Denominational Departure

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In the last few years, several people I know who were once loyal to their denominational churches are now going non-denominational or charismatic. Pastors within the denomination that ordained me are wondering why. From my observations, the answers are easy. But first, I want to address the accusations, not the real reasons for why they are leaving their denominational churches.

They are not leaving your church because they want watered down preaching! I have heard so many pastors and church members arrogantly say, “He/she left our church for one of those feel-good churches”. That is true on some occasions, but many I have seen leave one church and go to another church where the teaching and preaching is just as strong if not stronger. And while we’re on that “feel-good” subject: if being forgiven because you have placed your faith in Christ doesn’t make you feel good, something is seriously wrong!

They are also not leaving because they are out of God’s will or have sin in their life. Your church is not the only church in town. I hate to burst your bubble, but your church doesn’t have the premium on spirituality. It is imperfect just like any other church. Your church ministers to some, but it won’t minister to all. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard such self-righteous, arrogant statements.

They are going to churches outside their denomination because they find love they didn’t find elsewhere. They found condemnation and criticism, so they went seeking the love and Christian community they craved for so long. No one seriously wants to be a part of a church that is guilt-driven rather than grace-driven.

They are also leaving their denomination because they no longer want worship services that resemble a funeral. So many churches need the Holy Spirit to book Himself days in advance in order to do a mighty work there. Some people really are excited about Jesus and want to express it. If you won’t welcome a move of God, they will find a church that will.

They also leave because they are more concerned about “being” the Church than just going to church. Some churches are all about meeting. Groups have meetings all the time. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ will continue to have little impact if all they do is meet and not minister outside the walls. I have heard pastors within my denomination criticize churches who have small groups ministries and do community outreach in more relevant ways. Let’s face it, you can try to continue to go door to door but I honestly don’t want someone coming to my door while I’m trying to eat and get ready for bed. If I’m an ordained minister and feel that way, I know those who aren’t believers feel the same if not worse.

The bottom line: if your church won’t wake up and be loving, exciting, and outwardly focused, your people will find a church that is. Wake up and get biblical or watch good people leave behind empty seats!

Faux Spirituality

Once upon a time in my previous marriage, I would sit and watch HGTV. I was intrigued by the renovations people did on a tight budget. But I noticed one thing – a lot of what they used was faux (fake/imitation).

So much today is fake…fake body parts (shout-out to plastic surgeons), fake fur, fake fabric, and the list goes on. It can often look so real that people can’t tell the difference.

This is often the case with Christianity. People know the right words to say, prayers to pray, Scriptures to quote, clothes to wear, etc. The problem is that it is all fake. All of this “faux spirituality” is really a thin veneer that wicked people hide behind so no one will find them out for who they really are.

As an ordained minister, people love to be fake around me for some reason. I’m not God, so there’s no reason to impress me. I am humored by it. They haven’t attended church in 25 years but act like they went yesterday. God sees beyond all this junk. In fact, He condemns it. Most of the ministry of Jesus toward “religious” people was in condemnation of their fake (faux) spirituality. He didn’t give them a pat on the back and a high five for publicly displaying their religion for all the world to see.

Sadly, many preachers go to Bible college to be told they have to fit a mould. I fet that pressure for a long time, but I discovered I was ineffective and people could not relate. I saw 3 counsellors during a tough period in my life. Their message was the same – BE REAL!

You and I can’t fake being spiritual as a substitute for spending time with Jesus. Nothing can replace you getting into the Bible for yourself, praying yourself, and spending time with truly godly people. You can try other things, but the result will be the same – faux spirituality.

Saturday Rant: Church Signs

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Have you ever driven past a church, read the sign out front and wondered, “What were they thinking?” You have probably seen messages like this: “If you think hell is hot, come see our preacher.” Or you have seen the signs that have received worldwide publicity because they are so controversial. To keep in line with words that start with “c”, some are controversial while others are corny. The question is, “What are you trying to accomplish with your church sign?” Is it a tool to make Christians feel warm and fuzzy, or is it a tool to let the community know you exist for them?

I hope your answer is the second one. Most unbelievers ride by and do not understand. If you are not relevant, they will more than likely not give your church a chance. If you use your sign as a tool to communicate events for the community and messages they understand, people are more likely to at least come to your advertised event.

So, think twice before you put a message on your church sign 😀.

Where’s the Love?

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Have you ever gone to church expecting an ordinary Sunday and God surprises you? It isn’t the surprise you wanted, but it was the surprise you needed. That happened to me this week.

Although it was Valentine’s Day (and yes I remembered and gave my wife a gift), I was not really thinking about hearing a message from I Corinthians 13. Most every preacher goes there on such an occasion. However, the message I heard bore the title “Without Love”. At the end of the message, I could not help but go forward and pray because I knew what it was like to operate without love in certain areas in my life.

Is there anyone in your life right now that you do not love? Maybe it’s someone who abused you. Someone at work who annoys you. Someone in your church who just gets on your nerves.

I’m going to be real with you and tell you that I have encountered lots of people I did not love. As a minister, it was easy to love the people who encouraged me. I can honestly tell you that I did not love those who caused me grief and trouble. Some of you are thinking, “You’re a preacher. You’re supposed to love everybody.” Well, you’re not a preacher and you’re still supposed to love all people. When Jesus commanded people to love their enemies, He wasn’t just talking to preachers.

Where is the love? God has to cultivate it as you walk with Him. So, will you and I choose to continue to operate without love for the unlovable or will we grow in the love of God?

You’re Only As Good As Your Job?

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Since 1996, I have served in church staff positions with a few brief down times. I have come to notice some disturbing trends during my down times.

#1 – Other pastors and other Christians look down upon you if you no longer have a church job, especially if you can’t secure one quickly. Something MUST be wrong with you if you left your church and another one won’t hire you, right? At least that seems to be the logic.

#2 – Pastors and denominational leaders who were once your friends don’t have time for you anymore. They won’t acknowledge your emails or phone calls. If you can’t do anything for them, what value are you to them? It’s almost as if denominational leaders are paid to like you (at least while you’re under their jurisdiction).

#3 – Church members who acted like they couldn’t live without you now act like you don’t exist. Some have even removed me from their social media. I typically spot those when I go into a church. They watch you like a hawk while you’re their hired hand and drop you like a hot potato the moment you leave their church. Did you notice I said THEIR church?

Dear pastor, you are valuable! You may have been hurt for a season, but you are not washed away. Your denominational cronies may have abandoned you, but the God who loves you hasn’t! Church members who only care about what you can do for them are a dime a dozen. Find true friends who will walk with you through thick and thin. You’ll probably have to look outside your denomination, but I guarantee they’re out there.

To pastors who have former pastors in your church, treat them like somebody. Don’t be intimidated by them. They’re really not in a position to harm you anyway. Love them through this time. Give them an opportunity to preach or minister in some capacity. You just might provide healing to their broken spirit.

Finally, don’t base your opinion on an inactive minister based on what you heard from somebody. Ask him for yourself! If something is wrong, ask God to show you.

There are many wounded ministers who gave their lives to serve the Lord, only to find that they showed up to the battlefield with little to no support from others. They, like you, need love. They are people JUST LIKE YOU!

Does God Have to Make Sense?

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I’m sure you’re thinking all kinds of things as you read this title. Does God really make sense? To some, it sounds like blasphemy. To others, you might see where I’m going with this.

As I have ministered in churches and pursued theological training, I come across men and women who have God all figured out. They “know” why tragedies happen and have the answer to everything. I propose to you today that I don’t have God figured out. In my weak opinion, He doesn’t make sense. But does God really have to make sense to us? Doesn’t the Bible say that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours?

Think with me for just a minute. God spoke the world in existence, yet people try to disprove it. He told Adam and Eve that there would be a curse if they disobeyed, and He provided the strangest way to save the world – Jesus dying on a cross and rising again. Whoever would believe on Christ would have everlasting life. This same Jesus came into the world in a humble way yet was the long-expected King and Messiah the world awaited.

What about the miracles? God telling Moses to throw down a rod and it turned into a snake? The Israelites marching around the wall of Jericho seven times? Jesus giving strange instructions for people’s healing when He could have just spoken or touched them and healed them? None of it makes sense, but what makes our sense superior to God’s?

What in your life doesn’t make sense? Sickness? Marital problems? Finances? Trouble with your kids? You obeying God and you don’t feel blessed while someone who is not living for God is living it up?

How you view this thing and how you approach God makes a difference. Be real with God. Tell Him you don’t think it’s fair. He knows what you think anyway. Get godly counsel. Study the Bible. Pray until you can’t pray anymore.

On the flip side of this, God may be calling you to a radical step of obedience that does not make sense. God called Abraham to leave home without giving him any direction. No game plan whatsoever!

What are you going to do when God doesn’t make sense? Are you going to pitch a fit and forget Him? When you don’t make sense, He doesn’t give up on you. He never promised you an easy life, but He did promise His presence and His power. When God doesn’t make sense, He just might be propelling you into the greatest season of your life. Let Him! I dare you!

I Have a Dream

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“I have a dream!” These words ring familiar to most everyone as stated by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many admire this dream, while there are still racists who criticize the man and the message. His dream was something that needed to become a reality.

I have had friends and colleagues who are fine with people of other races going to the same grocery stores, department stores, gas stations, but they still think that different races should worship separately. They will be in for a rude awakening when they get to Heavem.

As a hospice chaplain, my most precious patients and families have much darker skin than I do, but I love their faith and enthusiasm! I cannot wait until I am scheduled to be in the homes of these families!

I know that many who read this may very well have spent their life raised in the rural South and may dislike what I say, but that does not change the fact that I have a dream. In certain parts of America and within certain Christian denominations, this dream is already a reality. I almost do not want anyone to know what denomination I am because of its negative connotation. Those within this denominational circle will brag on its stance on the Bible, but they disqualify that if they do not love all people.

My dream is simple…to worship in an ethnically diverse, gospel-preaching, doctrinally sound church. A church that is exciting and vibrant! A church that is reaching people of all backgrounds for Christ! A church that is colorblind!

You may say this is impossible. I beg to differ. My wife and I had the privilege of worshiping in a church this past Sunday where we were two of the three white people in attendance. We stayed and ate lunch with them. I have not had such kindness expressed to me in a long time. Their actions clearly displayed that they do not consider themselves to be a “black” church, but many have labeled it that as many churches in this area are known for being “white” churches.

The church my grandparents attended in Chesapeake, Virginia has been very welcoming of all races for years. It was once known as an independent Baptist church, but it was not like most I know. This is the kind of church where I want to belong, serve, and maybe by God’s grace even get a chance to serve.

I will ask one thing as I wrap this up – will you pray with me that God will continue to break down racial barriers among Christians so we can be what God has called us to be? Pray. Believe. Be a barrier-breaker.

Is Divorce the Scarlet “D”?

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When God called me to ministry, I aligned myself with my current denomination because of its stance on Scripture. I must be honest and say that I did not align because of its reputation for its lack of extended the love of grace of Jesus Christ. That is sad but true. Some of that has changed over the years, but the denomination still has its own reputation for what it is against rather than what it is for.

I would come to realize when I became a divorced and remarried ordained minister, I would face discrimination from those who once embraced me. More churches have allowed me opportunities to serve than I thought, but finding a place to land is a difficult thing during this season of life.

Because I used to be on the inside as a church staffer, I know how it works. I want to find a church that will allow me to use my gifts, but many pastors will hold a few things against me. First of all, I cannot attend all services because I have a round trip of 4 hours when I drop my kids off when I get to see them. Most pastors would deem me unfaithful and disqualified to serve in their churches. Some would go so far as to limit what I could do if I could faithfully attend every service. It’s not that I am unwilling, but this is what I face within my denomination.

I am really torn in this season of my life. Helpful and kind words would be appreciated. God bless all who read this blog with the understanding that I love the people with whom I disagree, but the issues still remain.