The Pride of a Pastor

This will be one of my most transparent posts, so you may wish to stop reading if you don’t like ordained ministers to be real about their struggles. Now that I have issued the warning, read the rest at your own risk.

As a child, I struggled with insecurity that melted into adulthood. I was an overweight, unpopular kid. When I began excelling in music, I began to place my identity in that. My identity quickly became about what I did rather than who I was. That melted over into what I did at church. I wanted to achieve greatness in the church world. I wanted to be “successful” and well-known for being an excellent church musician and preacher. In my late twenties and early thirties, I was beginning to feel fulfilled in that. I saw God’s blessing in my full-time music ministry at that time. It was great! God was soon to open the door to my first pastorate, and that was scary. I knew God was calling me, and I was fulfilled in that role too. Something was different in the transition from one to another. My motives became purer. I wasn’t perfect, but I was seeing more of my calling to personally invest in the lives of people rather than be a platform personality.

Me during the transition (2013)

Toward the end of my first pastorate, I knew my marriage was coming to an end. Because of that, I knew ministry would look different for me. I was having to face that my identity was not a full-time vocational minister but a child of God. People could take the vocation, but they could not take my calling or salvation.

When I returned to South Carolina, it was humbling and humiliating. My pride was being slaughtered, but I attempted to preserve it at all costs. I was planning my comeback. I even started a church with hopes of doing something great and proving my “competency” to everyone. What a joke! I fell flat on my face. God used me despite my pride.

I haven’t mastered this humility thing by any means, but God is teaching me. I see myself as a servant who is unworthy but God gets the glory. I’m coming to the point where I am decreasing, God is increasing, and that is okay. Many may look at me as the “used-to-be minister”, but that’s okay. It’s okay for me to be “that guy”, but Jesus is the One everyone should see when they look at my life.

I wish I could say I gave every church my best. I wish I could say I served in humility as wasn’t trying to build a resume in those early days. I wish I could go back and apologize to every single one for my selfish pride. I can’t change the past, but I can change the future. And that’s what I plan to do!

Many of you idolize pastors and don’t want to read that they are human just like you. They struggle with bad thoughts and a ton of other things that you think they shouldn’t struggle with. But here I am…a man who needs just as much grace as anyone else. I’m a sinner. But I’m daily being transformed by the Spirit of God into the image of Christ. Hallelujah!

Just Let It Go!

As you read the title about letting it go, I apologize in advance for the song from “Frozen” playing through your head. I know it is punishment to some. This post does not deal with a movie but with my process of letting go.

For two decades of my life, I served on church staff as a worship leader, associate of various sorts, and lead pastor. God began doing a different kind of work in my heart that I had difficulty embracing. When the opportunities to lead worship and preach decreased, I was honestly questioning God because that is all I have done since my first vocational church position in 1996.
Over the last several months, God has given me contentment about this new season of my life. My role is not to be the man on stage now, but it is to be the one who ministers to those who minister on stage. Healthy pastors/ministry leaders lead healthy ministries.
You will notice that my ministry at this time will focus on writing and personal ministry to pastors and ministry leaders. I have been ministering behind the scenes as a hospice chaplain since 2014. God is broadening that as I minister as a “pastor to pastors” as a Standing Stone Shepherd.
Some of you may be struggling with contentment. You are not where you want to be at this moment. Philippians 4:11 says that we have to learn to be content. The Apostle Paul said in one of his letters to Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain”. Here the thing: contentment comes when we surrender our will to God’s. With that said, I challenge you to let go. Stop trying to make things happen that are not in God’s plan. God’s ways are much better than ours. Trust Him!

Spiritual Moonwalking

I would assume that most of my readers would remember Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. If not, please feel free to Google it.

Many people have spiritually moonwalked. In the church world, we call it backsliding. Many think of backsliding as when someone who professes to know Christ quits going to church, starts partying, stays drunk, and runs around with a bunch of people of the opposite sex. However, backsliding is much more subtle. Backsliding begins in the heart. Proverbs 14:14 says, “The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied from above.”

Two things happen when people backslide:

  1. They are no longer satisfied in Christ.
  2. They selfishly seek to find satisfaction outside a thriving relationship with Christ.

Backslidden people can be faithful church attendees who give, serve, and meet all the spiritual checkmarks. The truth is that you and I have backslidden when we are not as close to Christ as we once were.

Have you drifted in your relationship with God?

Is your heart longing for something out of the will of God?

Are you no longer satisfied in Christ?

If you answered “yes”, it’s time to come back to the One who never changed or moved. Ask God to forgive you and go back to that place where your love for Jesus is greater than anything else.

Suicide

Today was heartbreaking as many of us found out about Jarrid Wilson, an associate pastor to Greg Laurie, took his own life. He has struggled with mental illness and has been a huge advocate for mental health. This happened just a little over a year after Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, another California pastor, took his own life.

Mental illness touches every family in some way. I’m the fourth generation of those battling depression in my family. Because I see many pastors who carry burdens alone, I am dedicated to pastoring pastors and also helping educate those within the church about anxiety and depression.

The part that makes me angry is that many will say Jarrid Wilson is rotting in hell now because he committed suicide. Many hold this erroneous belief that those who commit suicide, even if they have trusted Christ as Savior, automatically go to hell. The reason for their “logic” is that the person had no time to confess the sin. I asked a man who said that to me if he lusted after a woman and died in a car crash as a result of his distraction, would he go to hell. He stammered. I tried to use his “logic”. He did not want to believe the truth of Scripture because it appeared to give people an easy way out. He obviously had no comprehension of what is physically happening in the brain with someone who struggles with mental illness.

May we not be quick to dismiss those we do not understand. Reach out. Help them get the help they need. Love them through it. You may not understand what would lead someone to commit suicide, but many struggle with these thoughts. There are also many who suffer today because their loved one committed suicide. They don’t know to process all this. If you have the knowledge, educate your family, your friends, and all those within your influence. The Christian community can no longer turn its head. Those who struggle need a voice. Let’s be that voice!

My Church Is Dying

A dying church is a sad yet increasingly common thing. When I speak of a dying church, I do not mean the body of Christ made up of all born again believers. I am speaking of the group with whom you gather and call yourself “First Baptist Church” or fill in the blank with any other name. What are signs of a dying church?

  • Decreased attendance – Churches do have times of attendance fluctuation, but you want to take inventory if it continues for a long period.
  • Blame-shifting – Dying churches tend to blame everyone or everything but the real problem. I hear many arrogant pastors and church members say, “People don’t come to our church because we preach the truth, and people don’t like truth.” Rarely is that the case. It is time to find the root cause rather than try to look super spiritual.
  • Poor leadership – I have seen leaders stay too long or operate outside their area of giftedness. I have been that person at times. Some leaders are not happy if they cannot control things, so they will give their co-laborers minimal liberty to minister.
  • Nostalgia – I filled in at a church with 6 in attendance outside my family. I was getting weekly calls about being their next pastor. When I asked one of the early members of the church about their best days, she said, “Our favorite preacher was ______.” I moved on and allowed them to focus on someone better suited for their desires.
  • Spiritual neglect – Many churches have prayer, preaching, and spiritual disciplines incorporated into the services, but they do not practice them outside “the sacred hour”. No wonder there is little to no power! When people don’t share Christ and do little to nothing to grow in their faith, the church becomes anemic.
  • Misplaced priorities – I encourage you to read the latest information on First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. I referenced this church in my last blog post. This church takes up nine city blocks and has been known for its iconic leadership, facilities, and programs. Well-known pastors, nice facilities, and programs will only go so far. Their attendance has declined by over half in the last 20 years, and they can barely afford to keep going. Does this sound like the proclamation of the gospel has been the priority? They realize they are distracted by upkeep that is preventing them from fulfilling God’s call.

What do you do when your church is dying?

  • Repent – Ask God to reveal to your church what has been done wrong and repent. That means stop doing what you’ve been doing that has caused the problems. That could be anything from wars of music style to platform decor to power struggles. If anyone other than Christ is on the throne in your church, someone needs to be dethroned. I pray that will happen because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. This requires some intense honesty and humility.
    Restructure – You can’t keep doing the same thing and get different results. First Baptist of Jacksonville, Florida voted to get rid of a ton of nostalgia in order to be good stewards and make the Great Commission top priority again. Your church may have 60 people meeting in a facility that seats 600. It’s a disgrace to God to continue to try to meet in such a place when you can’t pay bills, no one is coming to Christ, and all you can afford to do is come around the spiritual campfire once a week and sing “Kumbayah”. Why not sell your current facility and restructure? Rebrand? Or would you rather hold on to a building that contains memories of what used to be and die while “Titanic Church” sinks?

I believe that many of you are attending churches like what I have described. You may be the pastor of what I have described. It’s a tough place, and some people would rather see a church die as it is than to see God do a revitalizing work. Don’t let that be you! Die to your selfishness and pride! For the sake of lost souls and people who need to come back to Christ, PLEASE be selfless enough to do the right thing.

Self-Defense: Is It Always a Good Thing?

I had one of those prayer times tonight that everyone needs – the kind when you are honest with yourself and God. I admitted to God that I have been protecting my flaws for years rather than exposing and correcting them. God already knew it, but I had to admit that to myself in order to begin experiencing freedom.

Many of us are good at this type of self-defense. We are masters at our defense mechanisms and will defend them to the death. The problem with that is we become stagnant and never grow. We are quick to blame everything and everyone else when we must take personal responsibility.

I see this in churches too. Many churches don’t want to face the facts about themselves. When they are in decline and are in dire straits, they often say that the community is the problem. Or they are quick to say that people just don’t want the truth preached anymore, so they’re going to churches that compromise. It may be true in some cases but not all the time.

I watched a video from First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida that has been long overdue. I became acquainted with this ministry in January 2004 when I attended a pastors conference there. The pastor for whom I worked idolized this ministry. For approximately 60 years, it was led by two pastors. The father passed it down to the son. For the last 18 of those years, it was co-pastored by the son and his choice to come alongside him. That pastor assumes the role of single senior pastor until his retirement in 2007. The church covers 9 city blocks and is an edifice that memorializes the father-son duo and antiquated ways that worked well once upon a time.

This church that once averaged 9,000 in attendance is less than half now. They are facing the tough facts and are doing something about it. I am more hopeful for established churches now than ever. Many continue to bury their heads in the sand, but I’m glad that this church is refusing to be a casualty. I encourage you to watch this video.

Scathing Reviews

Have you ever gotten a nasty letter, email, text, or phone call? I believe most, if not all, of us have. We received one of those at work recently. We sat down to evaluate if we could have done anything better in the situation since we typically go above and beyond as we have in this case. We noted a few areas of improvement, but we also noted that some of the expectations in the letter were too high.

It hit home because a few sentences related to this individual’s thoughts about me. The individual said I was too laid-back and of no help. I was bothered by the remarks, but I began to realize that I cannot help everyone. I am limited as a human being. The devil wanted to upset me by one remark when God has used me to help a good number of people. I stopped to pray for this individual. I have been where this person is. I went to one counselor who was not very helpful while the next one was just what I needed. I did not fault the first counselor. God has used him to help others, but his background was not as beneficial to me.

The next time you receive some scathing remarks or criticism, be willing to improve where needed but also know that you will not be able to help everyone. Someone else will come along and potentially meet the need better. Criticism from others does not define you. Let that release you from unnecessary bondage!

Advice for Church Personnel/Hiring Committees

Up until my first pastorate, I was always hired or called to a ministry first by God, second by a pastor. However, I did not have my first experience with a committee contacting me in regards to a position until 2006. It was a very traditional church of about 200-250. The first committee disbanded for some crazy reason, so I was dealing with the second committee formed within a 6-month period. The pastor called me one night and said the committee was interested in a DVD of one of my worship services (when I was in music ministry) and some times I could potentially meet with them. As soon as I submitted a DVD, I never heard a thing. I knew the church secretary, so I called and asked why the pastor had not gotten back with me. He called the next day and told me the committee desired to look at other people. The secretary later revealed that the committee would not hire me because my choir didn’t smile enough. Spiritual, right?

Church committees often bring personal preferences to the table. I’ve observed committees that hired someone because that individual was nothing like his or her predecessor. Committees will have an age preference, an idea of what their ideal candidate looks like, etc. History has proven that the people of Jesus’ day would not have chosen Him to be the Savior of the world. Church committees would have never taken a first glance at most of the disciples except for Judas, in my opinion. The people God chooses to use are most often unlikely candidates by education, looks, family background, etc. We so quickly forget that God qualifies those who He calls.

What would I say to a committee who is looking for a pastor or someone to serve in their church?

  1. Pray, pray, and pray some more. I’m not talking about a 1-minute checkoff. I’m talking about truly seeking the Lord. I would include fasting. Empty yourself so you can truly hear from God.
    Throw your preferences out the window. I know church surveys are great, and many “professionals” say that is the way to go. It most often gives you an idea of how divided the church really is. I have yet to hear a committee tell me that a survey was helpful.
    Look at one person at a time. This relates to the final process. Most committees receive resumes from various sources. A resume can be very deceptive, but it also can be very helpful. After looking through resumes, many committees move on to watching people preach, sing, etc. These are helpful in getting an idea of the candidate’s public persona.
    Do your research on the candidate. Talk to the references. Find out what people in their community have to say. I intentionally listed references, for the ministry of which I am now a part, who know my worst and could tell them. They still allowed me to be a part of the ministry. Hallelujah! You want to get a good idea about the candidate’s character and reputation.
    Ask the candidate the hard questions. Ask what matters to your church. Allow little to no room for surprises.
    Be real! Don’t paint your church up to be something it is not. It will backfire in many ways, most likely sooner rather than later.
    Be courteous to every single candidate who applies. If they send a resume, send letters or emails to keep them updated. If you call them in for an interview, let them know God has led you to move forward with someone else if that is the case. I had a committee about three months ago never follow up afterward. I knew I was a horrible fit and did not desire to move forward, but they should have been courteous.
    Be open to the fact that the one God is calling to fill that role may not have applied. I have frequently seen God raise up men and women from within the church. They already knew and appreciated the heartbeat of the ministry. The committee members already knew the best and worst of them, so the transition was smoother than bringing in an outsider who did not know the culture of the area or the church.

This is not exhaustive, but I hope it helps a reader who may be serving on a church committee. Whatever you do, don’t let your checklist work God out of the equation.

You Shouldn’t Act That Way in Church

I have seen many in churches hatefully rebuke those who do not act the way they think they should “in church”. Like it or not, a lot of our culture today (even in what we mistakingly call “the Bible Belt”) has little or no experience with church. If people do not have a relationship with Christ or are not well-versed in “Churchianity”, why do we expect them to put on a Holy and righteous act? Is it because for some it is just that – an act? I’ll digress.

I heard the most beautiful story of a loving pastor’s rebuke to those who wrote a hateful, anonymous letter to a lady who didn’t act the “right way” in church. Many pastors, for fear of losing people and/or their money, would have sided with those who had been in the church a lot longer. Thankfully, this pastor sided with the lady who was not a cultured pew-warmer. I’m proud to say this pastor will be our church’s interim pastor in a few weeks.

I want to share the video with you of his message at a Wesleyan General Conference. The story begins at the 6:56 mark. I believe it might bless you like it blessed me.

Yep! They’re Real!

Oh, the various directions I could go with a title like this🤣! In the day of more social media connections than face-to-face interaction, it is easy for one to question if the man or woman on social media is who he/she portrays to be. Before I remarried, I spent a brief time on a dating site. If I ever talked to anyone, I always asked the lady in rather humorous ways if she was who she said she was. It didn’t want any surprises if we were ever to meet.

Over the last 4 years, I have made several connections through this blog. Within the last few weeks, I have had some great phone conversations with a few of these bloggers. Pastors Randy Burbank, William Strickland, Clarence Dalrymple, and Keith Haney are four of the bloggers I spoke with on the phone. Our contact through the blog has been so frequent that the conversations were very natural. These four men have encouraged me so much. These guys have walked the road a little while longer than I, do their insight is precious.

Fake people are a dime a dozen. You can find them anywhere. Real men and women who live their faith are more difficult to find. I’m so thankful to have found some people along the way who, despite distance, have been a tremendous blessing.

My challenge to you – be real! In a day full of fakes, be authentic and approachable. You have no idea the difference you will make in another person’s life.