Start with “Why”

In the early 1970s, only 15% of the traveling population traveled by air. Southwest Airlines focused their attention on the other 85%. “We are the champion for the common man.” That was WHY they started the airline. In the 1970s, air travel was expensive and if Southwest was going to be the champion for the common man they had to be cheap, fun and simple. That’s how they did it. That’s how they were to champion the cause of the common man. “You are now free to move about the country,” they repeated in their advertising. That saying was more than a tagline, it became a cause—a cause looking for followers. What Southwest achieved became the stuff of business legend. As a result of WHY they do what they do, and because they are highly disciplined in HOW they do it, they are the most profitable airline in history.

Why does Apple exist? It exists to empower the individual spirit and, by the way, they make really good computers, phones and music players. Apple knows why they exist better than most companies. They have inspired fanatical loyalty from their customers. And in the process, Apple became the most profitable and valuable company on the planet. The Apple Store at the Fashion Mall in Indianapolis has more sales per square foot than the Tiffany’s store in the same mall. The same store has more total sales than a Macy’s department store.

Costco knows the answer to why it exists. It exists (1) to value and serve its employees; (2) to serve its customers by providing high quality products and low prices combined, delivered with high service; (3) and last—in that order—to give a good return to its shareholders. How can you pay more in employee costs, offer low prices and give your shareholders a good return? Don’t you have to sacrifice one to get the other? Costco knows why it exists and it does it all well. I’ve been a loyal Costco member since Carla and I lived in Seattle and they continue to amaze me with price and service. I’m hooked. I’ll drive past Kroger, Walmart, and Target to get to a Costco.

In his book “Start With Why”, Simon Senek studied leaders who have had the greatest influence in the world and he discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way—and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. Senek calls this powerful idea “The Golden Circle”. It provides the framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY. Starting with WHY works in big business, in small business, and in the non-profit (church) world.

WHAT: Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. Everyone can easily describe the products or services a company provides.

HOW: Some companies/organizations and people know HOW to do WHAT they do. HOW might be a “proprietary process” or “unique focus” of service provided. HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better. Many think HOWs differentiate their company from others.

WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do.

Let’s apply the lesson of the Golden Circle to churches. Most churches approach the Golden Circle from the outside in. Every church knows what they do. They have Sunday services. They have Sunday School. They care for each other. They raise money for missions. They have programs and worship. They have children’s and youth ministries. They have boards and committees. A few churches can answer HOW. Maybe they have a certain focus or mission that differentiates them from other churches. But very few churches have a clear compelling idea of why they exist. In a contemporary survey, church members were polled as to why their local church exits. The answer was staggering: 88% answered, “The church exists to serve my needs and the needs of my family.” When it comes to the church, we approach it all wrong.

Why should someone attend our church? Why should they sacrifice their time or their money? Here are some of the answers you might hear:

  • “We are running behind on our budget”
  • “We could really use some help in our children’s ministry.“
  • “We need to get more young people in the church. You are young, we would love for you to make First Church your home church.”
  • “Our pastor preaches really great sermons.”
  • “We are a loving church. We are really friendly.”
  • “We are looking for a youth pastor to get some young people back in the church.”
  • “Our worship service is wonderful.”

None of those reasons will produce fierce loyalty, sacrifice and inspiration. No one has extra time in his or her busy life. No one has extra time to give so a church can maintain programs. No one has large sums of money to carve out so the church can meet its budget.

Instead of communicating WHAT we do or even HOW we do it, we need to answer WHY. Pastor, WHY do people come to your church? If you asked them, what would they say? Their answers will tell you how well you are communicating the WHY.

WHY does the local church exist? What is your purpose? What is your cause? What do you believe that drives you? What drives you to get out of bed in the morning? And WHY should anyone care? People won’t sacrifice their time and money for programs and budgets, but they will sacrifice to see lives changed. They will sacrifice to see those who were dead in their sins find life in Christ. They will sacrifice to come alongside a church that is making a difference for time and eternity. In the gospels, the person of Jesus was so compelling that his disciples left everything to follow him. They left their businesses, their families, and their homes because they saw something in Jesus. Who he was and his mission was worth every sacrifice.

The local church has the most compelling, exciting, inspiring WHY of any organization on the planet. The WHY of the church has a greater eternal return on investment than Apple. The WHY of the church is more powerful to change a life than the best service a company can offer. The WHY of the church should inspire people to sacrifice their time and money. The WHY of the church should lift you to new heights of leadership you never thought possible. Start with WHY.




The Pastor’s Office

Some of my favorite stories in the Gospels occurred in Jesus’ office. Remember when Nicodemus made an appointment to see Jesus in the church office and Jesus was able to explain what it means to be born again? That’s a powerful story. How about the time the Samaritan woman came to see Jesus in his office? Talk about an open door policy! Jesus’ office was truly open to anyone as long as they made an appointment during office hours. Or how about the time the lame man came to see Jesus in the church? It’s a good thing the church was ADA accessible in those days. I can only image how marvelous it was when Jesus spoke the words—right in his office—and the man was made whole!

Archeologists have discovered many sites and artifacts that point to places and people mentioned in the New Testament. One site they will never find is the location of Jesus’ office. Jesus didn’t set up shop at the temple and wait for people to come to him. He didn’t open an office in a particular synagogue and advertise for folks to come. Jesus was the Great Physician who made house calls—he didn’t expect the spiritually/physically ill to come to him, he went to them. He was the Good Shepherd who not only cares for his sheep, but he leaves the ninety-nine and goes to find the one that is lost.

The typical church is isolated from their community and from the culture that surrounds them. Nowhere else is this more apparent than how we have taught pastors to do ministry. Pastors have great people skills. They meet and greet people well, they love people, they love helping people, they love spending time with them, being with them, and ministering to them. Yet where do pastors spend most of their time – in the office. For three generations pastors have been taught how to work out of their office. And when pastors work from their office—as fishers of men—how big a net are we casting? When we work primarily out of our office, we see the same 10 to 20 people every week.

Pastors, you can’t teach a congregation to do something you aren’t doing. When it comes to reaching lost people and becoming a sending church that sends its members out into their community to be salt and light, you need to lead the way. The greatest stories of Jesus’ ministry occurred when he went to where the lost, the hurting, the broken were and he met them there. So how do you model the pattern of ministry we see throughout the ministry of Jesus and throughout the entire New Testament? The first step is to get out of your office. I’ve heard the saying, “nothing good happens in a pastor’s office”. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not far from the truth.

Here are a few things to do to get out in the community:

First, get rid of your office. 

Close your office and give the space to a ministry that could use it. Or at the very least spend as little time at your church office as possible. Find a local coffee shop or restaurant that has Wi-Fi and use that as your office. For example, let’s say you pick a Starbucks. Intentionally get to know the managers and staff, and get to know the regulars who frequent the store. Let them know you are a pastor. Get to know their names and begin to learn their stories. 95% of us love people. We are wired to do this stuff. Enjoy it! Let the manager know that if they ever have an employee that is in crisis or needs someone to talk to, you are available to help.

If someone wants to meet with you, meet at Starbucks. But what if they want to talk about something personal? Won’t that be awkward? The truth is, people talk about EVERYTHING at Starbucks! I can’t tell you the amount of times, as a pastor, I’ve met people at Starbucks (or a restaurant) and they have bared their soul. Places like Starbucks are becoming the new public house or pub. They are the gathering places for the community. It’s where friends go to talk. They are the places people go to be with others. They go there to have light conversation. They go there to have deep conversations.

Second, for one year, have all your church board and ministry team meetings in the community.

A great way to reintroduce your people to the local mission field of your community is to get them meeting outside the walls of the church. For a year, have them meet in a restaurant or coffee shop (depending on the size of board/team). As part of the meeting agenda talk about the community in which they live. Talk about the people in the community you have come to know through your efforts in getting out of the office. Spend time praying as a team for the needs of your community and the needs of the people you meet in the restaurant. One great way to get your board/team smiling is to introduce your wait staff to the folks gathered around you. In front of your team tell the server that you are from such-and-such a church. Let them know that your team is purposely getting outside of the church and into the community. And as they serve your food, ask them, “As we pray for our food, is there anything you’d like us to pray for?” You’ll be amazed at how open most people will be to sharing a need in their lives.

You can teach evangelism from the pulpit every Sunday, but nothing can substitute the pastor modeling it in front of his/her people. Jesus taught his disciples how to love lost and broken people, but his most powerful and memorable teaching was caught not taught. It’s the stories of Jesus going out and having divine encounters with people that we remember best.

An added benefit to having board meetings in the community is that board members tend to behave themselves when they are in public! Can I get an amen?

Finally, hold regular prayer walks/drives in the community

Invite people to join you in prayer for the community through a prayer walk through a neighborhood near the church, or by driving to a neighborhood and praying. To establish your prayer team, don’t make a general invitation in the bulletin or from the pulpit. Instead, personally invite people you’d like to have as part of the team. Most people are fearful of praying in public and if they express those fears, assure them that you aren’t great at public prayer either and together you’ll get each other through it. Before you go out on a prayer walk, do your homework. Learn the demographics of your community (1) and share key demographic information with your team as you lead up to your prayer time. Keep up on the current news stories in your town and apply them to the need for God to do something through your church to reach your community for Christ. As you walk, you might want to pray about needs you learned through the newspaper or through your personal contacts in the community. As you walk, ask God to open your eyes to what He sees. As you see kids that are lost with no place to go, pray for them. Lift up the single moms who face innumerable challenges. Pray for those caught in addiction. Pray for the kids who have dropped out of school. Pray for the kids who grow up without a father. Your heart will begin to break. Tears will start to well up in your eyes as the veil is lifted and you begin to see what Jesus sees. Your broken heart will be contagious as the Holy Spirit honors your leadership and begins to break the hearts of your prayer team for lost people.

Jesus made a strategic decision to go out and have encounters with lost and broken people, to meet them where they lived and worked. It was the primary method in which he did ministry and it should be the primary way we do our ministry as well. Most of the great stories of your ministry will happen outside your office doing what God has already wired you to do. Go for it!


How My Grandfather Inspired Me to Embrace Change

As Christians, why is it that we celebrate transformational change in the life of a person and yet resist transformational change in the life of a church? The reality is that we serve an unchangeable God who changes everything He touches. The power of God is synonymous with change. When an individual experiences the power of God, he/she changes and becomes transformed. The same is true of a church that experiences the power of God.

The Church of God holiness movement believes that personal transformation is evidence of an infilling of the power of God through the Holy Spirit. The early years of the Church of God were marked with not only a burning desire to see souls transformed through the proclamation of the gospel, but also a pioneering spirit of risk taking for the sake of the lost. The church embraced all sorts of new-fangled ways to expand the kingdom of God: they used the novel idea of a church publishing house to get the gospel to masses; they retrofitted a boat christened the “Floating Bethel” to evangelize along the banks of the Ohio River; they set up tent meetings, camp meetings; they preached from street corners; they embraced the medium of radio and broadcast the message of the Church of God to millions.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Church of God wanted to reach out to the mass of immigrants coming to America. They specifically targeted immigrants who were making their way to the Ohio River Valley to work in the blast furnaces and mills that lined the riverbanks of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia (places that years ago the Church of God had planted congregations in part through the ministry of the Floating Bethel). After World War I, a young man named Karl Matas left his parents, his brothers and sisters, and his extended family to immigrate from what is now Slovakia to America in the hope of a better life. He made the voyage across the Atlantic in a ship that once served Kaiser Wilhelm but now was owned and operated by the victorious Allies. As the ship entered New York harbor, he stood on the deck along with thousands of other passengers from Europe and saw for the first time the towering Statue of Liberty. He was processed through Ellis Island and then made his way to the bustling steel town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, with hopes of working in the hot blast furnaces and steel mills that lined the Stonycreek River in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains. He sacrificed everything for the sake of freedom and the hope of a better life. In Slovakia, he was a peasant from a family of peasants. In America, he was a free man who could determine his own future.

The Church of God had planted a Slovak-speaking church in Johnstown complete with hymnals and Bibles all printed in Slovak. The church reached out to my grandfather and for the first time he heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and his life was transformed. Through the church, he met and married Mary Rusnak, a beautiful young Slovak immigrant. In the years that followed, Karl and Mary had sixteen children and raised them in a four-bedroom house with a backyard that abutted the foot of a hill (a mountain to folks in Indiana) and a front yard that faced a massive rail yard with a steel mill beyond the tracks. The story would be great if it ended there, but there’s more. Karl was called to pastoral ministry. For years he worked swing shift in the mill, raised his children, and served as pastor of the church in Johnstown.

Karl Matas was my grandfather, and I’m thankful for the willingness of the 19th and early 20th century Church of God to take risks—to transform itself so that it would be effective in its mission to reach as many people as possible for Christ. Today I’m a follower of Christ and a minister of the gospel, and I owe much to the Church of God and how it embraced transformation so that lives could be transformed.

There’s an old saying, “The only constant is change”. As we go through life, we realize that change is inevitable. We can resist it, but there’s no stopping it. In fact, God designed life so that change is built into it. Everyday we encounter change, both good and bad. In fact, you don’t have to go looking for change; just stay where you are and change will come find you.

Transformation is at the heart of God’s mission for us as individuals and it is at the heart of his desire for the church. A person that is changed by the gospel will have a holy impact on those around him/her (spouse, children, family, work, school, and neighborhood). A church that is experiencing transformation will likewise have an impact on individuals, neighborhoods, a city, a county, a region…maybe even globally. There is something sad about a church that claims to embrace personal transformation and yet stubbornly resists corporate transformation. A life that is transformed is evidence of the working of the power of God. A transformational church is also evidence that the power of God is active and working in the local body. A follower of Christ whose life bears little evidence of personal transformation has little or no Holy Spirit power in their life. A church whose life bears little evidence of corporate transformation bears little or no evidence of the Spirit’s power.

What’s the alternative to transformational change in the life of a church? It’s to fall into a rut of doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different outcome. If we remain faithful doing what we’ve always done then maybe one day God will reward us by having two Greyhound buses full of people arrive in the church’s parking lot on a Sunday morning. It’s divorcing the relationship between being faithful and being fruitful. Far too many churches laud faithfulness without fruitfulness. It’s as if we have taken the Parable of the Stewards and awarded sainthood to the third steward who avoided all risk by burying his talent. Sadly, that has become an accepted definition of what it means to be faithful.

Every church is busy, but few are making an impact for Christ. Rather than be missionaries to our communities for Christ, we are content to go in frantic circles. Yet God calls us to make a transformational impact on the world, not for us to engage in exhaustive activity that is just internally focused.

I write all this, not to bash the church, but to nudge it awake—to rekindle the fire that once burned brightly within it. I love the Church of God. I’m thankful it once took tremendous risks to reach out to the lost and the dying. I’m here today because in the early 1920s, the Church of God took some risks; engaged in ministries that were innovative and new. They loved people more than methods; and they risked it all. Those early pioneers of the Church of God have already heard the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” They have passed a legacy on to us. And the question remains, “What will we do about it?” Will we stand on shoulders of giants and reach higher and further for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom or will we resist change and dig our ruts deeper?

During a Matas family reunion, my grandfather sat everyone down and began in broken English to share his testimony. He talked about risking everything to come to America and about the first time he heard the gospel of Christ through the Church of God. He read the twin parables of The Hidden Treasure and The Pearl of Great Price found in Matthew 13:44-46.

[44] “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

[45] “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, [46] who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

My immigrant grandfather understood all too well the idea of risking everything for something that was precious. When he heard about Jesus, he was willing to leave everything behind. And he heard about Jesus through the efforts of the Church of God who was willing to risk everything for the sake of the gospel. What will be our legacy?

Associate Pastor Ethics 101

One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Seinfeld. In fact, I think most of life’s awkward moments can be tied to one of the many episodes of Seinfeld. In one particular episode, George gets fired for (I’m putting this delicately) having an inappropriate sexual encounter in the office with a cleaning woman. When his boss confronts him, George defends himself by saying:

“Was that wrong?”

“Should I not have done that?”

“I tell ya, I got to plead ignorance on this thing.”

“If anyone had said anything to me when I first started here that this sort of

thing was frowned upon…”

His boss interrupts his litany of excuses by simply saying, “You’re fired.”

When it comes to an associate pastor—in the context of the associate’s relationship to the lead pastor—what are the boundaries of appropriate behavior? In my twenty years of ministry, serving both as a lead pastor and later in an associate role, here are some of the unethical behaviors I have witnessed:

  • An associate pastor splitting a church to start their own church in the same city
  • Associate pastors engaging in and entertaining negative conversation about the lead pastor with other staff and/or congregants
  • An associate pastor getting fired and then sending angry open letters to members of the congregation
  • Associate pastors undermining the leadership and vision of the lead pastor
  • When a lead pastor was out of town, an associate pastor calls an elder board meeting to discuss the performance of the lead pastor

Sadly I could go on, but you get the point. In each of these examples, when the associate is confronted, they respond like George Costanza: Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?

Here are some principles to help guide the associate pastor in their relationship with the lead pastor:

1. The lead pastor is not mythical

Lead pastors are not mythical (and neither are associates). They are human. They have strengths and weaknesses. They have blind spots. They have varying levels of emotional intelligence. It is tempting to enter into an associate role having an unrealistic expectation of your relationship with the lead pastor. Your relationship with the lead pastor is like any other important relationship, there will be times when you will need to extend grace. There will be moments when you don’t see eye-to-eye. There will be misunderstandings. And yes, there will be arguments. The key to having a healthy relationship is HOW you handle those times. I have a great marriage with my wife Carla. Other than my relationship with Christ, my relationship with Carla is the most precious, beautiful relationship I have. As wonderful as my marriage is, Carla and I have walked through all the relationship minefields I just mentioned and even a few more! It’s two people working through their differences with determined grace that builds quality, longevity, and beauty in a relationship. The same can be said of the relationship between an associate and lead pastor. Never think that your relationship with the lead pastor shouldn’t have bumps and hiccups along the way because it will; it’s how you react to the rough places that makes all the difference. Work through your differences. Talk through your differences. Pray through your differences. And above all, extend grace and love through your differences.

2. It is essential to embrace the vision of the lead pastor

Before you ever sign on as an associate, you need to embrace the vision of the lead pastor. What is his/her vision for the church? Can they articulate it? Are they passionate about it? Is it a vision that is compelling? Is it a vision that you can embrace, own and promote? If not, don’t even consider an associate position under the leadership of that pastor.

What if the church you are currently serving calls a new lead pastor who has a vision that you can’t fully support? If, after meeting with the lead pastor, you can’t fully align with his/her vision, you need to graciously resign for the sake of the church and your integrity. An associate facing that dilemma will find it impossible to be effective in ministry, let alone follow the leadership of that lead pastor.

3. Develop healthy communication between you and the lead pastor

Meet weekly with the lead pastor. These meetings can either be jointly with other staff or one-on-one with the lead pastor, depending on your need and the situation. Always make sure roles and expectations are clearly defined. Use active listening when necessary; “What I’m hearing you say is this…. Is that correct?” Using active listening techniques will allow you to avoid misunderstandings so that you will clearly know what the expectations are. In church staffs, most unhealthy relationships begin with poor communication; healthy communication has broken down–it’s either not frequent enough or it is not effective. One piece of advice on communication: Never communicate emotion through text or email. If you are angry and upset, walk down the hallway and talk to the staff person who upset you. Never, never, never deal with a disagreement through text or email. It sounds elementary, but you’d be surprised how many times this rule is violated in churches. One final communication rule, never, never, never talk negatively about another staff person outside of that person’s presence. Again, it’s the Matthew 18 principle in play here. If you have a problem with a staff person, deal with that person directly. If you undermine a fellow staff person (an associate or a lead pastor) by talking negatively about him/her to a congregant, that is grounds for dismissal.

In Galatians 5, Paul describes what a life lived in the Spirit is all about. To effectively communicate the idea, he first describes what life lived in the flesh is like and the picture he paints is not pretty. In verses 19-20 he has a long list of behaviors of the flesh, things like sexual immorality, orgies, and idolatry. Yet in the middle of that list are sins of the flesh that are all too common in our relationships with others in ministry: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions.

It is essential to understand what life in the flesh is like, before you can fully understand life in the Spirit. A life lived in the Spirit is marked by the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in verses 22-23. I’m not going to list the fruit of the Spirit; you know them well. I want you to notice how Paul closes this section on Spirit-filled living. After he lists the fruit of the Spirit, he closes by saying, “against such things there is no law.” He doesn’t have to write volumes on how to behave as a follower of Christ (or as pastor). When we are surrendered to Christ and filled with the Spirit, our lives will bear fruit and our relationships with others will be marked in a way that honors Christ.

Think before you tweet (or post to Facebook)

I started a Facebook account years ago to keep track of what my teenage children were up to. Years have passed since then, so I think enough time has passed that, if my grown children read this, I’m safe in making that confession. It didn’t take long before my Facebook account took on a life of its own; I reconnected with extended family; old high school and college friends friended me; and lots of folks in churches that I’ve served connected with me. I established a Twitter account to follow people. If you have a Twitter account, what I’ve just said makes sense to you; if not, it sounds like I’m a stalker! In the Twitter world, you can follow people of influence (pastors, writers, newsmakers, athletes, etc.). You follow people, and in turn people can follow you and read what you post. I have set up my Twitter account so that my tweets automatically post to my Facebook wall.

Basically, I post to Twitter and Facebook for two reasons: to connect and to influence. I love the ease with which these two mediums allow me to interact with family and friends. I get to see pictures they have taken and learn what’s happening in their life, and they get to see what’s happening in my life. The other reason I use Twitter and Facebook is to (hopefully) be a positive influence for Jesus and His Kingdom.

With any communication—especially one with such great reach and impact—wisdom and discernment are essential. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven, you are on earth so let your words be few.”

When is comes to using Facebook and Twitter, here are some basic guidelines for pastors:

1. Don’t vent your personal/professional frustrations on Facebook or Twitter.
All of us have certain family members, parishioners, or friends that get under our skin from time to time. There are Biblical ways of dealing with conflict (see Matthew 18) that have nothing whatsoever to do with venting on Facebook or Twitter. When it comes to conflict, deal with it face-to-face. Don’t use social media to vent about it even using an indirect post; and don’t email the person to address it.

2. Don’t post about politics.
I never ever want to lose the privilege of talking to people about Jesus, so I almost never post anything about politics and elections. It’s not that I’m apolitical; I’m actually conservative in my political views. But if I talk about my politics, I have immediately lost an entire audience of folks that have a different view. Nothing divides people like politics and nothing will limit your ability to influence for kingdom like filling your Facebook wall with political posts. You say, “But Jeff, you said you wanted to influence. Why not influence politically?” Because all the politics and all the Democrats and Republicans together can’t change the world, let alone a human heart…only Jesus can do that, and I want to speak about Him.

3. Be careful about your sports posts.
Along the same line as politics, we need to be really careful about what we post in the world of sports. For example, I am a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan living outside Indianapolis in the middle of Colts country. When the Colts win, I try my best to be happy for the many folks I know who are Colts fans. When the Colts lose (and they lost a lot last year), I would never post glib comments about the team’s struggles. Last year, I went to Lucas Oil Stadium to see the Steelers pull out a win over the Colts. I posted about being there; but I posted nothing derogatory about the Colts. If you want to maximize your influence for Christ, it pays to use wisdom when posting things about local sports teams. One pastor told me that he made a big mistake early in his pastorate by not adopting his church’s favorite baseball team. He was a fan of a rival team and let it be known that he didn’t care for his church’s home team. As much as I love Pittsburgh sports teams, I am not going to preach about them and lose the opportunity to preach about Jesus. At the end of the day, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, not a sports team.

4. Be careful with posts, likes, and direct messages sent to the opposite sex
One of my boundaries is to not regularly interact with any member of the opposite sex on social media. The key word is “regularly”. I don’t regularly interact with any individual of the opposite sex on Facebook or Twitter. Occasionally, I will hit the like button on something a gal has posted on Facebook; rarely will I post a comment on a gal’s wall. Why? As a guy, as a pastor, as a husband, and a father, I have lots of reasons to have healthy boundaries with women. More and more, Facebook is fast becoming a way for people unhappy in their marriage to connect. Facebook is great; but use it carefully. It would be all too easy for a husband who is struggling in his marriage to be tempted when an old flame suddenly begins to communicate with him. By the way, beware when someone of the opposite sex comments on nearly everything you post on Facebook; that’s a big, BIG red flag.

5. Be careful when posting about your family.
Pastors’ families live in a fishbowl already; be very careful when posting things that deal with your spouse or children. I very rarely post pictures of my wife and children; it has nothing to do with whether they are photogenic (they are), but it has everything to do with keeping my home and even family vacations “safe” places where my family doesn’t have to worry about me posting stuff all time. When I do post something that includes my wife and/or children, I get their permission.

As a pastor, social media has incredible power for good. Use it to connect with folks in your church. They can get to know you as pastor in ways they can’t in the larger setting of Sunday. Use social media to influence for Christ. Post about your faith. Post links to thought provoking articles and Scripture. Challenge people to think through a spiritual lens. But above all use wisdom.

I can hardly wait for morning to come

W.A. Criswell was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas for 50 years. He told the story of taking a flight to go and speak at an event on the east coast of the United States. As he boarded the plane he was excited to see that he was seated next to a seminary professor that he admired. As soon as they were underway, Criswell introduced to this man and they began to talk.

The professor told Criswell that he had recently lost his son to a terrible illness. The boy had been at pre-school and had been sent home one day after coming down with a fever. The parents assumed it was just another little cold or flu, but through the evening the boy got worse and worse so they took him off to the hospital. After running tests the doctors came and gave the parents the worst possible news—that the boy had somehow contracted Meningitis and that it had progressed beyond the point that they could help. The disease would run its course and the boy would die. There was nothing they could do.

For a couple of days the parents sat with their boy, praying and hoping. But the boy got worse and worse. Finally, after a few days, they could see that his body was too weak to go in. It was in the middle of the day and the boy’s vision began to fade. He looked up at his father and said, “Daddy, it’s getting dark, isn’t it?”

“Yes, my boy, it’s getting dark.”

“It’s time for me to sleep, isn’t it?”

“Yes, my boy, it’s time for you to sleep.”

The professor explained how his son liked to have his pillow and blankets arranged just so and that he always lay his head on his hands while he slept. So he fixed his son’s pillow and watched while the boy rested his head on his hands. “Good night daddy. I’ll see you in the morning.” The boy closed his eyes and drifted to sleep. His breathing became shallow and just a few moments later his life was over, almost before it began.

That professor stopped talking for a while and looked out the window of the airplane for a good long time. Then he turned to Dr. Criswell and with his voice breaking and with tears spilling onto his cheeks he whispered, “I can hardly wait for morning to come.”

Christian, do you know that morning is coming? Do you believe it?

Brewing a Church Turnaround (Part 1)

Leading a turnaround in a local church is incredibly difficult. Over ninety percent of Church of God congregations in Indiana are either plateaued or declining, and that means most pastors who are reading this are faced with the challenge of a turnaround. Older parishioners remember the glory days when the church was growing, when souls were being saved, when facilities for ministry were being built and when the church was a difference maker in the local community. But those days are in the past; so much has changed in the world since then, and so much has changed in how we do church. Chances are your church is struggling. The church is not what it was. How did it get this way? What do you do? How do you lead a turnaround? How can you lead a church whose best days are in the future, not in the past? You can’t go back and replicate the past, because things are different now. It’s a different world in which you are called to minister; and although the gospel is timeless, the methods are changing in how we communicate the truth of Christ to the world. Leading a turnaround in a local church is daunting to say the least.

Maybe you can relate to the heart cry of this leader who wrote to his staff and said:
“If you’re really honest with yourself, as I have tried to be with myself, along the way…there has been something we have lost. And it’s no one’s fault and there’s no punishment or blame. We are what we are—but the question is: What are we going to do about it and how are we going to fix it?”

That quote could have easily been from a broken hearted pastor trying to rally his congregation and staff to honestly look at the state of the church in an attempt to lead a turnaround. In truth, those words come not from a pastor, but from Howard Schultz, the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Starbucks. Howard Schultz tells the story of how he turned his company around in his book “Onward.” There are incredible similarities in how Schultz led a corporate turnaround for Starbucks and leading a turnaround in a local church.

The best years were in the past
Prior to 2007, Starbucks had the golden touch. If you were fortunate enough to buy Starbuck’s stock in the 1990’s, you would have made a fortune. They were opening stores at record pace; and many times, they would open a store within sight of an existing store—and both stores would do well! Then everything changed; sales were sluggish; the Starbucks experience wasn’t what it used to be. Were the good times gone for good? Would Starbucks end up like Krispy Kreme?

Every church that is plateaued or in decline can identify a point in their past as their zenith; the church had vision; it had a catalytic leader; souls were being saved; the only problems, it seemed, were problems of growth. Everyone knows that something has changed; something has gone wrong. We aren’t in the glory days anymore. We aren’t making disciples like we used to. What we are experiencing today is a far cry from what the church experienced in the past.

What we are doing is not working
Like Starbucks, it wasn’t a single bad decision that brought us to this place. It wasn’t simply bad tactics. And you can’t blame the situation on bad people. Starbucks didn’t try to lose sales. They didn’t try to lower the price of their stock. They had very smart people that were doing the best they could. It just wasn’t working.

A local church that has plateaued or declined is not trying to get smaller. It’s trying to be faithful; but for some reason, it is struggling to be fruitful. Schultz found the damage to Starbucks was “slow and quiet”; it was incremental “like a single loose thread that unravels a sweater inch by inch.” Churches that were once thriving do not decline or fall into a plateau overnight; it happens gradually over time. It’s not the result of one bad decision, but a series of small decisions. It happens when we become complacent and comfortable. It happens when we forget our mission of making more and better disciples.

The world is changing
Starbucks faced a global recession. The stock market plummeted, the housing bubble burst, financial markets were in free-fall, and unemployment was soaring. The economic playing field had radically changed. Who was going to pay four to six dollars for a coffee, even one that was lovingly “handcrafted”? Also for the first time, Starbucks was facing serious competition from the likes of Dunkin Donuts and even McDonalds. Starbucks needed to take a hard look at itself and face some difficult decisions.

The local church also faces a world that is radically different from the world of its glory days. Americans don’t attend church like they did twenty to thirty years ago. Unlike in the past, Americans don’t have a compulsion to attend church. To draw them, a local church has to be compelling and relevant. We live in a culture that communicates by way of media with instant access to power of the Internet. The world has changed radically, and it continues to change rapidly. Churches are faced with the dilemma of doing what they have always done and getting declining, mediocre results, or facing the hard choice of doing something different to get different results.

Passion is essential
According to Howard Schultz, “Entrepreneurs must love what they do to such a degree that doing it is worth sacrifice and, at times, pain. But doing anything else, we think, would be unimaginable.” Read that quote again and substitute the word “pastors” for the word “entrepreneurs”. To lead a church—to really lead a church—you have to love what you do; you have to love the church of Jesus Christ; you have to love the local church; and you have to embrace and love your calling by Christ to be a pastor of His church. Doing anything else would be “unimaginable”.

If you are among the ninety plus percent of church pastors trying to lead a turnaround, what do you do about it? Howard Schultz led a turnaround at Starbucks so that its best days are currently being realized with plans to continue its rise in the future. The approach and strategies Schultz employed speak to the challenges of turning around a local church.
Howard Schultz didn’t go it alone to turn Starbucks around; he partnered with consultants and brought in other voices to help set new direction. As a pastor, whether your church is struggling or making progress, you also don’t have to go it alone; Indiana Ministries can help through consultation and coaching. Stay tuned, in the post I’ll take some lessons gleaned from “Onward” and identify some key moves your church can make.

On this Valentine’s Day: What I love about my wife…

I love that she is more beautiful now than the day I married her
The first time I saw her in the spring of 1980, she took my breath away. I remember the exact moment: I was in the cafeteria at Anderson College and the first time I saw Carla, time seemed to slow down…like the moment was in slow motion. Her smile was so captivating. Her light brown hair was long and feathered on the sides—a style that Farrah Fawcett made popular. In that slow motion moment, our eyes met and she smiled at me. I later learned that she didn’t notice me that day; she must have been smiling at someone behind me. Looking back, it didn’t matter who that particular smile was directed at…I caught it and it captured me.
Through the years, an amazing thing happened…my desire for Carla has grown. The day we married, I loved her with all my heart; but I love her more now. I’m not sure how that works; but I have a theory: I think the years of marriage—the good times and the bad, the success and the loss, the triumph and the struggle, and the challenges of parenthood—have combined to enlarge my capacity to love the woman who gave her heart to me nearly thirty years ago. Life has changed me, I trust for the better and for the good; I know it has for Carla…her beauty has such depth that has been born from the crucible of life as she has allowed God to create the woman He knows she can become. Which leads me to…

I love who she is becoming
One of the greatest joys I have in life is seeing my wife grow: as a woman and in her faith. She is respected in the workplace as a person who is bright, gifted and operates with the utmost of integrity. After thirty years, she is going back to Anderson University and will earn her bachelor’s degree this summer; she has received all A’s…she has a better cumulative GPA than I had at Temple.
Unless you have been the wife of a pastor, you cannot fully understand how difficult that role can be. Carla has been a pastor’s wife for most of our marriage and through the joys and the heartbreak; she has a remarkable faith in Christ. I’m a better pastor because of her.
I catch myself looking at her, in moments when she is unaware of my gaze, and my heart melts…my eyes mist with the joy that can only come from a husband who is so proud of the woman he sees. Paul in Ephesians 5:27 says one day Christ will “present the church [his bride] to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” In the next verse, Paul says that husbands should love their wives the exact same way. Carla was given to me as a gift from God; other than my salvation, she is the highest gift I will ever receive. I believe that one day, I’ll get to present her to Christ and say, “She was incredible when you gave her to me all those many years ago, but look at her now! Look at what she has become!”

A Heartbreaking Poem From a Wife Wounded by Pornography

I Looked For Love in Your Eyes

I saved my best for you.
Other girls may have given themselves away,
But I believed in the dream.
A husband, a wife, united as one forever.

Nervous, first time, needing assurance of your love,
I looked for it in your eyes
Mere inches from mine.
But what I saw made my soul run and hide.

Gone was the tenderness I’d come to know
I saw a stranger, cold and hard
Distant, evil, revolting.
I looked for love in your eyes
And my soul wept.

Who am I that you cannot make love to me?
Why do I feel as if I’m not even here?
I don’t matter.
I’m a prop in a filthy play.
Not an object of tender devotion.

Where are you?

Years pass
But the hardness in your eyes does not.
You think I’m cold
But how can I warm to eyes that are making hate to someone else
Instead of making love to me?

I know where you are.
I’ve seen the pictures.
I know now what it takes to turn you on.
Women…people like me
Tortured, humiliated, hated, used
Images burned into your brain.
How could you think they would not show in your eyes?

Did you ever imagine,
The first time you picked up a dirty picture
That you were dooming all intimacy between us
Shipwrecking your marriage
Breaking the heart of a wife you wouldn’t meet for many years?

If it stopped here, I could bear it.
But you brought the evil into our home
And our little boys found it.
Six and eight years old.
I heard them laughing, I found them ogling.

Hands bound, mouth gagged.
Fisheye photo, contorting reality
Distorting the woman into exaggerated breasts.
The haunted eyes, windows of a tormented soul
Warped by the lens into the background,
Because souls don’t matter, only bodies do
To men who consume them.

Little boys
My little boys
Laughing and ogling the sexual torture
Of a woman, a woman like me.
Someone like me.

An image burned into their brains.

Will their wives’ souls have to run and hide like mine does?
When does it end?

I can tell you this. It has not ended in your soul.
It has eaten you up. It is cancer.
Do you think you can feed on a diet of hatred
And come out of your locked room to love?

You say the words, but love has no meaning in your mouth
When hatred rules in your heart.
Your cruelty has eaten up every vestige of the man
I thought I was marrying.
Did you ever dream it would so consume you
That your wife and children would live in fear of your rage?

That is what you have become
Feeding your soul on poison.

I’ve never used porn.
But it has devastated my marriage, my family, my world.

Was it worth it?

Cones and Holes

I’m discovering that blog posts from Shaun Groves are a must read…here’s a recent post of his entitled “Cones and Holes”

God dug ten holes and called them Law.

God’s people were warned not to step in the holes so no one would get hurt. Or stuck.

One day well-meaning religious leaders, who loved God and His people deeply, decided to lay cones around the holes. With cones in place, no one would ever get too close and accidentally slip in.

God’s Law said, “Keep the Sabbath day holy; don’t work; rest.”

A leader scribbled his circle of cones around it: “Do not break a sweat on the Sabbath,” he wrote and “Don’t carry a needle in your clothes while walking or it could move around and accidentally sew.”

Then another religious leader declared another ring of cones to keep people from bumping into the first circle of cones: “Don’t light a fire on the Sabbath,” he said and “Don’t take more than x number of steps on the Sabbath.”

For the protection of God’s people and out of love for God, they went on and on like this for generations.

The cones of men became as revered as the holes of God. Cone crashers were excommunicated, cut off from family and church, and sometimes even killed.

Some people loved the cones more than each other. Sometimes even more than God.

Then the Law Giver put on skin and walked among the people – walked right through their cones, out onto slippery slopes, dangerously close to the holes. Sometimes he even reached down into holes to lift people out. He showed the people how to love without getting stuck in a hole.

Jesus crashed through the cones and right into a party where he turned water into strong wine. He stepped over cones and into the Temple where he healed a withered hand on the Sabbath. He kicked the cones out of His way to touch the dead and leprous. He kicked the cones out of His path on the way to lunch with crooked Roman tax collectors and prostitutes. He crushed the cones and sent an adulterous woman’s accusers away empty-handed.

Jesus hates our cones. No matter who lays them and how well-intentioned and helpful and old they may be.

I’ve laid some cones and called them holes. And I’ve got bruises from stones thrown when I bumped into everyone else’s.

Don’t watch TV. Don’t date. Don’t get a tattoo. Don’t trick or treat. Don’t go to movies. Don’t buy an iPhone. Don’t listen to “rock music.” Don’t drink alcohol or go to places that serve it. Don’t play cards. Don’t get that haircut. Don’t send your kids to public school. Don’t buy Christmas presents. Don’t read Harry Potter. Don’t wear make-up. Don’t vote Democrat. Don’t do yoga. Don’t…

Now if your balance is a little off and you’re out walking alone, you might not want to venture too far past some of the cones right now lest you fall into a hole. It is slippery out there in some places. Use discernment.

But if you’re pretty good on your feet, for God’s sake…

Crash the cones.

Especially to love someone in a hole.

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