Category Archives: culture

Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.

Fran

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Not of the past, of the future

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.” –Eph 1:7-10, CSB

There is a very clear trend today for people to somehow, someway, try to make themselves feel special. They get overly and outrageously dramatic, they get excessively emotional, abandoning logic, reason, and most importantly, the counsel of the Word of God. They attempt to be “snowflakes” of their own making, the centers of their own universe, where self and egotism reign and manipulation ensues. It’s the “me” generation on steroids, instantly publicized by social media.

Tough words, right? Well, then hear this: You are special. You are unique. However, you are NOT to be individuals of your own making but you are called His workmanship made for His glory (Eph 2:10). You might blow it, mess it up, and willingly sin, yet God knew this, loved the mess that you are, and set your feet on the rock. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, not to be a player on the stage of life in some drama, but to be a part of the great story that God brings to humanity. And when you get selfish and self centered for a moment, remember that Christ forgives the past, redeems the present, and promises a future in Him.

It’s time to take action, stop following the culture of the day and turn to Christ instead. Let His Word in, let His wisdom ring true, and let Christ change you to live not for yourself and your own life, but for the Almighty Creator and His will. He has always been at work, will you join Him?

Fran

On the phone… Again?

It was really, really convicting. I looked through pictures that my wife had taken of our family gatherings and there I was, phone to my ears, talking away and oblivious to the life that was taking place around me. My family was growing up without me and my phone was becoming my family. Here’s what’s worse: that was 15 years ago, and phone technology has definitely gotten more intrusive!

It’s easy to blur the lines between family and daily tasks, whether it’s ministry or the workplace. However, setting boundaries is a necessity for healthy families and for a healthy life.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says to “Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days.”

This principle applies to life with others in your family and with your friends as well. We know that we are not supposed to necessarily play all day but there is a time to turn off work and to turn on a time for rest and family. So what do you do? How do you set boundaries so that you can enjoy life with those you love the most?

  1. Spend some time in the word and repent of your carelessness with your loved ones. This speaks for itself but be sure to place your priorities where God would have you to place them. Remember, your first calling is always to your spouse and family.
  2. Turn off the phone or put it in another room. You don’t need to be accessible 24/7, and you can always check your phone later. And please, resist the temptation to check your phone!
  3. Realize how fleeting the moments are in life. Your family will grow up quickly. Your children will have children. Your influence on their lives will eventually wane. Take in every moment you can with them and keep in mind that your work or Ministry will exist long after you are gone. In other words put it all in perspective.
  4. Have some deep conversations that are intentional and express how you feel. Since I travel quite a bit now in my ministry, I have made it a priority to call, visit, and spend time with each of my family members. It’s not perfect, but my time is more focused and intentional and I think (hope) that they have seen this effort.

That’s what I have for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you put boundaries and spend more time with your family.

Fran

So this happened…

My practice lately is that when I am out of town for LifeWay, I take extra time to visit churches on Wednesday nights to study the Word and enjoy the fellowship with believers. This week gave me another opportunity, and after looking up a church nearby on their website (yes, this is why you need a website for your church), I went to that church last night.

I was a bit confused when I got out of the car and headed into the building. The front door was, well, in front, yet I saw everyone else going through the back door. I soon followed the crowd and went into the back door and was greeted by an older man with a big smile on his face.

“Welcome!” he said with a big grin. “Come on in to our recovery ministry!”

I quickly realized that I was heading into a celebrate recovery meeting. I stammered, “b-but I’m not doing that. I’m looking for the Bible study.”

“Well, this is what we got!” He enthusiastically said. “Come in and maybe you’d enjoy it! There’s worship and a testimony too!”

“Okay, I will!” I replied, and went into the sanctuary.

The sanctuary was old and worn out, showing its history as a once thriving church but now reflective of its declined neighborhood. The people inside, however, seemed to be excited to start as the countdown wound down on the screen prior to worship. Looking around, I saw a diversity among us of many socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. The countdown went to zero, and at that point, I didn’t know what to expect.

What I soon experienced was nothing less than heartfelt praise to The God who healed them of their addictions. Men and women alike were singing about Jesus their healer, as they proclaimed to God and to the world their deliverance from the sin that so enslaved them. I heard the words sung with old, raspy voices, with thick Latin accents, and best of all, with whispers from the heart. All in all, it was a powerful testimony of the Messiah, an amazing display of joy!

The pastor told me later that there were “only” about 100 people that would come to worship on a Sunday in that church. However, what I saw went beyond Sunday and into the rest of the week. I saw a church that expanded the kingdom, to seek and save those which was lost, and to love their neighbors as themselves. This church, long in heart but short of resources, were the hands and feet of Christ. This is a healthy Body, healthier than many churches much larger and with more resources.

This is because they have the Spirit of Christ and rely on Him as they fulfill their calling. May we see their example and may we all do the same!

Grateful for the gospel,

Pastor Fran

Heroes…

Luke 10:29, “But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘and who is my neighbor?’”

Witness the power of Hurricane Harvey and its after effects. CNN stated that as much as 11 trillion gallons of water has fallen so far with more to come. These events seemed so far fetched for our 4th largest city, it seems as if this is more suited for a Hollywood movie screen than the TV screen, but there it is.

What is amazing, or maybe not so amazing is the response of a few local heroes. Risking their own safety, many have gone out to their neighbors to lend a hand and get people out of the danger of the rising floods in their homes. These are great stories!

But what about us? Are we to sit and watch? Absolutely not! Jesus told us as much when He was asked who His neighbor was and responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Anyone we encounter in need is our neighbor and we show our love for God and people by taking action!

Not convinced? Place yourself in the shoes of a Houstonian right now. You’d want help from anyone, anytime, anyway, right? Of course you would! Good neighbors are needed, right now!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to step up. We may not be able to bring boats down there, but there are plenty of other ways to help. Here’s one site offering good, sound choices for you: https://www.namb.net/send-relief/disaster-relief

Most of all, let’s pray for our neighbors!

Fran

Must Reads for Monday!

Here’s some great articles to browse through as you start your week. The theme I picked for this week is harmony and reconciliation:

Why I’m staying in the Southern Baptist Convention

The Myth of Equality

Black church conference: nurture, fellowship & praise

How White Christians Can Stand in Solidarity with Minority Brothers and Sisters

Should you work hard? 

​”Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; because you know better, stop! As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky.” Proverbs 23:4

Far too many people wear themselves out on the rat race for the almighty dollar. They think that they are doing something good, but the opposite is often true. They work, eat, sleep, work, and maybe, just maybe get rest on a weekend or a vacation here or there. But is this what God wants? 

We are called to work and work hard, yet there needs to be joy along the way. When God created the universe, it was a six day workweek with a one day rest, yet you get the sense that it was a joy for Him. Each day He looked at His work and declared it to be good (the last day very good). 

So is it biblical for us to work hard? Absolutely! But work must be a joy, and this is done when you see the purpose of what you do as compared to the overall picture. Working for money as an end is fruitless, it flies away anyway. Working for the Lord, however, is a blessing, and when we do anything for God and His glory, we will be more satisfied on his daily basis. 1 Cor 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” 

Pastor Fran 

Four characteristics to look for in a Church

Since transitioning from my church to a new ministry that serves the church in her mission of making disciples, Teresa and

 I have embarked on an unexpected journey: trying to find our next church family to join together with in order to serve Jesus. This is the first time that we have had to do this in 25 years, so you can imagine how intimidating this has felt! 

However, through this we’ve seen a wide variety of worship styles and I am encouraged for the church as a whole! Its been a very rich experience and we’ve met some wonderful people and faithful belevers. Yet as a result of this search, I’m reminded of some essentials to look for and hope that three principles might be helpful for you if you are in the same boat. As I heard someone say once, approach a church with a critical eye, not a critical spirit. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list:

Four characteristics to look for in a Church:

  1. They are Christ centered and Bible focused. This is a non-negotiable. If the church does not preach, teach, or show a concern for Christ and His Word, there’s no sense being there. Thankfully, we saw that most churches were serious about the Bible.

  2. They are caring and friendly to others. We were shocked, yes shocked, that in one case, no one said a word to us. I did have a moment when I thought a woman was going to shake my hand, that is, until she reached around me to grab a bulletin next to me! We were not looking for an overwhelming outpouring of attention, just a friendly hello or two would have sufficed from someone other than the pastor.

  3. They are concerned about the gospel. We exist to glorify God, and we glorify God by living and loving the gospel on a daily basis. When we are challenged by the gospel of Jesus Christ, it can result in an amazing, beautiful time of praise and glory to His name. This is shown when a church emphasizes missions, ministries, and daily personal evangelism.

  4. They are unified with one another. Every church has negative Nates and Nellies, but there’s a difference between a person or two who can be cranky a church who has a culture with many of them. When personal preferences disrupt unity in a church, there is a spirit that permeates everything. This can become obvious to a guest.

That’s all I have for now, and I realize that there’s only four characteristics here, but these are essential. Personal preferences in worship style, preaching style, driving distance and other items might come into play, but these, in my opinion, are secondary. Over all of this is the overriding leading of the Holy Spirit, so prayer and discernment must come into play. 

That’s what I have, would you add anything to the list?
Pastor Fran

Four Reasons Why Leaders Need to Press On Despite the Bullies

I’ve been a senior pastor for almost 12 years and on a church staff for the rest of my 23 plus years of ministry. I’ve pastored in several states both in the North and the South, urban, rural, and suburban. During that time, I’ve seen a flurry of changes as the church has come into the digital age and the culture has drastically shifted nationwide. 

One thing that hasn’t changed is our inherent sinfulness and our reaction to change. Most of us don’t like change (unless we are involved in it), yet change is a certainty in life. Thankfully, some churches and leaders have successfully pushed past the resistant bullies and are seeing the fruits of their work. However, with so many churches plateaued or declining, subtle and not so subtle battles are taking place in churches all over. Bullies, ingrained in their traditions and positions, threaten the survival of churches themselves, and sadly, hundreds of churches close their door each year because the church didn’t respond to their community with the gospel. 

So what is a leader to do? Start over? Take over? Leave? None of the above? Lots of options here, but something needs to be done (NOTE: check out Thom Rainer’s podcast for this great insight).  Also, I’ll write more on the how and what to do in another post, but here’s some reasons why leaders need to press on despite the bullies:

  • Jesus died for you. You are saved, gloriously and wonderfully saved by grace through faith. His death meant your life, and His gift was sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in you. Hold on to this truth, and rely on God’s leading through His Spirit. 
  • Jesus prepared you. One of my favorite sayings of late said by a pastor is that “God never wastes a hurt.” Whatever you have gone through before has been used by God to prepare you for this task ahead. Remind yourself of what you have experienced and what you have learned from it. 
  • Jesus called you. Jesus called you to this church, and until He moves you to another place, you need to bloom where you are planted. As in the case of Nehemiah and the task he had, opposition from ungodly, fierce people threatened to stop the work. He and his followers pressed on. 
  • Jesus loves you. This is of course a great reminder, but remember that Jesus also loves others, too. He even loves those bullies. Pray for them, talk to them, and press on despite them. Your work in the gospel is not for the bullies, but for the new believers who need Christ and then need to grow in His grace. 

Hope this encourages you you as we go into the greatest weekend of the year leading up to Resurrection Sunday. May you do His gospel work through His power as we remember that Christ died, Christ was buried, Christ rise again! 

In Him, 

Pastor Fran 

A Bullish Sacrifice

Have you ever heard the expression, “like a bull in a china shop” before? The expression brings to my mind the image of a person recklessly breaking precious dishes and cups as he or she rushes through the store to get to wherever he or she is going. This expression is almost always used in a very negative sense, of course, but I think that there are times when the person who is the “bull” has no clue that others are hurt. In other words, the sins of a bull can be unintentional.

This image makes me think of a bull in a slightly different way. In the Old Testament, when an unintentional sin by either the priest or the people was committed, repentance and restitution needed to be made. The Law of Moses was very specific on how to do this and by whom this sacrificial offering was to be made:

Leviticus 4:2-3, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a person sins unintentionally in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and commits any of them, if the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the LORD a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.”

Of course, we live in the age of the New Covenant, yet there is an application here for God’s church. Our unintentional sin which results in pain might even result in death, and while we don’t sacrifice too many bulls today, perhaps we need to be more aware of that serious damage that our sins might bring to others.

51039207_eb853788fd_bJames 1:19 tells us that we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” Unfortunately, we have seen quite a bit of the opposite in our nation and social media, yet we as Christ’s church need to be different. This is not the time to be callous or bullish to our traditions, practices, and structure, especially if it gets in the way of our task of reaching people. This is the time to do what our society has not been willing to do: denying ourselves and following Christ in all things. in other words, people should know you less for your political rhetoric and more for your commitment to speaking the words of the gospel.

So we are left with a choice before us: are you a bull, stubbornly charging, creating discord, and making all sorts of noise for no eternal meaning or purpose? Or are you going to be different: humble, caring, and willing to see people as Jesus did? Even more, are you willing to build bridges and even to deny yourself to serve God no matter what it takes? The way of the bull is sinful and leads to death and the way, the greater way, leads to life. Sacrifice your bull and deny yourself. Take up His cross.

Choose love and life. God would have it no other way.

In Him,

Pastor Fran