orderly and well done. We put a ton of work into children's programs and in worship. So I think we simply have a regular church that doesn't do expository teaching.

Here are some questions that I don't have the answer to.
* How long does worship need to be for it to be worship?
* What do you have to sing about for it to be worship?
* What do you have to teach about for it to be teaching?
* If seeker churches try not to drive people away who are seeking, what are non-seeker churches doing? Are they trying to drive them away? Do they not care?
* What day should your service be? Does it matter?

Here are some other questions I want to answer better:
* How can we make the gospel easily communicated to those who need it?
* What do I do that is not required by God that keeps people away from him?

Does it meet all of your expectation?

This is hard question to answer too. What I expected to learn when I came here was how to make disciples, do evangelism, build a program and train leaders. I wasn't drawn here because of the seeker thing. Like I said it is not really a seeker deal to me. But I will say that in general we should not put all of our eggs into the seeker basket. That movement is here to teach us to remember that people that need Christ need someone who will tell them. An analogy will help. If I went to Africa I would not speak in English I would learn a new language. So I want to fight the tendency to shrink and continue to extend into speaking the language that seekers speak. I don't think that the future will validate the criticism that Barna brings against the seeker movement. The issue is not whether you bring your bible to a service but whether you are making disciples of the people who are getting saved at your seeker service. A study should be done by George Barna someday exploring how people came to Christ before the printing press. I realize he was talking about biblical literacy.

What will YOU do differently when you plant a church someday?

This is a huge question that I don't really want to answer right now. Maybe some other time.

What will you keep that you think could work anywhere?

1. Focus on making disciples, real ones will do evangelism
2. Be concerned with the momentum of the body. Help use it to create greater investment on the part of the believer
3. Assess where people should be and coach them into that place
4. Talk about the present and the future and closely related: talk about what is going to happen not what won't happen
5. Communicate well with people
6. Prioritize your time and don't let trivial things run your life
7. Read all the time for pleasure and stimulation
8. Visit other people who are doing it well
9. Don't hang around ministers who are negative unless they want to get better
10. Get away often to reflect
11. Initiate the creating of your church culture rather than having it dictated by default.
12. Talk about what is going on in your area and not what Anaheim is doing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Awesome Quote

"Mission is to the church as fire is to burning."-Emil Brunner

Thursday, October 7, 2004

What is the Vineyard

Something I found among my old sermon notes. I don't know when I taught this and I'm certain much of it is borrowed but its valuable and I thought you might enjoy it.

1. Who is the Vineyard?
We are an association of churches
We are not just a "wild onion" church, springing up all over. We are a worldwide affiliation of churches. This means a lot to me. When you attend other Vineyard's when you have the opportunity, there really is a sense of common purpose and vision. It is like coming home. There is also a global vision that is incredible. You grow so much when you begin to see that you're part of something a lot bigger than yourself or even your local church.

2. What is Vineyard?

This question comes up often. How many times have you found yourself trying to describe your church to a friend and you didn't know what exactly to say when they asked you, "What kind of church is it?" I want to help to answer that question today.

I may use some terms that you are unfamiliar with, so in order to simplify some of my terms I will likely resort to stereotyping certain moves of God or denominations. I don't intend these stereotypes to be offensive or derogatory but I am using them to point out extremes. Do not interpret this as finding fault with the way they worship, but only that I believe that God has led us to a different place of worship.

I will wait until next week to go more into the history of the Vineyard and will focus right now on what it is that the Vineyard "targets" to be.

Historically there have been two main protestant theological camps. One would be the Evangelical churches and the other is the Pentecostal churches. Although there are many different specifics that characterize these groups, and this oversimplifies, we will call evangelical churches "those fundamental conservative non-charasmatic churches". Pentecostal is characterized as "all classical pentecostal or charasmatic churches practicing tongues and other gifts of the spirit" Mainline denominations within Evangelicalism would include Southern Baptist and Bible Churches and include people like Billy Graham. Those within Pentecostalism would be the Assemblies of God and United Pentecostal and include people like Oral Roberts.

Each have their major areas of emphasis. Evangelicalism has a strong emphasis on knowledge and study of the Bible. This emphasis has produced many strong Bible Colleges and teachers and most of the world's most prominent theologians. They also emphasize missions and evangelism.

Pentecostalism has put the primary emphasis on "experiencing God". The infilling of the Holy Spirit with the evidences of speaking in tongues is a key ingredient. There is a reverence for the Bible and a desire for evangelism but it is not as "priority" as it is in the evangelical circles.

Indeed, historically the Evanglicals have looked down their noses at Pentecostals, seeing them as "caught up in emotionalism" and not fully appreciating the simple power of the Word of God. Any notion that God speaks outside of his written word is seen as an attempt to undermine the sovereignty of the written word and borders on heresy. Their doctrines ruled out the likelihood that God still actively worked miracles today, finding it more believable that he had caused those things to cease after the church was mature.

Pentecostals have pulled against that notion of a powerless God. In many cases they were unable to explain or provide proper exegesis for what they were experiencing, they just knew it was real and it was good. This brought rise to many "country preachers" preferring to look down their noses at "educated" preachers that had no power. It didn't help things when people would comment on the service in terms such as "It was so good that the preacher didn't even get to preach" If Biblical exegesis was the highest call then everything precluding the sermon was fluff. Pentecostals saw the sermon as the icing, everything else was "spirit and truth" and the priority of the day.

Again, I am heavily stereotyping here to make a point, not to offend. I certainly am not saying that Pentecostalism doesn't have some strong exegesis or that the evangelicals have no anointing.

What John Wimber began to desire was both. He was seeking God from the Evangelical side of the fence. While teaching in a Bible College he began to see things that the charismatics were experiencing that, even if his evangelical counterparts were teaching against them, he wanted in his ministry. This began the process of trying to marry the two.

In order to do that we have to honor both sides. Recognize where people come from and how they got there. There is truth in both camps that, in order to thrive, we must embrace. This is not marketing or church growth strategy, we are simply talking about balanced theology.

What is the best of both worlds?

EvangelizationSigns & Wonders

We are "Empowered Evangelicals" sometimes known as "Third Wave"
How are we like Evangelicals?

  • We look to the written word of God as our only infallible guide to faith and practice.

  • We believe that there is value to using our intellect to discern God's plan and will.

  • We believe that God desire that we "bring the kingdom" on earth which includes evangelizing the lost.

How are different?

  • We reject the notion of cessation or dispensation of the gifts of the spirit.

How are we like Pentecostals?

  • We believe God is still speaking to his people today

  • We pray for the sick with the laying on of hands.

  • We embrace the infilling of the Holy Spirit with power.

  • We embrace all of the gifts of the spirit and the working of signs and wonders as the early church experienced.

How are we different?

  • We believe that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at conversion, not as a subsequent experience. However, dramatic manifestations of the Spirit infilling a believer may occur many times, often accompanied by signs such as tongues or prophetic utterances. Often such overflow of the Spirit occurs subsequent to the conversion but is simply a manifestation of the Holy Spirit through a person

  • We believe that the believer may continually be filled or re-filled with the holy spirit.

  • We do not accept tongues as the initial evidence of the spirit indwelling someone, but that it like other gifts is God's to give when and as he desires.

  • We do not accept the belief that healing is part of the atonement and therefore required of God to grant. God's sovereignty is always maintained. We make no demands or claims.

To understand these last few items would require some understanding of the doctrine of the "Kingdom of God"
I'm not going to have time to cover it very deeply but let me give a nutshell version.


Jesus taught us that the first thing that we are to pray for is for God's Kingdom to come -- where? (On earth as it is in heaven.)

The Kingdom of God is the central theme of the gospel. When we read about Jesus and His ministry, we discover that He made the Kingdom of God the center of His teaching. We are not able to separate the teachings of Christ from the Kingdom of God. The KoG was the gospel that John the Baptist preached. It was the gospel that Jesus preached. Jesus' parables explained the KoG. His presence announced the presence of the KoG. It was the gospel that Jesus told His disciples to preach. The kingdom of God is what the Bible is all about.

Kingdom of God is primarily the rule of God as seen by the exercise of his power and authority. This rule brings about the realm of salvation and deliverance for His redeemed subjects.

God's rule is already eternal and universal. He is, and has been, and will be Lord and King over all the universe. So what are we talking about when we are told to pray for the Kingdom of God to come on earth? The earth is the sphere of rebellion against God. The KoG is where God's rule is acknowledged by obedience to him. This rule brings about the realm of salvation and deliverance for His redeemed subjects. We are praying that the authority and power of God would be experienced here on earth in the same way that it is in heaven.

We are praying that God will powerfully intervene in the affairs of men. We are praying that God will exercise His authority and power on earth to overcome the forces of evil that come against us in our lives. We are asking God to set us free from our bondages, heal our diseases, and bring peace into our lives --- while we are still here on earth

In Jesus' life, and in the lives of his disciples, the preaching of the gospel and healing always went together. God's power was present in His word and manifested through His power.

Jesus spoke with authority and in the power of the Holy Spirit, men were freed from whatever held them in bondage. The demons were fleeing, diseases were healed. Hopeless was removed. Jesus' power destroyed every opposing force in the way.

When Jesus sent the disciples out, they saw the same things happen when they proclaimed the good news about the Kingdom of God.

Today, as we proclaim the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can expect to see demons flee, diseases healed, and people saved and set free.

The Three biblical views of the Kingdom
(this helps us with the questions of healing. Who's in charge here?)

The kingdom is near.

Mark 1:15 (NIV) "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

Mat 10:23 (NIV) When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

LUK 9:27 "But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."

There are only a few Christians hung up at the place where they think that nothing of the kingdom has already come.

The kingdom has come and is present

Mat 11:12 (NIV) From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

Mat 12:28 (NIV) But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

We can't seek it if it isn't there!

The Christians who hold a "Kingdom Now" perspective think that we have all that there is to have because of what Christ did on the cross. Also, the Christians who preach the "Prosperity Gospel", "Faith-Only," or "Sinless Perfection" fall into this tradition.

We can understand "Kingdom now" with regards to salvation, but what about healing?

If everyone who calls on the name of the Lord is saved immediately, why is it that everyone that calls on the name of the Lord isn't healed immediately?

Is it because of lack of faith? Or sin in your life? Or is healing harder than salvation? It might not be any of these.

The kingdom is in the future

Mat 24:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

There will be wars and rumors of wars, flood, earthquakes, famines, false signs and messiahs ...

Mat 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 25:1-13 -- The parable of the virgins -- tells us that there will be a delay in the grooms coming.

Matthew 25:14-30 -- The parable of the talents -- tells us that there would be a long delay before the lord of the servants came.

In (Acts 1:6-7), When the disciples asked if He were now going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus replied that it wasn't for them to know the times of the restoring of the Kingdom to Israel, but they should be filled with the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses here on earth.

Because of these Scriptures, many Christians think that the Kingdom and all of its blessings are put off until the future -- when the "Perfect has come" (1Cor 13:10 ). They emphasize leaving all and suffering for their faith until Jesus comes.

These Christians say that there are no more miracles, or other demonstrations of God's power. They ceased with the apostles.

I have trouble with this because it's like God ran out of power, or that God isn't the same yesterday, today and forever, or that the giftings and callings of God are revocable, or that we have less than the OT people had. I know this isn't true.

Did they forget that they have salvation, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit NOW? These are deposits and manifestations of the power of the age to come -- breaking into our world today for the salvation and relief of the people that God has chosen!

The only rational answer, and the only answer that fits all of the Bible verses is that we are in a tension between the "Already" and the "Not yet".

We have tasted the power of the age to come, but we don't experience it all the time in its fullness. We see through a mirror darkly, but we do see!

Practical matters

If Christ came to save, to bring healing, righteousness, peace, and joy to earth, and if the Holy Spirit has come to bring the power of God -- why is it that we don't experience all of them all of the time?

The mystery of the Kingdom of God is the key to understanding the New Testament and the Christian life. It is the only perspective from which we can understand why healing occurs sometimes, and not at others. It explains why we feel the Lord's powerful presence sometimes and at other times we wonder if we are even saved. It is the only way that we can explain why Paul could say, "We are more than conquerors", and at another time he despaired even of life.

We have to see that the Kingdom has come, but in an anticipatory sense, but not in its fullness. We have the Holy Spirit of God, but only as an earnest, or a guarantee, or a deposit to show that our whole inheritance is waiting for us.

2 Cor 1:21-22 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

We have the Holy Spirit of God and the Holy Spirit is the power of God --- but we don't experience the fullness, just a part of what is totally our inheritance.

1 John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

We see Jesus now, but in a mirror darkly. (1 Cor 13:12)

We don't have the fullness of the power of the age to come, but we can taste of it. (Heb 6:4-6)

Eph 1:13-14 (NIV) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.


In the words of John Wimber, International Director of the Association of Vineyard Churches, we invite the Holy Spirit to come and give place to those things which are clearly taught in Scripture: the proclamation of the gospel so that the lost may be saved; the expression of the gifts of the Spirit as depicted in Scripture so that the Church may be built up; the equipping and empowering of the saints for the furtherance of the ministry of Jesus through the church to the world; the merciful acts of generous care which proclaim the gospel to the poor; the expulsion of demons; healing of the oppressed, and the building of the Church throughout the world through church planting and renewal.

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

The Vineyard DNA

Recently I was talking with a friend from church about our spiritual journey... the process by which we came to find the Lord and how we came to identify ourselves with Vineyard Church. I made the comment that I knew pretty quickly that I was "Vineyard". I was somewhat surprised by the response I received. My friend seemed genuinely confused by my comment... asking how to know if you're Vineyard. This seemed a reasonable question and one which I think would be appropriate to attempt to answer here.

So, how do you know if you're Vineyard? We used to use the phrase "Vineyard DNA" to refer to the core value system that establishes what Vineyard stands for. I think in order to answer the question I will highlight a few of the things that I saw as I came into the Vineyard almost 15 years ago that set Vineyard apart from other denominations or churches. This is not saying Vineyard is superior to these churches or that they have more truth... just that these are some of the values that make Vineyard unique... their DNA.

  1. The first thing that comes to mind when I say "Vineyard" is their focus on worship... not just music but a genuine desire to "touch the face of God" through intimate encounters with Him by the Holy Spirit. Although worship is certainly valued at most churches in all denominations there was something unique about the way Vineyard emphasized worship... and their music was more modern and exciting than even the contemporary stuff I was hearing elsewhere. Vineyard calls this being "Culturally Current", doing ministry in a way that is consistent with the culture we're in, and it is primarily evidenced in their music and worship styles. It was the first thing that I noticed about the church and the thing that drew me initially.

  2. The focus on seeing genuine, powerful moves of God was definitely unique. I had been in many churches that talked about power and a few demonstrated some evidence of the Gifts of the Spirit operating, but I saw more real miracles and healings in my first few weeks at Vineyard than all the rest of my experience combined. Along the same line... Vineyard taught that this was a normal expression of Christian life... that it wasn't for the super-holy but for you and me... "These signs will follow those who believe..." Mark 16. This radical idea was instrumental in changing the course and focus of my life.

  3. Tied to this demonstration of power was an emphasis on personal evangelism. Now certainly Vineyard is not at all unique here... but they added a new perspective for me. John Wimber's book "Power Evangelism" offered the concept that the Power of God... the gifts of the Spirit were primarily given for the growth of the church through evangelism. Suddenly all of the power had a purpose beyond my own health and wealth.

  4. "Naturally Supernatural" is probably my favorite spiritual concept I learned through Vineyard. The value of authenticity... I was tired of the contrived, manipulated "moves of God" I had experienced in the past. I actually left ministry at one point because of the total disconnect with reality I sensed in much of the "ministry" I had seen. Vineyard was the most serious movement I had ever seen at trying to avoid a hyped, platform-oriented display of God's power. In fact, it seemed most of the healings, "signs and wonders" were occurring in home groups and individual settings rather than being performed by one person. I found in this an opportunity to allow God to use me without having to draw attention to myself or without having to be terribly weird... as if telling someone God wants to heal them isn't weird enough.

  5. In Vineyard I found an awareness of the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Suddenly the Holy Spirit wasn't an "it" but was a person walking with us. Ministry and prayers were dotted with phrases like "Come, Holy Spirit" and the sense of Him being right beside us, even inside us was tangible. Church wasn't about going and hearing, it became about coming and experiencing... I had an expectation of having an encounter with God whenever we got together.

  6. The teaching was powerful with a focus on the Kingdom of God that gave me a foundation for all that I was experiencing. The theology of the Kingdom explained many of the questions I had carried for years... why isn't everyone healed?... why doesn't God speak today?. There was a serious emphasis on the Word of God, again, not unique to Vineyard, but the combination of teaching and experiencing made church more like a college lab... learn then do.

  7. There was an expectation that God would speak. I had never seen "personal prophecy" before. What I thought of as prophecy was somebody in a church service speaking a "thus saith the Lord" message using King James english that was usually generic and uplifting. But in Vineyard I found people who would speak to very specific things with amazing insight and accuracy. Although of everything in Vineyard in my early days this single thing made me the most uncomfortable I always marvelled at it and grew to love and appreciate the fact that God speaks through his people.

  8. And finally, there was an overriding sense of purpose... training to send. Vineyard calls it "Recruit, Train, Deploy". We are all in boot camp learning what we need in order to get fully employed in the battle. The vision for planting churches at home and abroad is derived from this vision.

This is by no means everything and there are places to go read more about the formal doctrinal distinctions, and I recommend doing so, but these are the areas that most impacted me. The things I listed are certainly all still true and relevant in varying degrees and still drive who we are and what we strive to be.

Hopefully you can see the things I highlighted and you'll be able to say of yourself with certainty, "I'm Vineyard!"

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I Am Stirred Up

I must confess that my trip to California this month really stirred things up in my spirit... or in my mind... I'm not completely sure which. While I was out there I received so much affirmation... many people encouraging us to come back out there. I had one solid offer and a couple of veiled offers to come pastor churches or plants. None of those situations particularly appeal to me but what did appeal to me was being back in the role of Pastor again. I have known that there would be other opportunities but I had not really given myself over to considering going back into fulltime ministry until the last couple of weeks. And now the thought consumes me.

God has allowed me to revisit almost every stage of my history in the ministry through the last month. I have had contact with adults whom I taught as children in Sunday School classes almost 20 years ago. I have spoken to a couple of people from a group I formed in college. I have revisited my first pastorate and have visited my last one. And God has used these people to affirm and confirm the calling he put on my life. I don't say this with an ounce of arrogance... in reality I say it with a great deal of fear and trembling... but God put me on this earth to pastor his people... to lead them... to protect them... to teach them... to prepare them for life and ministry. I crave that role again... not only as a subordinate but eventually as a Sr. Pastor again... setting the vision and goals.

In 1998 I went to Randy Knutson for a ministry assessment. This involved several personality profiles, life history analysis, gifts analysis... etc. I had already been in ministry for a number of years but I was at a crossroads... wondering if this was a calling or something I just fell into. It took hours to actually work through all of the paperwork and the forms... and I was pretty cynical by the time I got toward the end of my packet of tests.

One page in particular really annoyed me... it was a timeline that you were to draw of your life. I was to put the significant people and events on this line... particularly those whom had spiritual significance, ie. - the first minister I remember... when I got saved... mentors... prophetic words spoken over me... spiritual successes... and failures... I had already done pages of stuff and this little one page chart just seemed worthless. As I thought back and began to remember... and began to write... the Holy Spirit took over. I began to draw and weep. The Lord used that simple chart to remind me of all that he had done... all that he had prepared to bring me to this place... this point in time. By the time I had completed that chart I had been transformed. I had gone from "How could God possibly call me?" to "What a marvelous plan God has for my life! How brilliantly he has orchestrated each step."
(The entire exercise with Randy was wonderful and I recommend it)

I listened to a speaker on tape last night who read this passage from Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 1:4 - 10 (NLT) 4The LORD gave me a message. He said, 5"I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world." 6"O Sovereign LORD," I said, "I can't speak for you! I'm too young!"7"Don't say that," the LORD replied, "for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. 8And don't be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and take care of you. I, the LORD, have spoken!"9Then the LORD touched my mouth and said, "See, I have put my words in your mouth! 10Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. You are to uproot some and tear them down, to destroy and overthrow them. You are to build others up and plant them."

I have known God had a purpose for my life long before I understood his calling. I believe that God has chosen me before my birth, that he has prepared me for over 40 years for "such a time as this". I have endured things that have shaken my faith. I have brought things upon myself that have tested his grace. But through it all God has never removed, or even allowed to fade for long, that fire in my gut. He has put his words in my mouth to uproot and tear down, to build up and plant...

Thursday, July 15, 2004

How Do You Know A Leader?

I have a friend who was lamenting this weekend (for the umpteenth time) about the fact that they have not been put into leadership at church despite serving faithfully for years. As I listened I couldn't help but think there is no way I would put this person in a leadership position but I couldn't off the top of my head tell you why I felt that way.

I recently read a Barna report that said roughly 50% of regular church attenders perceive that they are considered leaders in their church. That is absolutely mind boggling to me... my experience says that there is only 2 or 3 real leaders per 100 attenders. Many of the people who we recognize and call leaders are not leaders. One of my favorite ice breakers is to ask a congregation how many of them consider themselves a better than average driver... invariably about 90% will raise their hand... statistically almost half of those with their hand up are wrong in their perception.

Since my perception of this 'would be' leader and their own were so far apart it made me consider what caused the disparity? They are educated, intelligent and spiritually mature. They are loyal and faithful to the church. There is nothing obvious to disqualify them from the goal they desire. But the reality is that nobody I discussed this with could perceive them as a leader.

This opens up a major point...
The only things that can be given to someone are titles, responsibilities and authority. None of these have anything to do with leadership. I believe it is John Maxwell who says you can recognize a leader by seeing if there is anyone following them. This friend of mine is a wonderful, friendly, intelligent person... but there is nobody who is following. Now, we could probably satisfy them by giving them responsiblity and a title... but is it in anybody's best interest to do that with someone who is not naturally capable of leading?

Quite honestly, the most serious issues in churches that I have been part of are people with titles, responsibilities and authority who ARE NOT LEADERS! This creates a situation where nothing can happen because the people holding the strings are incapable of persuading others or are themselves unable to change. You wind up with someone filling a position who has no vision (or talent) for making it anything more than it was when they took it.

How do you know a leader?
  • Are there people naturally following them? Do people come to them or look to them even when they DON'T have position or authority? This is a key indicator to me. When an issue is brought up in a meeting who do the bulk of the attenders look at first to read a response... that person is likely a leader.

  • Are they a person you would like to reproduce? One of my most painful lessons was when I brought in a children's pastor because he "fit the bill" and he had a "passion for the kids". The thing I didn't put as much emphasis on was whether or not they were a person I would like to reproduce. I chose instead to look past the fact that they were simply weird and not someone I would choose to spend time around if they didn't work for me. They soon flaked out on me and resigned... much to my relief... but it made me realize that you better focus on promoting people who you would like to have more like.

  • Is their home life / professional life in order? This one has to be considered with a lot of grace, but its still important to observe. A person can have such a focus and passion for Kingdom things that they are not driven to career success... that is not in itself a problem... career success is not a sign of leadership skills or spiritual maturity. It becomes a problem when they don't fulfill their requirements to provide for their family and financial obligations. I know a guy who insists God told him not to work for a living. Now, whether or not God told him to work is not my biggest issue with him... the fact that his family is suffering and he doesn't seem to notice is my issue. And as regarding leadership? NO WAY... I would never put him in a place of influence.

  • In family matters, is there constant contention in the home or is it relatively peaceful? This is difficult to discern... I've known great men of God with children from hell... and its hard to know why. Judging a person by another person's behavior is dangerous and should be avoided... but its fair to say that a home that is in disarray is likely a sign of other issues that, even if they do not disqualify them from service, will certainly limit their effectiveness.

Monday, July 12, 2004

You Can Never Go Back?

Ministry is hard.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy and sacrifice to pastor a small church... and it is rarely obvious whether or not the sacrifices are worth the effort. Certainly, it is a rewarding venture when viewed from a high level, but that level is difficult to achieve when you're standing in the middle of the day-to-day circumstances. I recently heard someone say about their vacation in Switzerland "I didn't get to see any scenery because of all the mountains in the way." That is a pretty good analogy to the daily pressures of ministry.

I entered the first church that I pastored with a passion... I was going to grow that thing come hell or high water. We were going to see lives changed, people healed, disciples raised up and sent into fulltime ministry. After almost 5 years passed I was tired and discouraged and I resigned, leaving fulltime ministry. I left feeling like... well, if not a failure I certainly left feeling like less that a success.

Lots of years have passed since then... with many successes and many failures under my (substantial) belt. Those early days aren't a shame, I wear them as a badge (a purple heart, perhaps), even with pride these days. I thank God for the opportunity he provided to be part of the lives of some awesome people... friends that I know, even if we haven't talked for months or years, I could call today if I were in need and they would be there for me.

But there are still times when I can truthfully ask, was it worth it? Was there lasting value?

There were two occurrences recently that touched me deeply.

I was back in that church for a wedding recently. As I sat prior to the wedding a little girl came up and sat down next to me... 7 or 8 years old. She looked up at me and laid her head on my arm. I smiled down and asked her name... she told me and asked, "You're Mr. Duke!"...

"That's right", I answered.

She asked, "Know what my mommy said?"

Now I was interested... I still didn't know who she was. "What?"

"She said you gave me to Jesus when I was a baby!"

Now I'm a sucker for little girls anyway but this really touched me... I turned to see Mitch and Beth Hawley and realized that it was their daughter that I had been privileged to dedicate to the Lord as an infant many years earlier. The little girl knew me from the signature on her dedication certificate still hanging in her bedroom.

This past weekend I was back in the church for yet another wedding. A couple came up during the reception that I recognized. John and Angie Unruh whom I had married nearly 10 years ago. They were there to introduce me to their daughter whom was 8 or 9 years old. They wanted her to meet the "man who married your Mom and I."

There are many other things about being back that were blessings. I (and others) worked hard to instill a mission focus in the church. The day I was there they were sending 13 people to the mission field for an "extreme mission" to Mexico.

To see that the work you toiled at is still producing fruit, to see people whom you loved and poured yourself into still serving and faithful and themselves producing disciples, to see young people you held in your lap now praying for others, or a young woman whom you remember when her first boyfriend broke up with her now walking down the aisle to be handed to her new husband, it is fulfilling. God bless Mike and Gail who continue to serve and lead that body.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Doomed to Sin

I read an article by a friend of mine, a guy I work with, that I had to offer you.
Doomed to Sin

I couldn't agree more. I once asked a guy if he thought he could walk sin free... he said "of course not". So I asked him if he was sinning at this very second... he thought and answered "NO, I guess not". I asked him again, "What about this second now?" The answer was again "No!" So I said, if you chose not to sin for the last few seconds, what makes it impossible for you to choose not to sin for the NEXT few seconds? ANd if you can do that, what about the decisions you make from that point forward? We have convinced ourselves that willful sin is a unavoidable consequence of life... and I think that has diminished our desire to fight for righteousness... I mean, if its unavoidable, why try?

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


I was talking with someone the other day about denominationalism. The prevailing philosophy regarding denominations is that they are somehow inherently ungodly or anti-Christian. This belief is born out of the "one church" ideology which, although is a valid Biblical view it is often taken out of context. We must accept that on a global scale all believers make up "the Church" and it is that global "Church" which Christ will return to redeem. But the fact that the church is made up of many segments embracing many different styles and viewpoints is not in any way categorically unscriptural. It is important to recognize that every denomination in existence has its origin in a genuine move of God. To deny this fact is to risk becoming sectarian and exclusionary... the very thing most denomination-bashers hate the most.

I taught a series of sermons years ago in which I discussed how the nature of Christ, his personality traits, seemed to be divided between men and women... women tending to be more emotionally based and reflecting the nurturing, compassionate, creative sides of Christ... while men tend more toward rationalism and reflect the constructive, strategic, warrior nature. And when we marry and become one flesh we are only then the total reflection of the nature of Christ.

I lay that argument out simply to say I believe that denominations serve much the same purpose. The nature of the Church... the global Church... is such that no single segment of it is a perfect representation of the Bride of Christ... each of those movements that eventually birthed a denomination were given a truth... a portion of the nature of Christ which they championed. Often they were born out of backlash to an immobile or stagnant movement which had championed another truth but had begun to deny the new revelation. Therefore the new revelation becomes that which the new movement champions. As time progresses each denomination seems to have a unique ideology... a concept or truth that distinguishes them from others. Just coming to mind I can think of Assemblies of God championing the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I think of Calvary Chapels championing exegesis, Baptists and evangelism, Nazarenes and holiness, and you can think of others, also. The tendency is for one group to perceive the others as in error but the truth is more likely that they all hold a truth as revealed by the Holy Spirit... and they perceive their truth as THE truth... but it is only when they come together and can embrace all of these truths together do we get a real picture of the Bride of Christ.

Now some will say that there are areas that are completely contradictory and that is true. Obviously it can't be true that you can lose your salvation and it be also true that once you're saved you're always saved. It can't be true that the Holy Spirit empowers us to speak in tongues and it be also true that tongues are demonic. But the truth is somewhere in there when we put it all on the table. I'm not a proponent of abandoning the identity of a movement. I sincerely believe its the tension between these perspectives that keeps us out of more error than we have now. I can't help but think of Catholicism through the centuries when, as the only purveyor of truth, they became corrupt. A person should find that area which God has called them to... that which he has asked them to champion... and do so.

We will always find ourselves in error when we determine that our position cannot be flawed. There is NOBODY and no movement that has perfect doctrine and is without error. That is the only sane and truly healthy perspective to hold.

Secondary or Subordinate Vision

In a recent conversation with a former associate pastor we discussed the issue of secondary vision... pursuing the vision of another. This is essentially what an associate pastor is asked to do... and most of the associates I have known have a vision of their own that lies dormant, voluntarily subjected to the vision of the Senior Leader. This is as it must be... the Senior Pastor sets the vision and direction and all lower level leaders must find their fulfillment in executing that vision. Ideally you would match up visions... an associate who has vision that fits nicely into that of the Senior Leader's and allows both to be fulfilled, but this doesn't seem to be as common as you would hope. There are, however, associates who are certainly called to Senior leadership and have a God-given vision of their own... and repeatedly quenching their own dreams begins to take a toll on them spiritually and emotionally. There is a time when it is beneficial to all parties for an associate to "leave the nest" and go pursue that which God has birthed in them.

Part and partial to this conversation is the realization that there are hundreds of people with visions who would be more than happy to spend you and your talents and callings on their dreams. And it would be easy and somewhat natural for someone to jump at the chance to be 'needed' and go fill a role in a small church plant or other ministry... but doing so doesn't address the main issue... the vision God has given the individual. I have had many people invite me to come work with them in this or that church plant... some I have pursued... most I have not. There is no shortage of people who would be happy to wear you out for the kingdom...

If you are called to Senior Leadership then you will not be fulfilled indefinitely in an associate role. Working in a subordinate position should be viewed as training time or it will be unfulfilling. I love where I'm at and the people I'm working with... I love the type of church they are and are trying to build... but I still consider myself in training. The most difficult part of working this way is dealing with the fact that your opinions or decisions are not final... they are simply considered suggestions. Having come from a Senior Leader Role this has proven to be frustrating at times.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Program vs Vision

Just a thought...
I have been heavily involved in putting together the "40 Days of Purpose" Campaign at our church the last few weeks. As the opening services start this week I have noticed some things.

The anticipation and expectation are palpable. Its exciting to walk into the church and feel the 'buzz'... the air is supercharged and we have been experiencing some wonderful services as the campaign dates near. Why the newfound energy?

For whatever reason we have not experienced this kind of expectancy since I've been here. It has been 'business-as-usual' for the most part over the past 18 months or so. I have written before about the need for a clear, articulate vision to generate and maintain enthusiasm and purpose and that is something that has been difficult to clearly define here. Its not that there is no vision but it is not as clearly articulated as it could be... chances are very few people in the church could tell you what it is. I have, however, been involved in churches where the vision was very clear and articulate and those churches maintained a similar expectancy to what we are now experiencing.

This leads me to conclude something that is a revelation to me... a programmatic campaign can serve as a substitute for an articulate vision. In the absence of clear purpose a program can generate a similar enthusiasm. Since this is a new concept to me I cannot say whether or not it is sustainable... I fear it is not... but I am enjoying the current wave and feel a tremendous challenge and responsibility to not waste it but to harness it and lead it... particularly as the campaign concludes in early June.

Monday, March 22, 2004

This is an article I wrote for 'Jackson Christian Family' magazine

When I first walked into a Vineyard church back in the early 90's I found myself immediately drawn to their music and their worship style. That is a consistent story when you talk with people who have identified themselves with the Vineyard... almost always the worship is the distinctive to which they were first attracted. Often, however, it takes a while to understand that Vineyard worship is less about a style and more of a philosophy. There are several values that Vineyard has maintained since its inception dating back to the 70's Jesus Movement that influence their worship styles. The first is what we call 'Culturally Current'. For a church to be culturally current simply means that it has to present an eternal truth, an unchanging message to a culture that is constantly changing. In simpler terms we must speak the language of the people to whom we are ministering. This finds its expression in our music when we strive to keep our sound contemporary to our culture. This is the reason that the musical style we use in a West Coast church may be somewhat different than that in a church in the South or the Northeast even though we will all share the same values. Second is our philosophy of 'vertical' versus 'horizontal' worship. Think of vertical worship as singing 'to' God instead of 'about' God. Although there is value to proclaiming God's goodness and his deeds to each other in song and other proclamations we believe that there is a special intimacy with God to be found in expressing our love and adoration 'vertically'... singing directly to him. This leads us to our greatest value... personal intimacy with God. Vineyard worship seeks to provide an atmosphere where people can connect with God in a personal and meaningful way. It is in this intimate place with God that we can truly worship "in spirit and in truth."

Friday, March 5, 2004

Worship Leaders vs Music Leaders

I am concerned about the use of the term worship being synonymous with the term music. If someone says, "We have worship before the preacher preaches." what they obviously mean is that's when we sing songs. Try this axiom on... something I jotted down last week.

If you are unable to worship God effectively without music, then what you are experiencing with the music is not really the worship of God.

Our music and songs are counterproductive to true worship if the are allowed to become a replacement or substitute for worship. Music and singing effects us physiologically. Our emotions are influenced and our body, mind and spirit respond... that is not a negative thing... but it is not a substitute for the worship of God. I have often said that people worship the act of worship sometimes more than they worship their Creator... I mean, obviously, that they enjoy the stirring of their emotions by the "act of worship" and often mistake that for the presence of God moving in their spirit.

As a "worship leader" I easily get sidetracked and focus my attention on the songs... the music... the delivery... but if I truly were to go lead WORSHIP I might be inclined to get on stage with no instruments and simply kneel or bow as we offer ourselves to God.

I love music... and music that lifts up Jesus is my favorite. Often it help me to focus in on God's goodness, expressing what's in my heart better than I can myself. This gives my worship (my love for my Creator) wings, so to speak...an expression... in this case it becomes an instrument of worship. In no way do I perceive music as an enemy to true worship or anything like that, simply that we as Worship Leaders must strive to present a broader experience than a song to sing.

Worship Notes

** wow... been awhile since I wrote anything. I have just moved into a new home and the process of getting in has sapped my energy and time. Anyway, I have been thinking about worship a bit lately and thought I'd pass a few thoughts on... they may be somewhat disjointed but then again so are my thoughts. These are actually some excerpts from emails I have written over the last couple of weeks**

John 4:23,24 speaks of "true worshippers" worshipping in "spirit and truth". Am I a true worshipper? I believe that I am occassionally but probably more often I'm not... in reality I still approach worship on my terms and still approach the throne in my own flesh. Its a constant struggle to be first a spiritual being. In Psalms 27 David is obviously sensing peril... he feels overwhelmed by the challenges he is facing... particularly his enemies... very literal enemies seeking to take his life... and yet he comes back to the realization that his security is not in his own armies but in the Lord and in his presence. One thing I ask and seek... to dwell with you... to gaze upon you... that is incredible language for someone running for their life. He sees his security in spiritual realities... John 4 speaks to this "spirit and truth"... truth is not separated from spirit... Matthew 6 says "seek first the Kingdom and everything else will be taken care of" Spirit AND truth... truth is reality... spirit is reality... what we normally function in is a facade... a big untruth or lie masquerading as truth and even occasionally masquerading as spirit.Only by spending time in the presence of God can we know what is truth and stop "conforming to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2)

For the most part we all segment our lives into nice little compartments. We have the spiritual person and the 'real' person. We have work lives and home lives... church lives and play lives... Worship just becomes one of those segments in our life. Worship must become our overriding motivation in all segments... not just a segment. We become whole creatures only when we stop segmenting and begin placing our entire person under the authority of Christ. Worship is truly just loving Jesus back because he first loved us... when we worship him in all areas... "doing all as unto the Lord"... "Praying without ceasing"... all these things speak to an unsegmented or whole person.

I would probably not separate the experience of feeling God's presence and the act of worship too much... God's presence is him loving me... worship is me loving him back... worship is almost an automatic response to his presence. God's presence is always there to be experienced but I'm not always in the mood or the mindset to experience it. Its virtually impossible for a minister or service to overcome my own attitude... our ability to receive from God in any environment is directly tied to our attitude, humility and expectancy.

Why do some not experience God on Sunday while others are overwhelmed by his presence? I believe everyone is touched by God but not everyone returns that touch... and most don't recognize the touch. (how's that for circular arguments) I believe that everyone who seeks the Lord on Sunday finds him... everyone who calls on him receives him... that is a matter of the individual and their desire.

Those who don't recognize the touch and WANT IT can be instructed and encouraged. I tend to believe that most people don't know how to enter into his presence and many of those don't really want to. I believe you can help by teaching them to begin with thanksgiving... praise... celebration... these things are said to cast off the spirit of heaviness... then we can instruct in focusing on God and hearing him... experiencing him. But that only goes as far as people are willing to follow.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Pastoral Stress ** When can we call it quits? **

When is it okay to quit the ministry?

When a pastor begins to think about quitting he is almost always going to be consumed with guilt. You can't help but feel like you are letting God and your church down by wanting out... and in some ways that may be true. There is always a sense of calling with ministry and to face the fact that you are miserable and generally feeling like a failure is heart breaking, embarrassing and humbling. It is irrelevant whether your church is 'successful' or not... if you are miserable you will still likely feel like a failure... if you are wanting out it doesn't matter how well things are going.

The callings of God are without repentance... we know this... but we rarely understand how to apply it. When I was pastoring in Fayetteville I reached a point of extreme depression. I was unhappy and wanted out of the ministry... at the time I was ready to give it up forever. My overwhelming sense was that quitting was the equivalent of rejecting God himself... if he called me and placed me then it wasn't possible that I could stop... as I watched my church dwindle down to just a handful I preached more and more on faithfulness in the hard times... Job became relevant... sacrifice seemed to be the rule. The truth was in hindsight that in my state of mind I was not doing anybody any favors by hanging on... but that wasn't the way it seemed at the time.

The people who I sought counsel from, men of God, many of them, were generally supportive of me but their instruction was always along the lines of "Endure to the end" type messages. The deeper I sank the less relevant these counselors became. Then, while on vacation, I was introduced to Randy Knutson, a church planting coordinator with the Vineyard, who listened while I unloaded my frustrations. He asked me a simple question... "Why do you think God would ask you to do something that made you miserable?" Before I could answer with my prepackaged rebuttal he continued, "Leaders in God's Kingdom are rare... YOU are more important to the Lord than your work or your church!"

Something in me broke that moment... For the first time I felt like I had permission to stop banging my head into the wall... and the freedom was tangible... overwhelming... and I cried like a baby. And my resignation the next day began an adventure that I wouldn't trade anything for. If I had stayed on in a misguided sense of duty I would have not grown and experienced the things I have the last few years... nor would that church have had any life in it... by stepping down it opened the door for God to place someone else there who had life to give to those people.

Randy used the term one time with me of "Holy Discontent"... this is a sense of coming change... a stirring in the spirit where we begin to feel unhappy or discontented with the place we are currently serving. In retrospect I guess I would have had a hard time leaving anywhere I've ever served had things just been perfect... its the discontentment that gets us to move... to seek God and find his next assignment.

This may not be the way it works for everybody else, but I know I have seen over and over tired and burned out pastors hanging on to a tired and burned out church or ministry that sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be better off if they just stopped the madness. For their and their family's sake as well as the church. Life is too short to spend it hating what you're doing. I can think of three such churches that I have visited within the last month or two, so this isn't a small obscure issue. And in each of those cases the people giving counsel are encouraging them to "Endure to the end"... and it makes me want to cry. I've been there and I know their cry is for someone to give them permission to quit...

We don't want to give that permission because, "What if it is God? What if he's trying to work faithfulness into this leader?" That's a good question... and I don't know the answer... but a pastor who loses his family or his sanity in the name of faithfulness is never going to learn anything... false duty is killing pastors. In an earlier posting I discussed the 1500 pastors a month leaving ministry... what if they had left earlier with a blessing? Could they have had a rest, recharged, changed venues and recovered to be even more effective than before? I think the answer is "OF COURSE"!

The keys to success in ministry include 1) The right person 2) in the right place 3) at the right time. And sometimes it takes quitting what you're doing so that God can place you in a new setting so that your effectiveness is increased.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Pastoral Stress (Addendum)

This topic has generated several comments so I thought I'd add some additional thoughts.

Other stress factors are mixed or unclear visions. I have seen numerous occasions where ministers come together to pastor a church as associates or co pastors but the vision for the kind of church they want to be is unclear or undefined. This creates much stress as the church matures since the leaders will pull against each other. This disunity is not usually aggressive or malicious but is discouraging, nevertheless. A similar issue to this is an associate to a domineering or authoritarian type senior pastor. It doesn't take long to sap the passion and joy out of serving the Kingdom when its man's Kingdom you're serving and not the Lord's.

Another issue that separates pastors from ministry is their own sin issues. An unfortunate reality is that many of the issues that infect our culture infect our churches and our pastors. The pressure to hide sin is always high but in a person who has influence in large part due to a perceived godly lifestyle this pressure is enormous. This can create an environment where a pastor, in order to keep his job, will refrain from confession of sin. This is obviously counter to the word of God, which clearly states that confession is our route to healing. A pastor who is continuing to minister with a hidden life he is trying to maintain is destined for collapse. Realizing that pastor's are people first and pastor's second they, like most other people, are susceptible to vices during times of stress. When pressure builds most people turn to "comfort areas" for relief. And if a past "comfort" involved addictive behavior it is easy to return to the addiction.

Friday, January 9, 2004

Pastoral Stress

According to a recent study I read more than 1500 pastors each month are expected to leave the ministry permanently over the next few years. That is an astonishing figure but it isn't difficult to understand why.

Most people go into ministry for all the right reasons... they love people and they love God. If that were the only requirement to be a considered an effective pastor then you would have little fallout. But the pressures on a pastor today are almost incomprehensible.

Financial: Although its not a widely recognized fact, most pastors in the U.S. are bi-vocational... they hold an outside job. The huge majority of churches in America are under 100 people and do not have the budget necessary to support a fulltime pastor. This split duty the pastor carries is a strong demotivator... they are working the equivalent of 2 fulltime jobs. Those that go fulltime in smaller churches are generally under-employed and have no staff to assist them.

Appreciation: There was a time when the pastor was considered with the highest respect. I remember growing up that it was special to have the pastor's family come over after church for dinner. They were respected and given much appreciation. Today's move toward 'casual' churches with less separation between the clergy and the laity has caused at least one unfortunate side-affect... in general the pastor is not as highly regarded as he once was. Our church growing up took special offerings for Pastor's Appreciation Month or Christmas... I have pastored in staff roles in 3 churches for 7 years and have never yet had anyone show us courtesy and appreciation in that fashion. Nor do I know a small church pastor who has... this is a cultural reality... the pastor does not have the respect and esteem he once did.

Expectations: The current culture applauds itself for its 'inquisitive mind'... its debating of details. In a congregation of 200 it is virtually impossible to deliver a 30 minute sermon that doesn't provoke a portion of the congregation to debate the theology, scholarship or merit of the opinion of the speaker. And there are usually a handful that consider it their duty to critique and dissect every word and bring it to your attention. In every church I have had at least one person who came every week to critique my sermons. It isn't done usually with malice, but as the response of individualism to authority. Healthy questioning is appropriate but constant requirements to 'proof' every statement becomes a burden that is exhausting.

Faith is a very personal thing and everybody has a fairly clear understanding of what they expect from their pastor. Being all things to all people is not something most people are capable of, but as a pastor we certainly try. Expectations regarding relational issues are often unrealistic. I recently heard of a local church who fired their pastor because he didn't visit enough people each week. Otherwise he is a fine preacher and administrator. This type of thing is a prime example of divergent expectations... although it is important to be real and accessible, it is not reasonable to expect a pastor to build relationship with every individual in his church.

Failure: In our culture failure and success of pastor's is usually defined by church size and growth. We all say the right things like size isn't important, depth and quality are important, but the reality is that when a pastor asks another pastor how his church is doing what he is really asking is how many people are attending. Today more people are mobile than ever before... families do not stay in one place as long as they used to. Bert Waggoner told me one time that we must think of our church as a river, not as a lake. This is absolutely true... people come and go and the dynamics of a constantly changing church creates stress.

All of these things and dozens more create an environment that is exhausting and stressful. When I first thought about entering the ministry I approached my mentor and asked him what he thought. His reply was "If you can do anything else, do that." It is not a career choice... there are easier ways to make a living. It is a calling and those who know the call understand that if its in you its hard to quit. I have left ministry once thinking it was forever but I couldn't get away... the passion inside me would not allow it. But the sabbatical... the break was healing and refreshing.

I have my doubts about whether or not the 1500 a month leaving ministry will stay out of ministry forever. Many will return to their calling because they have no choice. But the healing of rest will make them more affective.