Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pastors Retreat: Ministry that counts when the count is down

For the past several days Sharron and I have been attending a Pastor and Spouse Retreat in beautiful mountains of North Carolina. I was asked to speak on Tuesday mornng to share with the pastors. The topic given me was "Ministry that counts when the count is down." Here are some notes from my presentation including the clip I used in this teaching.

Ministry That Counts When the Count is Down

I have a confession: I am a churchaholic! I was not raised in a Christian home – and through the invitation of a good friend began to attend church my senior year in high school. I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior that year and have become a churchaholic! I am at church all the time. I love the church. God gave the church to be his vehicle to bring people who are far away for God to himself. I love church – but must also admit I have problems with some people in the church – but that’s another topic of discussion possibly at another time.

I am a product of the church growth movement of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The principle is simple. Churches that are healthy should demonstrate growth in attendance. Numbers are important –because every number represents a person and every person has a soul. People are important to God and numbers are important to us.

In the book of Acts – people counted the attendance: When Peter preached on Pentecost how many people were added to the church> 3,000 (Acts 2:41)
As the disciples meet together in the Temple courts and broke bread in their homes – the Lord added to their number – Daily – who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47)

I have a group of friends that describe how to increase your Sunday Morning attendance numbers in an easy way:

We all understand the numbers in attendance are important – but I submit that numbers in attendance is NOT where we find our self- worth or the value of our ministry. In fact, the size of a church, the success it experiences and comparative data relating to the pastors ministry betray an externally-based self esteem. Instead of focusing on their own values, preferences and accomplishments, externally-based pastors are almost exclusively other-directed.

This sin is most obvious is those pastors who don't have a life or identity apart from their church or ministry. Externally-based self esteem not only causes havoc in the parsonage, but reinforces a sense of loneliness and isolation which requires more and more "church" to fill the void.

Externally-based pastors are especially sensitive to criticism and conflict since they base their self-esteem on the validation of others. When this validation is removed, the pastor experiences a "Hollow Man" phenomenon. Like the person described in a famous poem by T. S. Eliot titled "Hollow Men," the pastor has no feelings, no emotions, no spirituality, and no sense of value to himself or God.

What is a balance of self esteem when the numbers are down?

God got very angry with David for taking a census in 2 Samuel 24. David knew this was wrong – and there was a consequence for his wrong doing. In fact, this single act of disobedience resulted in a plague that destroyed 70,000 people. The level of punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. All David was doing was taking inventory of his kingdom. But God is about to send a reminder: it wasn’t his kingdom. These people belonged to God, and David had no business claiming the increase of Israel as his own. David’s motives had gotten dramatically misaligned.

As leaders, we’ll always be tempted toward an unhealthy preoccupation with quantifying our own success. Today, if I’m not careful, I can wrap my identity and security up in this week’s attendance, the total offering, or my number of hits on my blog. That’s pretty sad.

If you could sit in one of our weekly staff meetings you would know that we are interested in the numbers. We debrief the worship experience each week and look at the attendance and offering numbers. So, we are interested in numbers. Here’s the distinction: it’s good to be concerned with numbers. But we’ve got to be concerned about the right numbers…for the right reasons. We’ve got to make sure we’re measuring ministry numbers to measure our effectiveness and enlarge the Kingdom of God…not simply to placate our ego.

I want to count what counts. It matters to me how many people show up for a worship experience. But it also matters to me how many of those same people are plugged into community and embracing Christ centered generosity. It matters to me how much money we take in. But it also matters to me how many dollars we are giving back to our community to serve the underserved. I want my church to grow. But the day I can’t rejoice at the growth of another Bible preaching church 2 miles down the street with a similar enthusiasm, we have a problem. Count the right things; for the right reasons.

Closing ILL: After his ordination in 1969, author and Pastor Phillip Johnson received a call to serve one large church and ten smaller churches on the northern coast of Newfoundland, Canada. On the first day of his new circuit ministry, Johnson learned that in order to get to the smallest of the churches, he would have to travel 40 miles by snowmobile to a tiny village. When Johnson arrived, only one person had shown up for worship—a fisherman who had traveled about 20 miles to get there.
Johnson initially thought about just saying a prayer and calling it a day. But then he realized that together, he and the fisherman had already logged 60 miles of travel and had 60 more miles to return home. With that in mind, Johnson decided to conduct the whole service as if there were a few hundred worshipers. They did it all: the hymns, the readings, the prayers, the sermon, the Lord's Supper, and the benediction.

It was during the sermon that Johnson wondered why he had bothered. The fisherman never looked up. But when Johnson greeted the fisherman at the door and thanked him for coming, Johnson received a pleasant surprise. The fisherman said, "Reverend, I've been thinking about becoming a Christian for about 30-odd years. And today's the day!"

Ministry counts – even when the count is down.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Teaching Series: The Prayer of Jesus

On Sunday September 26 2010 I began a new teaching series at North Raleigh Church of the Nazarene (NRN) titled: The Prayer of Jesus.

Paul (David) Yonggi Cho is pastor of the largest church in the history of civilization; the million member, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea. On one occasion he was asked, “How does one become more effective in prayer?” His response was this: I believe when a person sincerely prays the Lord’s Prayer each day, that person has covered the basic ways to worship God, and the basic ways to grow and protect his or her spiritual life. Like seed within fruit, the Lord’s Prayer contains every requirement for which a Christian may pray each day.


This concept of the prayer outline is not original to my study. Even though this is not a new discovery, it has not yet taken any kind of foothold in the Christian community and so I want to promote this concept of prayer to us at NRN.

1. The Progeny of Jesus: Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9a).

2. The Promises of Jesus: Hallowed be your name (Matthew 6:9b).

3. The Priorities of Jesus: Your kingdom come.

Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

4. The Provision of Jesus: Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11).

5. The Pardon of Jesus: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors

(Matthew 6:12).

6. The Protection of Jesus: And deliver us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13a).

7. The Praise of Jesus: For yours is the kingdom, and the power,

and the glory, forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13b).

View the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer outline. I plan to use this outline for the series for the next 8 weeks. We can use each phrase as a springboard to remembering in prayer the aspects of our lives that are related to that phrase. When we pray through all of the phrases, we have touched on all the areas that require prayer.


As we enter into this series on “the Prayer of Jesus” I want to encourage you to pray the Lord’s Prayer everyday. Without these special times of prayer it is impossible to live the holy life of the disciple.

The great author Oswald Chambers has written:

Your motivation should not be the desire to be known as a praying person. Find an inner room in which to pray where no one even knows you are praying, shut the door, and talk to God in secret. Have no motivation other than to know your Father in heaven. It is impossible to carry on your life as a disciple without definite times of secret prayer.

Never, has there been a time when there was a greater need for prayer in the life of the Christian. Our Political Leaders and nation need prayer. Our pastors need prayer. If I were to ask you to guess how many pastors are leaving the ministry each month here in the U.S. what would guess? A hundred? Two hundred? Maybe even three hundred? Believe it or not, data that’s been gathered over the past five years from Duke University’s Pulpit and Pew Foundation and The Barna Research Group indicates that approximately 1,500 pastors resign from the pulpit each month due to work overload, conflict in the church, and burnout. Only 10% make it to retirement at age 65.

To make matters worse - the pipeline . . . those graduating from seminaries across the U.S. are often choosing to leave the ministry within five years of graduation. The actual number of seminary grads leaving ministry within five years is estimated to be at 80%. Can you imagine . . . 80% of the promising, up and coming pastors of the future choosing to leave the ministry within the first five years of their ministry experience? Now, compound the seminary grad statistic with the reality of 1500 experienced pastors leaving the ministry every month and we my friends, have a problem.

Our Church needs prayer. This is the day of greatest opportunity . . . the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field (Matt. 9:37-38).

Our families need prayer. The home has always been regarded as a fortress into which Satan had no access. Today, evil ways have easy access into your home through the T.V., the music culture, the internet. Pray for the purity of your home.

The day of greatest need is the day of greatest opportunity.

Could it be that one reason we have great problems is that God wants to show us great solutions? He longs to show us the riches of His grace and the poverty of our own resources. Prayer is uniquely designed to demonstrate both truths. -Dr. David Jeremiah

This is a great day for “The Prayer of Jesus”.

I encourage you to join me in praying the The Prayer of Jesus every day.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stress melting away

Sharron and I were able to escape to enjoy our annual family vacation this year. Danielle and her family were unable to join us. We did enjoy our time with Stephanie, Josh, Alyse and Breeley.

As Sharron and I drove out of town on Saturday September 11th we commented on how we felt the "stress melting away".
It was with great anticipation that we headed to the North Carolina beach this year.

We were able to secure our favorite beach house again this year. Dolphin View is a fantastic place to stay and always lives up to it's name. Again this year I saw the dolphins dancing in the water of the Atlantic Ocean. The home owner - Pam - is great to work with and the house meets our needs for vacation.

This year Sharron spent more time in the water than ever before. The weather was unbelievable with record high temperature. We were on the beach almost every day.

I enjoyed spending my time bonding with my newest grand daughter Breeley. She is now four months old and each day of our vacation was filled with fascination as she is growing the developing. By the end of the week it was clear that she loves her "Papa" and is very attached to her thumb.

It was awesome to see how Alyse is growing up. She was just a few months old on our first family vacation to Topsail - now she is flying through the air with complete trust of her father's care.

Alyse meets all the expectations of a three year old. She was visiting us recently and when Sharron had to disciple her for poor behavior, she calmly responded to Sharron that "she wanted to be good, but it was so hard." Though times through the day brought words of correction to Alyse - she always touched my heart with a good night kiss and a hug. Oh how often I am so glad that God led Sharron and me back to North Carolina. I am pretty excited about being a part of the lives of all my grand children. I am especially amazed as Alyse is growing up before my very eyes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Encourage Yourself in the Lord

Over the past few weeks the stress of ministry as the pastor of a church has been upon me. This morning, I felt the stress beginning to melt away. God has been speaking to me.

My time alone with God this morning was incredible. Later in the day, I received a note from a friend thanking me for the influence of my life upon them. This week Sharron and I received a simply thank you note in the mail from a church member. Sharron and I have reflected today about the past two Wednesday evenings at the time of corporate prayer at NRN. It was been amazing as people placed their hands upon our shoulders and prayed for us. Last Wednesday tears flowed as several people prayed for some of our personal needs. As I left the building on Wednesday evening a person stopped me and asked how the prayer time went. I told them it was awesome. They commented that they could see a something different about me. Then they said "Could this be the beginning of a movement of God?" I replied "YES!"

Soon after posting an article on my blog entitled "Congregations Gone Wild"
I received an email that brought encouragement to my soul. This video was prepared by the General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene and addressed to pastors of local congregations.

If you wish to view it simply click HERE

Tomorrow morning, Sharron and I will finishing packing the car and depart for a week of family vacation. As we ran several errands on Friday in preparation for the time away I began to sing the songs of worship for this coming Sunday at NRN. I think it will be an awesome worship experience. I hope many people will be there to experience it!

I know there and many pastors who like to check my blog. Pastor - be encouraged today. God is at work. Keep your mind on Him that He may give you the desires of your heart. Remember the words of First Samuel 30:6 (KJV)

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.

Congregations gone wild

Recently I received the following article from Dr. Dan Boone of Trevecca Nazarene University.

THE American clergy is suffering from burnout, several new studies show. And part of the problem, as researchers have observed, is that pastors work too much. Many of them need vacations, it’s true. But there’s a more fundamental problem that no amount of rest and relaxation can help solve: congregational pressure to forsake one’s highest calling.

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.

The trend toward consumer-driven religion has been gaining momentum for half a century. Consider that in 1955 only 15 percent of Americans said they no longer adhered to the faith of their childhood, according to a Gallup poll. By 2008, 44 percent had switched their religious affiliation at least once, or dropped it altogether, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found. Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason.

In this transformation, clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. Church leaders who continue such ministerial traditions pay dearly. A few years ago, thousands of parishioners quit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., and Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz., when their respective preachers refused to bless the congregations’ preferred political agendas and consumerist lifestyles.

I have faced similar pressures myself. In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else.

Congregations that make such demands seem not to realize that most clergy don’t sign up to be soothsayers or entertainers. Pastors believe they’re called to shape lives for the better, and that involves helping people learn to do what’s right in life, even when what’s right is also difficult. When they’re being true to their calling, pastors urge Christians to do the hard work of reconciliation with one another before receiving communion. They lead people to share in the suffering of others, including people they would rather ignore, by experiencing tough circumstances — say, in a shelter, a prison or a nursing home — and seeking relief together with those in need. At their courageous best, clergy lead where people aren’t asking to go, because that’s how the range of issues that concern them expands, and how a holy community gets formed.

Ministry is a profession in which the greatest rewards include meaningfulness and integrity. When those fade under pressure from churchgoers who don’t want to be challenged or edified, pastors become candidates for stress and depression. Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires. They need churchgoers to ask for personal challenges, in areas like daily devotions and outreach ministries. When such an ethic takes root, as it has in generations past, then pastors will cease to feel like the spiritual equivalents of concierges. They’ll again know joy in ministering among people who share their sense of purpose. They might even be on fire again for their calling, rather than on a path to premature burnout.

NY Times
August 7, 2010
Congregations Gone Wild
Swampscott, Mass.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This coming Sunday at NRN

This coming Sunday at NRN will begin with a potluck breakfast in the foyer. Everyone is invited to bring a favorite breakfast dish to share. Registration for the newly designed adult Sunday School Classes will take place during the time of fellowship.

The worship experience will begin with presenting a song of joyful praise to the Lord:

Other songs during the time of worship include:

And one of my personal favorites by one of my all time favorite artist: Keith Green

Our special guest on Sunday will be a good friend - Pastor Royce Hathcock. Here is the information I included in the worship folder.

On October 1, 1993 Pastor Kevin Modesto and his wife Becky began their ministry at North Raleigh Church of the Nazarene to launch an urban ministry in the inner city of the Capital City. In 1996, Royce Hathcock, who was still at Bresee Institute, phoned Kevin and asked if he could use some help. It wasn't long before Royce, his wife Julie, and the two sons were residents of North Carolina. Royce had been youth pastor of the English-speaking congregation at Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene.

NRN faced the question: How does a largely Anglo church from suburbia launch a daughter congregation in the largely African-American heart of the city? We concluded we should make the new congregation a multicultural expression of the breadth and diversity of God's kingdom. That led us to the name Tapestry--an entity woven with threads from a variety of sources but crafted into something of unique character and beauty. On April 18, 1999 Tapestry Church held its first service with 62 in attendance. *

Rev. Royce Hathcock now serves as pastor of Tapestry Church of the Nazarene in Raleigh. He also serves as Executive Director of Neighbor to Neighbor. The ministries of Neighbor to Neighbor are called to cultivate life-changing relationships resulting in communities of hope, justice, and compassion.