Laying Out of Church

This weekend was a challenging one. My wife went out of town overnight for a church ladies conference and left me with the babies. I know some of you ladies are already rolling your eyes. I’m not complaining but trying to tell a story. My lack of sleep Friday night left me with lots of sleep Saturday night and the lack of desire to wake up this morning. My first thought was, “Let’s watch live stream of our church service today.” I’m not on church staff, so the service can go on without me, and no one will know. Ultimately, I did not give in to the temptation. I’m so glad I didn’t.

We sang songs I am very familiar with, so my heart was going through the motions until I began praying during the song before the message. The lyrics led me to very specific prayer for my personal life as well as for some people I know. So when our interim pastor began to preach, my heart was ready.

Pastor Mark shared from Psalm 145 which is an acrostic psalm. The interesting thing is that one letter of the Hebrew alphabet is missing. It begins with praise to God for His goodness and greatness. Pastor Mark then began to talk about the missing piece after the praise. What do we do with praise when we don’t understand why things happen the way we think they should? I encourage you to listen at the 28:23 point to the message.

I believe this worship song connects well with the topic.

The next time you think about giving in to the temptation to neglect a spiritual discipline, remember that what you really need at the moment is what you will miss if you don’t do it.

Shout-Outs

Today marks the one year anniversary of the day I stepped away from the church I planted. It has been one heck of a year. I have been all over the map with emotions and opportunities. Some of you have probably already read the spoiler and know that I am finally at a point of contentment, and God has done some really powerful yet painful work on my heart. He’s still working on it and will continue to do so.

There are several people who have been absolutely wonderful in this last year. I may forget some names, but I want to acknowledge some people. They probably don’t realize the impact they made since last September, but I want to look back at how faithful God is and how He used these people.

  1. First, I want to thank my former pastor Josh Ratliff and the wonderful people of Welcome Wesleyan Church. They stood with us and loved us, even if they weren’t sure if we were coming or going. Pastor Josh, our connection group, and several others in the church prayed for us as we were trying to navigate through some uncertainty. We are blessed to be a part of one of the best churches in America.
  2. I want to thank Pastor Alan Bagwell who gave me my first preaching opportunity (and the only one lol) after I stepped away from Overcomers Church. I drove 4 hours, but it was worth it. The people of Cordesville First Baptist Church were wonderful.
  3. Several pastors and churches talked to me about helping them or coming on staff. The processes were wonderful, and they helped confirm what I am to do in this season. Among those were Pastor Jeff Davis and his wife, Joni, Pastor Tim Porter, and Pastor Josh Thomas. Each pastor reminded me that God still wanted to use my gifts in the body of Christ.
  4. The people who were a part of Overcomers Church throughout the nearly two years it met have been very affirming. A few issues left things not ending well, but I am glad to say God has worked those things out and brought restoration.
  5. This may sound funny, but many connections through this blog and social media have been encouraging. The Holy Spirit used you to minister a word in due season. For that, I am very thankful.
  6. My friends who have stood with me in a ton of seasons are too many to name. You are people stemming all the way back to my days growing in Virginia to friends in college to those I encountered through various churches where I served.
  7. Last, but not least, I can’t help but thank my wife, children, and other family. Because we are a blended family, my oldest kids more quickly remember me as daddy/worship leader/pastor. My wife and the younger kids have not been with me the whole journey. Never once did they resist our investigation of potential opportunities. I feel like I have yanked them from church to church, but I’m glad they enjoy the adventure of ministry without borders.

I’m a huge anniversary celebrator. I look back upon days and lessons learned. Nothing is wasted. So I give my greatest shoutout to the Lord Jesus Christ. As the songwriter penned, “This my song through endless ages, Jesus led me all the way.” Hallelujah!

Do You Have to Be THAT Honest?

I was talking with another pastor last night about transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability. He and I were both trained that we had to put on the pretense that we were strong, capable men who could boldly lead God’s people where none have gone before. That’s hysterical as I think about it.

Some of us minister with a limp. I do. I was criticized by some for my transparency, but God opened doors for me to minister to people who would not have received me had I put on a facade.

James 5:16 says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” This verse makes most people uncomfortable. Who likes the thought of sharing your struggles? However, God’s design is that we are transparent about our struggles in safe, healthy community so that we can pray for one another and grow through our struggles. I’ll probably get some people who don’t like that, but you’re entitled to your opinion.

I had a friend who was struggling with a sin issue over five years ago. He reached out to me later and wished he would have talked to someone before he lost his family and things he held dear. I apologized if I came across as being an unsafe place for him. He needed a place to open up so he could forsake his sin and begin the healing process.

If you do not have healthy Christian community, find it. It’s what Christ intended.

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!