Raising $upport

I don’t know about you, but I have always had difficulty making my needs known. I can count on one hand with a few fingers left over how many times I reached out to someone when I needed a financial miracle. One of those times was after I resigned my first pastorate, and the state denominational convention there provided some temporary support. That was a huge answer to prayer.

Now, I am embarking on an endeavor where the ministry I am joining requires that I raise my own financial support. That’s scary! Some of you may have had to do that or work jobs where you had to make tons of contacts because you were in sales. I am currently in training, so I just now beginning to learn the ropes.

I know that many of my readers could pass on some wisdom to me. I would love to hear the things you learned in the process. I also want to encourage you to learn more about Standing Stone Ministry at standingstoneministry.org or you can partner financially at https://connect.clickandpledge.com/w/Form/604692df-4610-4eb6-b5df-654a88c11327. Thanks so much for your prayers and partnership!

New Ministry Calling

Hey friends! I became acquainted with a ministry to pastors called Standing Stone Ministry. A friend of mine began working with them, so I decided to go online and look at the ministry for myself. The Holy Spirit quickly prompted me to investigate further. Before the day was over, I submitted an application to be a shepherd. On the next business day, I received a phone call from the Southeast Director. He made me aware of next steps and the upcoming training in Nashville, TN on July 15-16. I sensed such an urgency in my spirit to go in July, although it was within 3 weeks of my initial phone conversation. The clincher is that I have to raise financial support to be a shepherd and even raise it for the training. As of this moment, I still need a few more people who will financially partner with me.

So, why would I pursue a ministry where I would have to raise financial support?

  1. Missionaries do it. They go to their particular area of calling after raising support to reach this people group.
  2. Pastors and paid staff are financially supported by those who give to the Lord through the local church. They could not be financially supported without the obedience of those who are obedient to the Lord and believe in the work of God through His church.
  3. Most importantly, I know God has called me to pastor those who serve in Christian ministry. These are often the most neglected. They are expected to dispense ministry while few pour their lives back into them.

Why would I pursue a ministry like this when some denominations have people who serve similar roles?

  1. Many pastors will not reach out to such leaders for fear of judgment or losing their job.
  2. Many pastors and church leaders are not affiliated with a denomination and need someone.
  3. Many pastors and church leaders need someone objective who will minister to them.

When I stepped away from the church I planted, I had already completed 22 years of ministry. I knew the pressures of being an associate staff member in churches of up to 600 while also knowing the pressures of being a small church pastor and church planter. I was depleted, depressed, and discouraged. I knew I was not alone, so I began to reach out to pastors by asking how I could pray for them. God began to do some big things. Even a few weeks ago, a pastor told me something in confidence when he could have very easily kept this to himself. This pastor has trusted me for quite a few years now, and I count it a joy and privilege to be a safe place for him to share what he was experiencing.

Maybe God is calling you to partner with me, either prayerfully or financially. I encourage you to click on the link below and read about this great ministry. If God leads you to give, you can click on my name (Matthew Winters) and be sure to specify that you are giving toward my training. Any gifts beyond training expenses will go to my financial support once I have completed training. Thanks in advance for your prayers and support!

https://www.standingstoneministry.org/how-we-serve/shepherds-in-training/

Lights, Camera, Action

The countdown begins. The band begins to play. A worship team skillfully sings the latest and greatest worship songs while those in the back flash lights and cue the smoke at just the right time. A prayer is said. The pastor gets up to give a well-rehearsed message. A closing song is sung. The service concludes with the awesome band rocking out once again.

I have laid out a scenario of what many worship services look like. But what is really going on? Could it be that these polished performers may be falling apart behind the scenes? Could it be that the lead guitarist is struggling with an addiction to pornography and is afraid to share his struggle because he does not really feel like his church and those in his life form a safe community? Could it be that one of the worship team singers is giving herself away to a guy, thinking he really loves her? She sings about the love of God while she is the object of some guy’s hormonal lust. Could it be that the pastor who is always smiling and delivering an awesome message week after week is falling apart off stage? His marriage is in shambles, but he’s afraid he will lose it all if anyone knows the truth.

This scenario, although somewhat fictitious, is all too common. People get up to publicly minister each week while their private lives lack intimacy with God and fellow believers. Because of a lack of authenticity, it becomes nothing more than a mere show by talented yet heartless performers. These people could win awards for acting, yet they fail to realize the power of removing the mask and connecting with other broken people. It’s messy, but it works.

Why can I say this with such authority? Because that was me in 2013. I was the Senior Pastor. People were looking to me to deliver a word from God three times per week plus give leadership to the church. My marriage was hanging on by a thread, and I was at an all-time low. Plans were already in the works for a divorce, and I was trying to figure out where to go and what to do. I continued to pastor the church for a month and a half after this.

I’ll never forget one particular Sunday. I was emotionally spent. I could not get a word from God, yet I showed up Sunday morning and was expecting a miracle. I sat on the front row and only had a few scattered thoughts. Those scattered thoughts became a message I preach most everywhere God opens the door for me to preach. Only a handful in that room had a clue of my struggle. I reached out to a few that I felt were safe, but my broken heart had skewed my judgment.

We desperately need to build a bridge from real life to the church stage. People are facing divorce, sickness, sexual struggles, abuse, financial ruin, depression, etc. They don’t care how many hours you put in to create the perfect Sunday show. They want to see real people with real struggles who can give them a genuine word from the Lord. When you remove the lights, smoke, and sound effects, you will find that Jesus is enough! He always has been, and He always will be!

Reasons to Not Plant a Church

We are in a day when churches are popping up everywhere. This is also a time when many churches are closing. I feel like I have at least a small amount of credibility in writing such a post. Let me say, first, that I am a believer in church plants. I am also a believer in church revitalization. I am not, however, a believer in all these man-made formulas that rule out the Holy Spirit.

Maybe you are reading this today, and you have been part of a church plant or are considering being a planter or part of a launch team. I don’t know your reasoning, but I do know it better be a clear call from God. Otherwise, you may be led to plant because of one of these horrible reasons:

  1. You want to preach on a weekly basis. If this is the case, you can find a nursing home, Christian recovery facility, or a prison. I can attest to the fact that some of these places will be a lot less critical than preaching to the same people every week.
  2. You want to create a situation that better fits your ministry philosophy. May I remind you that people are people, and they will be people no matter what kind of rules and guidelines you have envisioned. They will bring their preconceived thoughts about how a church should operate, especially if they have a church background.
  3. You want to create an environment less like the traditional church that hurt you. Once again, people are people. You can remove the business meetings and traditional trappings, but the same issues will exist.
  4. You think you’ll work less. This one is hysterical! When you start from the ground up, you will work hard. You will HAVE TO surround yourself with people whose gifts make up for your lack. Be careful though! You will find that many will expect the church planter to possess all the great gifts that can build a church. I can say from experience that you better have all the key programs that consumers want, or you won’t be so quick to attract the young families. They will quickly drop you like a hot potato for churches with strong children and youth ministries, even if they like the authentic community and strong points of your church plant. Nine times out of ten, they will pick their children over you. We are still fighting the battle of the consumer-driven church. If you want numbers, you better work hard on the front end to draw them. I will warn you that what you use to bait them is what you will need to keep them.

This list is, by no means, exhaustive. I, and many others with experience, could add to the list. I want to encourage you to really seek some godly wisdom if you are entertaining being part of a church plant. Don’t just seek them in the beginning, but keep this godly counsel throughout the process. Find people who will challenge you and ask you the hard questions. If you don’t, you just might have a train wreck up ahead.

Oh, We’re Halfway There!

Many of you who read the title may be finishing it with “Woah, living on a prayer”. Although that song was not a contemporary Christian hit, we most definitely need to live by prayer. Now to the main thought…

I cannot believe how quickly 2019 has flown. We are halfway to the end of this year. So much has happened this year. I have learned so many lessons already, and I know there is so much more to come. So much is in the air right now related to change in my life. I’m asking a lot of questions, but I know God will make everything clear in His time.

Some of you may feel like you really messed up the first half of 2019. Some of you who are reading may feel like you’ve screwed up half your life (or more). All that is in the past, and you CAN finish well. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Many ball teams have slaughtered most of the game, only to make a comeback at the end and win. You can too! Don’t focus on the half behind you. Focus on what is ahead! Determine that the days ahead will be your best days.

Plans Changed

One thing I learned many years ago is to be flexible. Anything can change at any moment. Such was the case for our fourth of July plans. For the fourth year in a row, we had planned to go to Black Mountain, NC to meet a couple who were members of the first church I pastored. He knew what the pain of divorce was like, the experience of the blended family, and was the first to reach out to me once I was officially settled back into the Upstate of South Carolina. I’ll never forget that Sunday night in February 2014 when he called. I answered and heard the words, “Hey there, Preacher” on the other end. He encouraged me to stay in the game. He was one of many, but I needed that call that particular Sunday night.

Plans to go to Black Mountain shifted when we ended up with a few sick children. We spent part of today in a local Urgent Care to find out my 12 year old daughter has strep throat. We did not plan this, but life happens. I knew we needed to let the kids rest and not spread anything to anyone else.

We are so quick to boast about our plans. The book of James reminds us to say we will do certain things “if the Lord wills”. He has the ultimate say, and we are called to walk in His plan.

Don’t be discouraged by a shift in plans. Maybe you didn’t get the job you wanted. Maybe the person you thought was “the one” moved on to someone else. It is difficult to see in the moment, but God is working all things together for good. God can take the worst of circumstances and bring something good from it. We must take the advice of Babbie Mason’s song title “Trust His Heart”. He knows best!

The Power of Music

I began playing the piano and flute in 1991 at the age of 10. I had no idea at that time that I would lead worship in more churches than I can count. My level of giftedness has only taken me so far. I believe God allowed me only so much ability because he knew how pompous and arrogant I can be. I am pretty much a textbook musician who depends on printed music in front of me. After I left full-time music ministry in 2012, the music ministries thereafter were not very complex. I could get by with little to stretch me. This is not the case in my current assignment.

I have been extended another month to lead worship in a very unique situation. I am leading worship in a service that is a blend of hymns and modern worship where the main campus is strictly contemporary. During June, I was the only musician with the exception of a guitarist on Father’s Day. Beginning this Sunday, I will have another vocalist, a guitarist, and someone to play the cajon. I rehearsed with them tonight, and I’m excited about this Sunday and the upcoming weeks as other musicians have been assigned from the main campus to join me.

I must say that this has stretched me. I am playing the piano and singing weekly, so here are some things I am remembering about being a musician who is constantly using my gifts.

  1. Music requires discipline. There is no way I could get up this Sunday without at least a few days of practice each week. The gift must be exercised.
  2. Music requires teamwork. I had the joy of working with two musicians tonight who are great. I had fun collaborating with them. I was assigned two songs by the “head honchos” of the main campus worship to give me an idea of vocal ranges and abilities of the musicians they assigned to me. They have been accustomed to different arrangements of songs than what I brought to the table. We had to tweak several things, but it came together.
  3. Music requires intense planning. Before I go into a rehearsal, I have to give the musicians resources so they do not walk in blindly. That happened to some degree tonight, but we did it. People need to know who sings which part, when instruments need to come in and drop out, etc. So much forethought must happen before something goes to the floor.

I could say so much more, but I’m getting tired. I do know that I am having fun in this journey. So far, the invitation is month by month. I may end up leading this on a permanent basis. I know God knows my best, so He will place me where He wants me. I enjoy giving God my best. May we all strive for excellence in all we do.

Great Grace

As I did my morning ritual of checking social media before I head out for work, I read an article about a tragic death in our area. In an attempt to get away from the police, a 19-year-Old drove off the road into someone’s basement, killing a 39-year-Old lady who was asleep. Later today, I saw where the young man asked the judge to deny bond and he apologized to the victim’s family. The mother of the woman who was tragically killed extended grace to this young man, telling him she would be praying for him and his family.

Honestly, I do not know what I would do in such a situation. None of us wishes to have a child die before us, but many experience this great heartache. This didn’t have to happen. This mother saw a bigger picture and extended grace to a guy who did not deserve it. He will live with this for the rest of his life, knowing that his bad choice led to this woman’s death.

What a picture of the grace God extends to us! We don’t deserve it. Many of us would have understood if this mother told the guy where to go. But this mother reminded me again today how grace should be horizontal as well as vertical. I’m glad God extends that great grace to me, but we get to follow His example by extending it to others. This depicts the gospel. Let’s strive to live the gospel just like this grieving mother.