Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Time to Move 2

Last week I wrote a response blog to John Barner's "When Is It Time to Look for Another Place of Ministry?"  I would like to continue my thoughts on that specific question. First, I want to share seven truths about Gods heart regarding ministry transitions and then I want to share four steps to knowing it is time to move.

7 Truths about God’s Heart

1.    God blesses faithfulness. Scripture teaches that the person who is faithful in that which is least will be made ruler over much. When a servant is diligent, disciplined, and determined, one should not be surprised that God honors that servant with greater responsibility.
2.    God always prepares us before He uses us. So, the question might be, how has God prepared you for your next assignment? What new work has He done in you? What new challenge has He taken you through?
3.    God takes us or calls us somewhere as a general principle. Only rarely does He simply takes us away from an existing set of uncomfortable circumstances. Yet on occasion, He does just that.
4.    God uses the usable servant. The question we must ask ourselves is "am I usable?" Is there anything in me that is prohibiting the Lord from using me, or you? Is there anything in us that The Lord is waiting on us to correct?
5.    Sometimes, God puts us into what appears to be a holding pattern because He is intentionally freeing us up to do something else which by hindsight is of great if not monumental importance. I think of Jonathan Edwards' termination at Northampton after serving the church for 24 years. In what appeared to be his exile to Stockbridge, he wrote some of his greatest works. He had time to think and write--something he could not have done had his unfortunate circumstances not transpired.
6.    If we will be faithful, God will be responsible to get us where He wants us. It is of great importance for us to be patient and to keep our eyes focused on God in whose hands our lives reside.
7.    Finally, pragmatically, we must ask ourselves the question, "Did I complete the assignment God gave me when I accepted my last responsibility? If not, why do we think that God will let us leave? Ought we not complete what we start? Now that does assume cooperation on the part of those God called us to lead.

How do you know God wants you to move?

1.    The first indicator that God wants you to move is that He places a restlessness in your Spirit that He is going do something new in you and through you.
2.    Next, when you have a peace that you are supposed to be somewhere else and the door opens, you can assume that God is orchestrating the unfolding events. Sometimes, however, He tests you to see if you are willing to go and it is not His will that you go. Recall Abraham's offering of Isaac. The issue was the heart and the willingness.
3.    When the church or ministry, for whatever reason, chooses not to follow your leadership, you do not need to stay. That from my perspective is an exercise in futility.
4.    Finally, you need to move on when your staying does more harm than good.

Remember this, you only have so many days of your life to invest in ministry. Do not waste what God has allotted to you. Remember Psalm 90:12. At the same time, do not leave until God tells you to go. How do you know? There is an overwhelming sense of peace that "this is the right thing to do." Caution, you may not emotionally want to go...or stay...still, the key is "peace" about what is "right." Recall Philippians 4:6-7. Trust God with all your heart and He will guide you!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Time to Move

Some rights reserved by phil_g

Like so many other people, I have been greatly encouraged over the years by the work of Focus on the Family. This past week I read an article by one of their writers, John Barner entitled, "When Is It Time to Look for Another Place ofMinistry?" He begins by noting the present high turnover in today's church world which he describes as "alarming to say the least."  If his latest set of stats are accurate and the average minister is only staying about two years in one place, the trend is getting progressively worse.

Barner goes on to say that a variety of reasons can account for the extreme turnover rate. His initial explanations revolve around two observations. He suggests, first, that some pastors are simply not equipped to deal with conflict--hence, they leave--or, that pastors are looking to better their standard of living with its added influence and recognition. Hence, they leave. Barner then asks, should the trend and whatever motives are driving them be viewed as good, bad, or indifferent? After acknowledging that sometimes ministers are running from situations they should have stayed with, and therefore are running from what God intended for their good and their growth, he concedes rightly that there are legitimate reasons when moving is the right thing to do.

Barner's 3 reasons for moving on:
1.    When leaders in the church are unwilling to negotiate on important issues.
2.    When his family is adversely affected due to abusive and demanding tactics of ungodly opponents--this which should be considered absolutely unacceptable.
3.    If the church cannot or will not take care of the minister's financial needs.

My initial response is to "Amen" what Barner wrote and offer some additional observations and considerations.

1. Determine the purpose in the pastorate. Sometimes, a seminary student is serving a small congregation that has for years demonstrated unhealthy dynamics. Leaving there for any of the given reasons seems perfectly acceptable. Nevertheless, the question needs to be asked, "What is God's purpose in this place for the church and the minister?"

Years ago in my first pastorate I had a difficult situation arise with an obstinate leader. Dr. James Eaves gave me some advice: "Determine if this is a long term assignment from God for you. If yes, you'll need to use dynamite to remove the stump; if not, just plow around him knowing that your days there are numbered." Good advice.

Yet, I am very much aware that any great work for God may take years of commitment and the pastor or minister who is not invested in the long haul will very likely be perceived as a hireling rather than a shepherd. It is a risky decision to put down roots with a congregation. So, what can be done to maximize the potential long-term successful relationship between pastor and people?

2. Be thoroughly honest in the interview phase. Coupled with that, I encourage my students to draw up a "memorandum of understanding" with a new congregation which the entire church approves when the new pastor is called. This minimizes any misunderstandings. Sadly, I have seen search committees make promises to pastors they do not have the authority to keep. In the process of leaving a pastorate where I had served for over two decades, I received an interesting letter from a naive but well-meaning lady. In the midst of conflict, she wrote me and said, "when you came, we wanted a preacher, not a leader who would make changes." In a nutshell, here are seeds of misunderstanding planted years before that returned to bear some bitter fruit. Longer tenures in pastorates build stronger churches in the long haul. These start with clear understandings with the pastor and congregation on the front end.

In my next post I'll address this question: "When is it time to leave?"

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

5 Insights On Writing from “Bird By Bird”

All rights reserved by 77S Photography

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a student of writing. I have four published books and numerous articles to my credit. Yet, I still feel very much like a novice as I continue to learn. Several weeks ago I was given a copy of Anne Lamott's book, Bird By Bird, which is the distilled essence of her writer's workshop. In this blog I would like to wrap up my thoughts on her book as I examine some of her insights concerning the discipline of writing.

1. She sees writing as a frontline force in the politically incorrect arena of the culture wars. Lamott writes, "The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but clearly the dark side is rising" (234). Then, she counters by stating, "And who knows? Maybe what you have written will help others, will be a small part of the solution" (235). She previously had commented that, "writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on" (97). As we pay attention and realize what is unfolding, perhaps we writers can be part of the solution to bring light to the darkness.

2. She also addresses the self-held convictions of the writer. She explains, "But you have to believe in your position, or nothing will be driving your work. If you don't believe in what you are saying, there is no point in your saying it...this belief will keep you going as you struggle to get your work done" (106-7). Lamott continues this thought sequence by observing, "to be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care...But a writer always tries, I think, to be part of the solution, to understand a little about life and pass this on" (107). Understanding, caring, and passing on insights and convictions--that is a sound insight about the nature and value of writing.

3. Lamott also gives attention to what she identifies as the "moral position." She explains, "So a moral position is not a message. A moral position is a passionate caring inside of you...and there is no point in gathering an audience and demanding its attention unless you have something to say that is important and constructive" (108). So, what is it inside of you that is important? And what can you write that is constructive?

4. Lamott also speaks to those who have succumbed to the intimidation of public opinion and self-doubt. She gives this advice: "so you have gotten into the habit of doubting the voice that was telling you quite clearly what was really going on. It is essential that you get it back!" She explains, "you get your confidence and your intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side" (111-112). From a Christian perspective this infers being prayed up and biblically sound, then boldly taking a righteous stand. It is not enough to be sincere because many people are sincere, but sincerely wrong.

5. She gives encouragement to do your best...all the time. Quoting Annie Dillard, she writes, "day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects. If you give freely, there will always be more" (p.202). 

From my perspective, these are great insights from an experienced and seasoned writer. She is one more person from whom I can learn! What authors have you read lately that have provided you with great insight? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

4 Tips on the Discipline of Writing

In my last blog, I introduced Anne Lamott's autobiographical book Bird by Bird. The book records her insights about life and in turn writing. After the self-revelations related to her motives for writing, Lamott's book can be broken down into three categories: The Significance of Writing, Some Suggestions about Writing, and Some Insights Concerning Writing.

The first section deals with the significance of writing. She stridently explains that "good writing is about telling the truth" (3). Concerning the author's motivation she relates, "you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk" (7). Obviously, this makes it quite significant, at least from the writer's perspective. Explaining the value of the end product, she notes that books "show us what community and friendship means; they show us how to live and die"(15).

The next category of thought addresses a litany of helpful suggestions about the practical disciplines of writing. 

1. Write incrementally. From the perspective of a coach she gives this advice: "write short assignments" (16). Any large product can be broken down into multiple shorter pieces. Refuse to be overwhelmed by the ultimate length of the finished product.

2. Just get it down. Lamott acknowledges that "no one is reading your first drafts" (71). So, just get it down! Of primary consideration is for the writer to "be afraid of not getting your writing done" (226). All writers, especially good ones, write lousy (she actually used a different adjective) first drafts (21). Lamott explains that "almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts" (25). What is of critical importance is that the writer capture thoughts on paper. 

3. Let someone else read your work. Another suggestion, one about which she is adamant is, "by all means let someone else take a look at your work" (57). An extra set of eyes reviewing your work can be incredibly helpful. She explains that the nature of good writing is such that "you find out things as you go along. Then you go back and rewrite." (71). But as you write and then rewrite ("edit" if you please), then by all means have someone review your work. Every great writer with few exceptions takes this approach.

4. Write a letter. "When you don't know what else to do, when you're really stuck and filled with despair and self-loathing and boredom, but you can't just leave your work alone for a while and wait, you might try telling your history-- part of a character's history-- in the form of a letter" (172). This seems to be an interesting tactic to break through the traditional writer's block.

I’ll conclude my thoughts on Bird by Bird next time with my favorite insights on writing that I learned. Have you read a book on improving your skill or passion? Leave one bit of advice that stuck with you in the comments. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

3 Lessons from Anna Lamott's "Bird by Bird"

Most of my adult life has been given to the discipline of communication in one form or another. The form varies from public speaking to writing and all points in between. I recently read an interesting volume by Anne Lamott  about the latter. I'd like to spend the next few posts highlighting some of Lamott's great advice. 

Lamott 's book, Bird By Bird, is the intersection between autobiography and "how to" when it comes to writing. She draws much from her own life experience as she coaches young writers. In fact, the title of this book was the advice that her father gave to her brother (age 10), when he had procrastinated on a writing assignment. In describing birds, simply write"bird by bird." Tell one story, relate one incident, explain the uniqueness of each subject one at a time. Good advice.

Relating that her father was a writer, she shared this lesson, "writing taught my father to pay attention; my father in turn taught other people to pay attention then write down their thoughts and observations.” This is good advice for anyone desiring to communicate.

About her own journey, she explained, "all I ever wanted was to belong, to wear the hat of belonging.” She found that hat by being a writer and following in her father's footsteps, both as a writer and a teacher of writers.

Two further lessons she learned from her dad were: "make a commitment to finish things" and be an encourager. This she learned through his example. She notes, "I did not give up, largely because of my father's faith in me.”

She wraps up her introduction by noting, "What follows in this book is what I've learned along the way, what I pass along to each new batch of students.” 

I am intrigued by the fact that what she received she is now passing on to others. She relates her gratitude for what she has learned and expresses it by repeating the process. What a great life lesson. Next time, I'll delve into some of her insights concerning the discipline of writing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Why Did Jesus Come? Part 3

Over the last several weeks, I have shared some of the reasons Jesus came to earth. You can check out parts 1 and 2 of this blog series here and here. We’ve focused on the small epistle of 1 John and highlighted the testimony of that ancient apostle relating the insights he penned for those early disciples of Jesus Christ. So, once again I ask the question,"why did Jesus come?" And once again, we listen to the responses of John. Here are three more reasons why the Son of God left the glory of Heaven and came to earth in the form of a human being.

1. Jesus came to be the Savior of the world (4:14). This verse tells us that the Father sent Him. The word "sent" is a perfect tense verb which depicts completed action with continuing results into the present.  It is interesting to note that the word "sent" has the same root as the Bible-word, "apostle" which denotes someone "sent with a message."

 Here, we learn again that Jesus was sent by the Father, not simply with a message, but also with a mission. He was sent to be the Savior of the world! The word "Savior" means one who rescues another from something perilous. Jesus came to rescue us from the penalty, power, and eventually the presence of sin.

Again, Scripture designates that Jesus is the Savior of the "world." By context, this word can only mean the people--lost people--of the world. Jesus is God's designated Savior for each person in the world. Either we come to God through Jesus or we do not come at all! This word "world" is the same word found in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world." John's argument is that Jesus is the Savior sufficient to save anyone and everyone who trusts in Him. So, John tells us that Jesus is the Savior of the world!

2. Jesus came as the reservoir of life (5:11). John tells us that "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." This word tells us that God Himself gave something very important at a particular point in time, past time. He gave His son!

And God gave life, God's own life. This life resides in Jesus! His point? God's life is in Jesus. If we have Him, we have life! In fact, John goes on to explain,"He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life."

Life resides in Jesus! He is the reservoir of God's life! When we receive Jesus, we receive the life that  is in Him! There is no other way to obtain God's life!

3. Jesus came as the giver of understanding (5:20). This word, "understanding" is "the faculty of knowing or discerning; it is the ability to reason correctly; it is used especially in Greek philosophy of syllogistic reasoning"( Rienecker 2:450). Yet, it is not just any kind of reasoning or understanding, it is the understanding of who God is. One more reason Jesus came was to help us understand by explaining who God is, to help us grasp what He thinks of us, and what He wants to do for us and in us. Jesus came so we might know the one true God!

These are three more reasons why Jesus came: to be the Savior of the world, to be the reservoir of life, and to give us a personal understanding of who God is! Take a look at my previous two blog posts Why Did Jesus Come Part 1 and Why Did Jesus Come Part 2 to see 6 other reasons Jesus came.