My Struggle with Fear

Those from my generation will remember the movie “Home Alone”. It was about a boy named Kevin McAlister who was accidentally left home alone during Christmas break when his family flew to France. When Kevin discovered he was home alone, he was afraid. Most 9-year-olds would be afraid. When he discovered that the “Wet Bandits” were going to break into his house and steal whatever they found of value, Kevin’s courage arose. He set up a series of well-devised traps, and the burglars went to jail. Awesome story, right?

I wish I could say that I am the brave part of Kevin McAlister – the part that was determined to catch the burglars without fear. If I told you I was, I would be lying. At age 38, there are still days I feel like the scared little boy whose family was in France. So, what does this honest pastor fear?

  1. I fear rejection. That’s probably why I asked my ex-wife out 5 times after the first yes. (I am proud to say that I boldly told my current wife of my interest and let the chips fall where they may.) As a pastor, I have feared the rejection of people. What if my preaching isn’t good enough? What if I am not “cool enough”? What if I don’t perform to the expectations of others (as unrealistic as they can be)?
  2. I fear failure. This plagued me as a church planter. I was so paralyzed by fear. I took few risks. I already felt like a failure because I was a divorced guy in ministry who couldn’t land what many call a “real opportunity”.
  3. I fear being hurt again. I am occasionally reminded of the hateful things said by the pastor who bullied me. I am reminded of “the powers that be” in my first pastorate who retaliated against me when I was losing my family. Those things still sting. And part of me tries to prevent hurt from ever happening again. I hate to break it to you, but you can’t avoid hurt. It will happen over and over. You and I must learn to work through these things and become stronger people.

Why should I not fear? Some may be quick and judgmental, wanting to give me a quick rebuke that fear is sin, sin sends people to hell, so Matthew is going to hell. Yes, fear is sin. But let’s take a deeper look at this.

  1. Fear is not from God. Second Timothy 1:7 says that God has not given us a spirit of fear. If fear does not come from God, what is fear’s origin?
  2. Fear is a tool of the enemy used to paralyze the child of God. Scripture is full of countless examples.
  3. My fear should be of God not of man. This fear of God is a reverential awe. When I fear God, He is my priority to the point that I do not care what people will do to me. People will be people first and Christians second (if they are believers). Pleasing God must be my top priority.

How should I respond to fear?

  1. Take it to God in prayer. This may seem like a Sunday School answer, but God invites us to cast ALL our cares upon Him.
  2. Fill ourselves with the Word of God. Biblical truth gives us courage.
  3. Move forward afraid. I remember when I had my first child. He is now 16. I knew nothing about babies. I was scared. I was 22 years old, almost unemployed, and didn’t know a thing about being a dad. I’m glad to say I didn’t tuck tail and run. I faced the fears. Sixteen years and several kids later, I still face the fears. I face the fears that come with being a hospice chaplain. You and I must step out and find out. We will never know if we don’t “get out of the boat”.

Some of you bold, type-A personalities are probably thinking that I should put on my big boy pants. I’ll be glad to tell you I ordered them from Amazon Prime, and they should be here soon. Seriously, I will keep sharing about my journey because it just might strike a note with someone else.

When God Makes It Clear

This year has presented a few opportunities to return to being on church staff. One possibility was full-time. For the first time in 5 years, I was actually considering returning to full-time ministry. My latest opportunity was one I enjoyed. I did a trial run for several weeks, but I knew something different at the end. It was not just the realization that this particular church was not God’s calling, but that my calling is on a broader range.

Sometimes we pray prayers like Jabez, asking God to expand our territory, but it may look nothing like what we envision. I’ve finally reached a place where that’s okay. I have tried too hard to write my own story, when God wants to write His story.

It’s time to wait! It’s time to let God be God and let Him do His thing! Let’s get out of the way so He can accomplish His greater purpose in and through us.

Did I Just See That?

I have had some pretty amazing encounters with people in the last few days. The first was with a mother figure from a previous ministry I served. She had a horrible car accident that resulted in a few surgeries, a few weeks in the hospital, and now a few months of rehab. What would you expect to encounter when you walked into the room? Probably not what I saw. I saw a lady who was laughing, cracking jokes, and being the same person I have known for 10 years. Her husband was the same. How could that be?

My second encounter was this morning. I went to Chick-Fil-A, thinking I would go through the drive thru, but God had other plans. I ended up having to go inside. A dear pastor friend was in there. As we were talking, he pointed out a man in there who, along with a few others, was responsible for the end of his ministry in a particular church. I jokingly offered to kick the man’s tail, but this pastor walked over and visited with the man a while. What kind of man could sit down with a guy who plotted his demise?

The reason this lady could continue through her difficulty and this pastor could face this individual who meant him harm is GRACE! God’s grace does amazing things. We can forgive and have God’s perspective in the worst of life’s circumstances.

You may be going through something or struggling through the emotions of a past event. Everyone’s process is different, but God can give that same grace to you. Press in closer to Him during this season, and you’ll be surprised what He does.

Who Gives You Your Identity?

When I was in Nashville last week, one of the exercises we did within the first hour required us to list three things: self-narrative (adjectives that we feel about ourselves), satan’s narrative (what the devil tries to lead us to think), and God’s narrative (what God says about us based on biblical truth). This was a very helpful exercise. I would have added the narrative of others. Other people can often lead us to think more highly OR more lowly of ourselves.

Modern psychology often focuses on the self-narrative. If the self-narrative is bad, we change it through daily affirmations (I remember some hilarious SNL skits from the 90s on this subject). I know many people who practically look in the mirror and sing, “You’re beautiful, it’s true.” You know what I’m talking about. I tried that one morning when I first woke up, bedhead and all. I did get a great laugh. Seriously…

The devil’s narrative will always be skewed. He is the father of lies, so don’t trust a thing he tells you.

God’s narrative is what is true. I have often heard that God does not love a future version of us but who we are now. The closeness of our relationship is affected by sin, but the level of love is always unconditional.

So, what do you choose to believe? I’ve tried the first few, but God’s thoughts about me are far better.

Handling the Gift of Discernment

My wife and I were having a conversation after one of the morning church services we attended. She asked, “I know you discern all these things, but can you be more positive about it?” The question made me think.

The gift of discernment can be a blessing and a curse. I can sense how a situation will be handled before it happens. Because of that, I don’t come across as Mr. Positivity. It is especially difficult when I sense that something will be handled negatively.

Does anyone else have this problem? If so, how do you handle it? Some gifts from God are simultaneously a blessing and burden. Those who do not possess the same gift do not understand. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Church Health

As a young pastor and guy on church staff, I was well acquainted with the term “church growth”. It was every seminarian’s dream to pack the seats 💺. At every turn, we heard about strategies, read books, and heard pastors and ministry leaders brag about their story of how “successful” they were at church growth. The sad thing is I never heard about church health. I have seen churches with hundreds and thousands of people be rotten on the inside.

About 8 or 9 years ago, I was diagnosed with a testosterone deficiency. I was prescribed medication to apply to my skin daily to be testosterone replacement. It would shut down my body’s ability to produce and provide an artificial means to produce testosterone. I was warned that my children could not come in contact with the medication because my daughter would become hairy like a monkey or my boys would grow faster than their bones. So may I ask the question, “Is growth always healthy?”

I have seen “church growth” take place in many forms. One is transfer growth. I know of one church that benefited from multiple churches in the area being in turmoil. Nearly 100 people joined this church. Another is attraction growth. They will do anything and everything to draw a crowd. They may not make disciples or retain these individuals on a consistent basis, but they can show off some good numbers. A third is biological growth – one I have done well over the last 16 years🤣. What we long to see is conversion growth – a church growing because disciples of Christ are helping produce new disciples of Christ spiritually. It’s a place where people are crossing over from death to life. That is a sign of church health, but it isn’t the only one.

I would like to take some more time in the days ahead to expound on this thing of a healthy church. I can assure you that a healthy church is a rare thing to find.

I Felt That

Today, I sat in the congregation as our pastor announced his call to another ministry. He will be with us for a few more weeks. As he made this announcement, I felt that.

The last very emotional ministry transition was in 2012. God allowed me to really bond with the congregation of a church where I served as worship leader for nearly 3 1/2 years. We had seen the blessing of God in choir growth, a united church in the area of music and worship, and several other things. As my pastor shared this, my mind went back to the emotions of such a transition. I asked myself, “How could I leave this church that has been so good to me and my family to go into the pastorate (a road that will most likely be, and was, a greater challenge)?” My pastor had to make that announcement twice today (9:30 and 11:00 services). I saw the emotions of his wife and children, remembering how my family could not understand why. I felt that.

Some of you who are reading this may have moved around a lot. Maybe you were in the military or your job moved you around a lot. Maybe you moved to run from the law (I had to throw that bit of humor in). Transition is never easy. I’m glad God’s grace is ever present. The God who is with you now has gone before you and will be with you in the transitions. There will be more to come.

I would appreciate your prayers for my pastor and his family. He has been a friend indeed. Please also pray for our church. As our pastor said, the same God who has called him away has a plan for our church. It’s moments like this when I’m glad I can be in a non-ministerial role in our church to provide encouragement. My pastor has stood with me and encouraged me. I pray that I can be the refresher he has been to me.

Listen While You Pray

When the title of this post came to my mind, I began to think of the song “Whistle while you work.” In response to my last post about prayer, someone replied and commented about the listening aspect of prayer. I was quickly reminded of something that happened last week.

As I was preparing to go to Nashville for Standing Stone ministry training, I had to read 3 books. One of those books addressed having Scripture to support my specific calling. I stopped right then and asked God to give me a specific verse confirming my calling to minister to pastors and ministry leaders. When you ask God to reveal something, you better stop to listen. Within a second or two, God brought a passage to mind.

Matthew 9:36 says, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” I began to dwell on this – pastors fainting (growing discouraged) because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Think about it! Who pastors the pastor? (If your answer is “Jesus”, why isn’t Jesus enough for those who are not pastors?) Pastors are sheep just like everyone else. They need encouragement too…the kind of encouragement that comes from real-life people because that is how the body of Christ works when it is healthy.

Because many demand from the pastor rather than minister to the pastor, pastors need shepherds. That’s why God is calling me to this ministry. God has called me to be a shepherd to shepherds.

I am so blessed by this moment of listening that brought clarity to this calling. Prayer does involve asking, but let us not forget to listen to what God has to say in response.

In EVERY thing, PRAY!

As I begin this new journey as a Shepherd for Standing Stone, I realize how poor my prayer life is. The Bible is full of examples and commands to pray. Even Jesus taught on the subject. But we are so quick to realize on ourselves or others rather than the One who can do anything but fail.

All Standing Stone shepherds have a high requirement for accountability. We are required to spend 1/5 of our work week in prayer. At the lowest level, that is 3 hours per week. I began to wonder how many of us spend 3 hours a week in concentrated prayer. I pray, but I don’t see the move of God I could see if I prayed more.

When I was 17, I heard a pastor preach about relying on God. In his message, he shared how he prayed and asked God for directions in things as simple as which toothpaste to buy. He concluded that if he could not hear from God in the little things, how would he know how to minister to a couple whose child just died or someone who experienced a crisis he had not experienced.

We need to know God’s voice. We need Him to go before us and prepare the way for meetings and divine appointments we have ahead of us. So, my challenge to you and me is to pray even about the little things. That’s the command in Philippians 4:6 – pray about EVERYTHING! Let’s stop getting our advice from horoscopes, Dr. Phil, and my homey Bill (pardon the cheesy rhyme). We run to all the wrong people when Jesus is all we need.

Throwing Up Bitterness and Cynicism on My Blog – An Honest Confession

This post could gain some criticism because of the level of honesty and confession here. James 5 reminds us that confession our faults to one another brings healing. Some may choose to take the critical road, but I pray that most (if not all) would see the propensity of all of us to do what I am about to share.

This blog began in 2015. I was still recovering from the aftermath of my separation and divorce. In retrospect, I see how cynical and bitter I was as I wrote. This blog was an outlet. Many read this and connected with my sentiments. Others did not understand or misconstrued what was written here. If I could go back and change things, there are a lot of posts that would have never been published. Despite my own struggles, God used several of my posts to help some people who shared similar struggles. Many read the real struggles of a man who happened to be in ministry and understood we have similar struggles as “normal people” (whatever normal means).

Many of my posts stemmed from my feelings about pastors and church members who bullied me, those in the church who feel my divorce disqualified me from doing anything for the Lord, and any other struggles that accompanied being a pastor and a church planter. Some of my struggles were a result of pride, poor choices, etc. Others were conflicts that, at their core, were similar to what many others face. Many of you who read these posts graciously stood with me on my path to healing. For that, I am grateful.

This last year has been a year of realization. In a previous season, I was very passionate about ministering strictly in one local church on staff. I stepped into church planting (something I liked the thought of but did not possess the gifts necessary to do it well). I am thankful for the people who stood with me during that season. It was difficult to admit to my inadequacy, but it was a step in discovering where my heart truly is during this season of my life – ministering to pastors (lead, student, executive, worship, children’s, etc.) and ministry leaders of various sorts. I know some of the struggles, and I realize that pastoral health aids in church health. Church health leads to biblical church growth.

This next ministry assignment is very different from what I have done. So many pastors have no safe place to turn. They don’t have the resources they often need to be the best they can be. I have prayed for an opportunity to invest my life in other pastors. God showed me it is possible through the ministry of Standing Stone (my new ministry calling).

Had I had a Standing Stone Shepherd, I may have handled some of my ministry situations much better. I now resolve to be what I needed during these very challenging seasons of my life. I know this cannot happen apart from the work of God’s Spirit. I know He is able.

I don’t know what shape this blog will take as I enter a new season of ministry, but I strive to continue to be honest, authentic, and transparent as I write. I do know, moving forward, that I long to write from the place of a healed man full of the Holy Spirit rather than a hurt man who used his blog to vomit bitterness and cynicism. I know I will never know all who were offended by my approach, but I pray that God will allow me to rebuild bridges than rejoice in the ones burned. Not every bridge will be repaired, but I long to know that I have done everything possible to live peaceably with all people as Scripture calls us to do.

Thank you to all those who loved me through the ups and downs! You have refreshed my spirit. To those I offended, I seek your forgiveness. Hurt distorts perspective. This does not justify a wrong approach, but it shows us our sinful nature once again. May the future of this blog minister life, encouragement, and truth to all who read. God bless you!