I Won’t Go Back

I could go a million different directions with this title. Most of the time when I hear this, people are upset about something. They won’t go back to a church because the preacher didn’t drive 500 miles to some hospital to be with their fifth cousin during an x-Ray. They won’t go back to a doctor because they had to wait. They won’t go back to a restaurant because they received bad service. However, what I’m thinking about has nothing to do with location. I’m talking about the past.

So many people today want their future to be great while still living in the past. I must confess that I have been guilty of this. I wanted the “good old days”, but they really weren’t that great. God is all about doing something new. He has no desire to leave you the same.

So why do we go back? What is so great about dysfunctional relationships? Porn addictions? Religious ritual without the power of God? It isn’t great, but the devil will keep you in the past to paralyze you from reaching your potential in Christ. God has a greater life for you ahead if you will live in obedience to Him. Am I proposing that it is easy? No! But I am saying that you will live an unfulfilled life as long as you keep going back, trying to make things the way they used to be.

If Jesus Christ is your Savior, the words of this song by William McDowell say what you are and the life you should desire to live.

I’ve been changed, Healed, Freed, Delivered

I’ve found joy, Peace, Grace, And favor

All my shame, Guilt, Sins, forgiven

No more chains, Fear, My past is over

And right now is the moment
Today is the day
I’ve been changed
I’ve been changed
I have waited for this moment to come
And I won’t let it pass me by…

I won’t go back, can’t go back, to the way it used to be
Before your presence came and changed me

Remembering What You Came Through

In Pastor Steven Furtick’s daily devotionals, he has talked a lot about remembering where you come from. As I began to dwell on that subject, I got a little bit nostalgic and watched a sermon of mine online from the summer of 2012 entitled “Lessons from a Thorn”. Then I began to think about what I have come through.

Let me say, first of all, that I am not discrediting my roots. I was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia. I am the only child of two parents who sacrifices more than I’ll ever know to give me what matters. I grew up in a small church that invested more in me than I’ll ever know. They gave above and beyond to help me pursue God’s call on my life. Those are my roots.

The hymn writer said, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. There’s no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.” I can honestly say I haven’t been through some horrific things that someone who is reading this has experienced. I know about depression, financial hardship, joblessness, divorce, but I realize that God still has been me and has seen me through. When I didn’t know where my next dollar would come from, God the Provider gave me what I needed. When anxiety attacks almost paralyzed me, God the Healer gave me what I needed and carried me through. When I felt like a failure because I didn’t have a successful pastorate or first marriage, God carried me through and reminded me that my life is not over. There is still more for me to do.

I challenge you today to remember what you’ve been through from the perspective that you are now on the other side. You are not defeated! God has brought you through victoriously! Now, go encourage someone else with the truth that God has seen them through some things and will not break His promise to continue.

The Pastor’s Goodbye

This morning, I attended the final service for a church in the upstate that is closing. As the pastor shared about saying “goodbye”, I couldn’t help but reflect on times in ministry when I had to say goodbye (or at least “see you later”). Many people take offense to pastors having to say goodbye, but it is harder on us than you think.

When I resigned as a pastor, it was amid great duress in my life. My family life had crumbled, and there was no way I could have handled the stress at the church at that point anyway. Despite the group that “had it out for me”, there were many who supported my leadership. Still, I walked away feeling like a failure…as a pastor, husband, father, and on every level imaginable. “Goodbye” at that time felt like failure. Many pastors feel the same way. Just because a pastor leaves a church, it doesn’t always mean he is happy to go elsewhere!

At times, it is exciting to take on another ministry venture. I can remember times of excitement at what God could be doing in a new place, but I also remember sharing life with people who are still like family and weeping at the time of separation. When God knits the hearts of people, you laugh together, cry together, scream together, etc. The bond that Christ forms between likeminded people cannot be put into words. I just know that God has put people in my life that I will never forget.

So when your pastor or someone else  leaves your church to go elsewhere, please don’t take it personally. It’s a change for everyone, so pray through the transition. Pray for your pastor and his family and for you and your church family as you move forward in faith, trusting an unknown future to a known God.

Why People Won’t Come to Your Church (or Return)

I often hear pastor friends and fellow believers verbalize their wonder for why people don’t come to their church or return if they came as a first-time guest. In my observation as a pastor and church staffer, there are two reasons people ask this question. First, people like their church and want others to at least visit. Second, I don’t know a single pastor or church staff member who doesn’t want a larger crowd because they look “unsuccessful” if they are not attracting new people to their church. The truth is that we can say we want new people, but most pastors and church members are not willing to do anything to reach them at their point of need. So, what might be some reasons why people will not visit or return for a second time to your church?

1. You go through pastors like Elizabeth Taylor went through husbands. People get the message that if you do not want a pastor from somewhere else, you do not want anyone from outside.

2. You allow no room for God to do something different in your worship services. Your rebuttal to that might be that God is a God of decency and order. That is true, but something that is not scheduled does not mean chaos. If people can predict what is going to happen next, they will eventually get bored and go somewhere that does not mind if God interrupts the status quo.

3. Some funerals are more exciting than your worship services. This is somewhat of an expansion of number two. Most people I know do not want to live like they are dead already. There is nothing like an atmosphere of expectancy where people believe that God WILL do something in their midst.

4. Your church is too negative. I can hear the legalist now saying, “You want to water down Scripture and not call sin what it is.” That is far from the truth for me! But when all you do is spend time focusing on what is going wrong in other churches, America’s problems, and all your prayer requests are about people’s ailments, you are way too negative!!! What about celebrating what Jesus Christ has done and is doing in your church and community? Try it and watch the atmosphere of your church change.

5. Your ministries cater only to one age group. If you only favor the senior adults, younger people will find somewhere that has spiritual growth opportunities for them. Eventually, your senior adult church will die and your doors will close. You can err in catering to a younger generation and miss out on having the wisdom of seasoned Christians in your church. Strive to be multi-generational.

6. You are so focused on the existing members that outsiders do not understand a thing about your church. They cannot find portions of your facility. The bulletin is written in “code” because outsiders do not know that your senior adult ministry is called the JOY club. You do not intentionally schedule events that encourage existing members to invite friends. And God forbid they attend your business meeting. They just might see the corniest part of your church (more can be said potentially in a future blog).

This list is not exhaustive, but I hope it makes you think about your church. Whether you are a pastor are a church attender, you need an outside objective opinion. You might think everything is fine, and you assume that people do not come to church because your church has a premium on spirituality. Meanwhile, there are things within the way you function that deter people rather than draw them. Ask God and be open to godly counsel. My prayer is that you will take action and experience revival like never before.

I Can’t Get No…Satisfaction

For those of you who have lived a little while, you’re singing the song by the Rolling Stones. Truth be known, this is how most people feel. They try to be satisfied in a relationship but are still empty. They look for it in a job and are still unhappy. Some turn to drugs, alcohol, partying, sex, but still no satisfaction. Why  is that? The message of the day is about us being happy, but we still can’t find satisfaction? Sheryl Crow sang, “If it makes you happy, then why…are you so sad?”

Why is it? Could it be that God didn’t create you to be satisfied outside of Him? Paul spoke about the spirit and the flesh in his writings recorded in the Bible. The flesh consists of our selfish desires, while the spirit consists of godly desires and things that please the Lord.

The problem is that we are selfish by nature. Our body screams to be satisfied by selfish things that leave us empty. We have to exercise discipline in living the life God created us to live if we will find true satisfaction.

Nothing great comes without work, determination, and a fight. Victories are not won on the bench. You must train before you play, and you must play hard and intentionally to win.

So, do you REALLY want satisfaction? Then quit living for yourself. Quit doing what comes easy! The late Pastor John Osteen often said, “Great it is to dream the dream as you stand in youth by the starry stream; but a greater thing is to fight life through and say in the end, ‘the dream is true’.”

Ministers’ Opinions Requested

As I typed my last blog, I thought about the subject of “Misfit Minister”. In the last blog, I came from the perspective of feeling like a “misfit” in a non-ministerial church capacity. This blog will take on a different perspective.

In the various church staff positions I’ve had, there were times when I felt like a perfect fit and other times when I left like a misfit. How do you know where you are a misfit out of God’s will or a misfit because you have been divinely planted in an unusual place? Let the wisdom begin!

Misfit Minister

Many of you may be reading this thinking “all you ministers are misfits”. I know that the typical stereotype of me and what I do is a little bit off. My hospice co-workers say I’m not the typical chaplain, so I guess that’s a compliment? 🙂

I have felt somewhat out of place over the last few months since I stepped out of a church staff position. Some people act like I’m disobeying God. I visit some churches, and they act like I don’t exist. But I have to give a shout-out to one particular church (but this isn’t the only church).

During the summer of 2014, I made a new pastor friend. He’s my age and has been pastoring the same church for a little over 4 1/2 years. He invited me several times to fill in for their worship leader while I was on staff elsewhere. When I stepped down from my recent position, he reached out to me and has been wonderful to me and my family. He knows I will probably be back in a staff position ultimately, but he has gone out of his way to involve me in the church. He has been a pastor to this pastor.

Most of you who read this blog probably aren’t local, but I think Corinth Baptist Church in Seneca, SC is one of the best kept secrets in town. I was impressed by the fact that the people knew me four years after I brought my old youth worship team to lead their VBS music. It isn’t a large church, but they strive for organization and excellence.

I don’t know what my future holds, but I’m thankful for pastors like Tim Tate and churches like Corinth who minister to ministers. After being in a ministerial position for several years, it means a lot to walk into a church and feel like somebody (not because the church pays me to do things but because I’m valued as a person). As I said, there are other churches I could name that have treated me well during this time also. To all who have ministered to me and refreshed me during the season of transition, you know who you are. I love you and thank God for those of you who continue to love this “misfit”.

A New Year’s Wish for You (from my wife)

I am blessed to have permission from my wife to share her 2016 Facebook post on my blog. She is a woman of God whom I highly respect and wish to include her as she is my chief earthly encourager. Please read the following:

I know I’m a little late in wishing everyone a happy new year, but hey, it’s kind of my style, lol 😜.

I’m praying each of you will experience a year full of blessings and love. May those of you who know the Lord draw closer to him and serve Him in ways you’ve never done before. I pray you will sing His praises in the valleys and on the mountain tops! Find someone to encourage this year 🙂

For those of you who don’t know the Lord, I pray you will see His works at every turn in your life in order that you cannot deny His existence. May you be drawn to Him with everything in you. He offers hope to the hopeless and peace where there is none. His love is like nothing else!

This is a new year…a fresh start. It’s time evaluate the changes you need to make to grow and mature into the person God has created you to be! 😃

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

2015 in Review

This year has been a year of surprises. I began the year going into a new ministry with a pastor friend who remains a dear friend. I thought I would go and spend a long time there, but God had other plans. When God showed me it was time to go, I moved on. I had no clue what I would do next, but I had to obey. I know now that God was showing me it is time to rest for a little while and continue to minister as God opens doors but take a break from being on a church staff for a season. I’m sure I’ll be back in it eventually, but God is telling me to rest for now.

Then much to my surprise, God sent me the lady to whom I am now married. I did not know her, but a co-worker was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and introduced us. We knew pretty quickly that God ordained for us to be together, so we didn’t waste any time getting married.

An even bigger surprise came when we found out the day before Thanksgiving that we have a baby due in July. I’m not getting any younger, so I might as well do this before I’m old.

There are still things that I question, but I leave each day to the Lord who called me. This new year is a new year to follow His marching orders. Who will you live for this year?