Friday Round-Up: What I’ve Read This Week

Why Was This the Theme this Week?

For some reason, the theme of many of the blogs I follow seems to have been “Ministers and Moral Failure” this week. Here’s a few of the guys I keep up with:

  • Pastor, author, and blogger Tim Challies wrote an insightful post on the unwritten rule that a ministry leader can return to public life a year after a moral failure. As he says, more often than not, a year is not long enough.
  • Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, also wrote on ministers and moral failure in his straight-to-the-point post, “The Four Most Common Acts of Stupidity that Get Pastors Fired.
  • Finally (on this topic, at least) Chuck Lawless from Southeastern Seminary wrote about what his strategy would be for taking a ministry down in a post titled “If I Were The Devil.” (Side note– when your last name is Lawless, you should think twice about writing from the devil’s perspective. Just sayin’)

Should you read these if you aren’t a minister? Absolutely. As a layperson, you need to have your pastor’s back. Sometimes that means speaking common sense into his life if you see unhealthy patterns in the way he approaches ministry.

Tips for Sunday School Leaders

Not everything I came across this week was on the subject of moral failure in ministry. Here’s some great articles on leadership for Sunday School teachers and leaders:

  • My former boss at LifeWay, Ken Braddy, wrote a great post this week on Sunday School and Small Groups Side By Side. I was privileged to attend a day-long training session with Ken and small group guru Rick Howerton on this topic a couple of years ago. It is a refreshing reminder that a church doesn’t have to choose either one model of ministry or the other.
  • Arranging Your Room to be Guest Friendly This is a helpful, practical post from sundayschoolleader.com.
  • Job Description: Sunday School Class Member Care Leader Other than the teaching of God’s Word, there is not a more important function of a Sunday School class than to minister and care for its members. One of my mentors in ministry always said, “People go where they know they’re prepared for and cared for.” Caring for your class is a crucial component of effective Sunday School Ministry.

Book Review: Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

qcassa_medium3d-4ialc32gszxgo2wml6osynzp4zmxeaplThis short little book (only 91 pages) is part of the Questions Christians Ask series by The Good Book Company. Allberry, writing from the perspective of someone who deals with sam sex attraction, presents an uncompromising theological perspective (acting on homosexual feelings is a sin) but with compassion for the person who is struggling. It is well worth the day or two it would take you to read.

 

Just For Fun

ESPN Launches Fantasy Preaching Software Finally, this one just made me laugh. My nephew Brandon sent me this. Since both his uncles are pastors, he got a kick out of this article from The Babylon Bee (which, by the way, is THE go-to source for Christian satire on the web)

ESPN Screen cap

 

Jealous With a Godly Jealousy

Pastors, do you love your church like a father loves his daughter?

givingawaythebride-700x4661This week, I met with a young couple for our third premarital counseling session. We are at the point in the counseling process where we are scripting out the ceremony itself. So we started talking about what the father of the bride will say when he gets to the end of the aisle. You know the drill: the minister says, “Who presents this woman to be married to this man?” And the father, sometimes with tears in his eyes, responds, “Her mother and I.” He lifts the veil on his daughter, kisses her on the cheek, places her hands in the hands of her groom, and steps back. And in that moment, he probably prays that he has done everything he can to prepare his princess for this moment, not to mention for the lifetime that follows.

This image was on my mind this morning as I read 2 Corinthians 11:

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

2 Corinthians 11:1-4 (NIV)

I’ve read these words from Paul quite a few times. But when they came up again this morning in my read-through-the-Bible plan, they felt more fresh–more urgent, than they had on previous readings.  I think that’s because this is the first time I’ve read them as a senior pastor.

Paul planted the church in Corinth some time around AD 50-51 (you can read about it in Acts 18 ). He watched it grow and flourish. 2 Corinthians was written about five years later. Paul had heard reports that the church was being torn apart by false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:13) who were assaulting Paul’s character, sowing discord among the believers, and teaching false doctrine. They were questioning  his integrity (2 Corinthians 1:15-17), his speaking ability (2 Corinthians 10:1011:6), and his unwillingness to accept support from the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-912:13). There were also some people who had not repented of their sinful behavior (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). (Thanks to gotquestions.org for this summary)

So in chapters 10-12, Paul gets about as personal as he ever gets as he pours out his heart for this “problem child” church. Sometimes he sounds like a jealous husband, defending himself to his wayward wife. Or at least, that’s how he’s sounded in previous readings.

But this morning, I read Paul’s words not as a jealous husband, but as a father who wants to present his daughter to her groom as a pure, spotless bride. Verse 2 is key: Paul is jealous with a ‘godly jealousy’ because he, the father of the bride, has promised the church to one husband–Christ.

51tor5erg6l-_sy300_This is the heart a pastor ought to have for the church he leads. Think about all the cliches of a protective father with a teenage daughter. Ask yourself, do you love your church in the same way? Here’s my gut check for how well I am loving my church. Understand, I’ve always been a little squeamish about pastors who talk possessively about “their” church. But then I go back to the “my daughter” analogy, and it makes sense. So bear with me as I talk about “my” church:

  • Am I aware of my responsibility in preparing my church to meet her groom? Am I teaching her to discern right doctrine from false doctrine? In the same way a father helps his daughter learn how a man should treat a lady, a pastor needs to help his church discern truth from error.
  • Am I as concerned for her reputation in the community as a father is concerned for his daughter’s reputation in the high school?
  • Do I pay attention to the books people in my church are reading? Even (maybe even especially) the “Christian” or “inspirational” ones?
  • Am I diligent about the quality of small group teaching in my church? Do I know what’s being studied in small groups the way the father of a teenaged daughter knows where she is on Friday night?
  • Am I concerned for their physical safety? This relates to the church’s policies and procedures regarding background checks, supervision, transportation, and so forth.

Pastors, what else would you add to this list?

Lord Jesus, help me love my church, which is truly your church, with a godly jealousy. I pray for the day I can present her to you, her Groom, a spotless, pure, and perfect. 

From Your Pastor: Week of September 17

James smilingAs I write this, I am reflecting on our first day together. What an amazing time of worship we had on Sunday! Guys, there were a lot of people here. I mean, a lot. I know that there were a lot of people who were just kind of test driving the new guy, but here’s the thing: we need to expect new people. We need to expect lost people. Not because we have a new pastor, but because we have a Savior who has come to “seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). The Father is drawing people to His son (John 6:44). We shouldn’t be surprised when they come to our doors.

With that in mind, there’s some things I would love to see us do as a church that will help us be more outward focused:

  1. If you are a Sunday school teacher, keep the seats closest to the door available for first time guests. People who don’t know our building very well will take a little bit more time to find their way to class, especially if they have children to check in. So make sure they can slip in without having to walk through the middle of your circle.
  2. Speaking of Sunday School teachers, plan on getting to your class first. And do your best not to still be getting your material set up as people are arriving. You want to be able to give your full attention to guests as they are coming in.
  3. In the worship service, consider sliding to the middle of the pew to make room for guests on the ends.
  4. Say hello! Introduce yourself! Sometimes we are afraid to do that because we are worried that the person we are introducing ourselves to is a member of the church we’re supposed to know. If you’re worried about that, then just stand next to Trish and me. We don’t know anybody yet, so you can learn their names when we introduce ourselves!
  5. If you have not been coming to prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, please make it a priority. Thom Rainer, in his book Autopsy of a Deceased Church, points out that one thing churches that have closed their doors all had in common is that they rarely prayed together. Glynwood is a praying church! Let’s never lose sight of that!

We are heading into some amazing days as a church. And I am so blessed to be your pastor! Please let me know how I can be praying for you. My church email address is gbcseniorpastor@knology.net.

Joy in the Journey,

james

Review: Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours AliveAutopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom S. Rainer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book that is made to be read with a group. As an individual, I could read it and say, “Hmmm… Interesting.” But a group reading it together could say “This is revolutionary.” Or “This is scary.” Or, most importantly, “This is us, and here’s what we need to do about it.” Dr. Rainer is a qualified “forensic pathologist” when it comes to churches. He has seen enough churches in various stages of decline to be able to speak with authority on when a church is in the death spiral. If you are wondering whether or not you should read this book as a church leadership team, then do this: look at your church’s average worship attendance over the past five years. If you aren’t growing, or if your pace of growth is less than the growth of your community, then you need to read this book together. Pure and simple. And the keyword is “together.” If you as a pastor are the only one that reads it, you will have wasted your time. A sense of urgency has to be shared if anything is to change.

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