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Being a friend to your pastor (or a staff member)

20 Apr

As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17, NKJV)

Recently Becky and I went out to dinner with a couple from our church with whom we have become friends.  It was a couple of hours filled with laughter, stories, and great food.  It wasn’t a sermon or a Sunday School class; it was just two couples having dinner like all of the other people in the restaurant.  Like everyone else, pastors and church staff members really need those times. Over the years, I have been blessed to have very good friends in every church I have served. It doesn’t threaten me when I see our staff members developing friendships with church members either. Many readers of this blog do not attend the church I serve. Please let me share a few thoughts about being a friend to your pastor (or a staff member).

(1)  Be faithful to pray. Some of the most treasured friends are those we know pray for us on a regular basis. There have been times the Lord has used the encouragement of a praying friend in a great way.

(2) Feel free to have fun & talk about “normal” stuff. Sometimes people think since they are talking with a pastor the conversation must be about spiritual things or the church. Those things are certainly important – eternally important – and we are glad to talk about them.  However, the truth is that we “do church” all the time, but we enjoy far more than just the church. We enjoy talking about college football, favorite vacation spots, hobbies, or a host of other things. We enjoy laughing, hearing your stories, and telling our stories!

(3) Be a “safe place.”    As I write these words I am thinking of a family in a previous church who had us over to their home on several occasions. The very first time we went to their home, the wife told us as soon as we arrived: “Here you are just our friends, Greg & Becky.”  That was her way of saying that they intended for their home to be a safe place for our family, and it was. There was never an agenda and never an expectation of anything other than friendship. Those were times filled with love, laughter, and generosity that I will never forget.

(4) Disagree but remain a friend. In one church I served I could always count on one phone call when the proposed budget for the next year was distributed: a call from one of my best friends. Every year he was bent out of shape about something in the budget and he would give me an earful.  Then it was over. He disagreed, but he remained my close friend. Our friendship meant far more to him than a line item in a budget or an item on the agenda of a business meeting.

(5) Understand when we can’t share.  One time we were having dinner with close friends and a particularly sensitive issue in the church were we serving at that time came up in the conversation. Realizing the position she had put me in, the wife looked at me and said, “I’m sorry; I know you can’t go there.”  Every pastor and staff member has things they cannot share with even their closest friends due to confidentiality, etc. A good friend respects that even if it means we can’t tell them.

Every pastor and staff member needs friends. I am so very grateful for the gift of friends for life.

 

 

A needed lesson on Baptist polity

20 Mar

This week the Madison Baptist Association in Huntsville has made the news because of the action they took on Tuesday to remove Weatherly Heights Baptist Church from fellowship in the association. This action stemmed from the support of and participation in gay weddings by some ministers from the church.  As I watched & read the media reports of this story, I was reminded again that the news media struggles to understand Southern Baptist polity – that is how our denomination is governed.  In addition, over the years I have found that many Southern Baptists do not understand our polity.  On a number of occasions, I have had church members who had heard about actions taken by another Southern Baptist church and came to my office saying, “Our denomination is going liberal. Someone should have stopped that church from ordaining that person or calling that pastor.”  So, please keep reading for a brief but much needed lesson on Baptist polity. One point before I go further: I am writing here about my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches. There are other “varieties” of Baptists that I am not addressing in this post.

(1)   Every Southern Baptist church is fully independent & autonomous.   Each of 45,000+ Southern Baptist churches owns its own property, calls it own pastors, and makes its own decisions. The national Southern Baptist Convention and the Alabama Baptist State Convention have no authority to tell a local church to do (or not do) anything.  This is much different than how other denominations are governed. For instance, in the United Methodist Church, the denominational leadership appoints the pastors of the local churches, and it is my understanding that the denomination owns the property of each local congregation.

(2)   Southern Baptists have organized to cooperate for missions & ministry on three levels.   Local Baptist associations are groups of churches that cooperate together for ministry in a local geographic area.  In the South, local associations are often organized by county since there tend to be a large number of SBC churches in each county, while associations in other parts of the country might comprise several counties.  State Conventions were also formed to provide avenues for ministry & missions on a statewide level.  Many state conventions have entities that no church or local association could support by themselves, such as colleges, children’s homes, conference centers, etc.  Finally, the national Southern Baptist Convention is where the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, and our six SBC seminaries are governed.  As a result, the church I serve is a cooperating member of the Birmingham Baptist Association, the Alabama Baptist State Convention, and the national Southern Baptist Convention.

(3)  Participation in & contribution to these three levels is determined by each local church. Since every church is autonomous and makes its own decisions, each church decides its level of missions giving. Cooperation is voluntary – never forced. If a church reduces or stops giving its money, they are not sent a “bill” or otherwise pressured to restore the funding. This is why I have heard the Southern Baptist Convention described as “a rope of sand” because there is no top down authority for funding and participation.

(4) Baptist cooperation goes both ways.  Like the situation up in Huntsville shows, Baptist polity also means that local associations, state conventions, and the national SBC have the right to determine who they are cooperating with.  That local association decided that Weatherly Heights Baptist Church no longer was in agreement with the beliefs & practices of the association, so they voted to withdraw fellowship from them.  This action does not violate principle # 1 above because no one is questioning that local church’s right to believe and practice their faith as they see fit.  The autonomy of the local church is still very much alive and well. No one is saying that Weatherly Heights must remove the word “Baptist” from its name, etc. Weatherly Heights still owns its own buildings, calls its own pastors, and makes its own decisions, but so does the Madison Baptist Association.  Cooperation goes both ways.  If the Madison Baptist Association had chosen to do nothing or to endorse the church’s position, then every other church would have autonomously decided if they wished to continue participating in the association.

Finally, there is no perfect model for church or denominational government. There are “pros & cons” to each of the different models. It is not the intent of this post to discuss those, but rather to help us understand in a more clear way how the denomination I am part of operates. The Southern Baptist Convention is not perfect, but it is my home and the home of the church I serve.

 

A Powerful Word in a Changing World

16 Mar

It’s so wonderful when the Word of God speaks to us in a new and fresh way. Over the weekend in my personal Bible reading Psalm 12 jumped off the page for me. As many times as I have read it, it is more meaningful to me today than ever before. First please allow me to share a little background.

To be perfectly honest, every Biblically faithful pastor and every serious Christian in the United States is wrestling with some difficult questions: How do we live as Christians in a culture that is increasingly hostile to what we believe?  How do we have a Biblically faithful church going forward in the cultural realities of today’s world?  How do we reach people for Christ in our culture?  Those are just three examples of many questions that I (and many others) am asking.  While I have not been in despair over them, I am burdened by these questions.  Every single day these questions are on my heart. Now you can understand why Psalm 12 spoke to me in such a profound way. Here it is…

For the choir director: according to Sheminith. A Davidic psalm. Help, Lord, for no faithful one remains; the loyal have disappeared from the human race. They lie to one another; they speak with flattering lips and deceptive hearts. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips and the tongue that speaks boastfully. They say, “Through our tongues we have power; our lips are our own—who can be our master?” “Because of the oppression of the afflicted and the groaning of the poor, I will now rise up,” says the Lord. “I will put the one who longs for it in a safe place.” The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times. You, Lord, will guard us; You will protect us from this generation forever. The wicked wander everywhere, and what is worthless is exalted by the human race.” (Psalm 12, HCSB)

Verse 1 is clear that David went through a time when he felt as if the faithful had largely disappeared. Then in the verses that follow, David tells us why he felt that way.  Many committed Christians feel this way in our day.  The parallels between our culture and what David describes here are uncanny.  For instance, look at verse 4. We live in a day when politicians, media icons, entertainers, and other influential people use the power of words to shape the culture – in the wrong direction!  Like those described in verse 4, they steadfastly believe they are their own master and determine their own destiny. While there have always been people like this in America, it seems that now they are almost totally in control of every lever of influence in our culture. Yes, times are changing quickly. Like David, we see it. We feel it. It’s easy to begin to feel despair and doubt.

Did you notice where David went when confronted with these realities?  He went back to the pure words of the Lord and His protection. The cultural realities that David faced drove him back to the Lord and the Word.  That is where the answers to his struggle were found.  In the same way, as we wrestle with very real questions today, it is my prayer that we too are driven back to where the answers to our struggle are found.

HE is faithful!

 

Followed not found

6 Jan

It’s great to be back blogging again after taking a break for the holidays.  While taking some time off, I read David Platt’s book Follow Me.  In that book, he makes a statement that really resonated with me:  “God’s will isn’t something we find; it’s something we follow.”  All of us know what it is like to seek God’s will regarding an important decision.  Certainly, David Platt would be first to agree that our decisions should be bathed in prayer before the Lord.  His statement really speaks to the fact that most of God’s will for our lives is already revealed in scripture.  It’s clear what we are to do.  Our job is to begin earnestly seeking to align our lives with God’s will as revealed in the Bible.

Let’s take a couple of examples.  In the last verses of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus gives us what is commonly referred to as the Great Commission…

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, HCSB)

This is God’s will for us as individuals. This is God’s will for our churches. We don’t have to pray about it, have a business meeting about it, or otherwise decide.  It is God’s will that we make disciples of the nations.  Period.  The issue is how we live that out in our individual lives and our churches.  The issue is how we align our lives and our churches according to God’s will.  Here is another example…

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, HCSB)

Did you see it?  It is God’s will that we rejoice in Him always, pray constantly, and give thanks in every circumstance.  Our challenge is doing that when everything in us screams otherwise. Our challenge is doing that when our natural selfishness and comfort pull in the other direction.  However, there is great blessing when we consciously seek to align our lives according to God’s will in these areas.

Those are just two examples, but if you think about the scriptures you already know, then you will find that so much of God’s will for your life is already known.  What about the areas of your life where God hasn’t spoken clearly?  Concentrate on being obedient in the areas where he already has spoken clearly until the way becomes more clear about those particular issues.  Too often, we get so caught up dwelling on the 5% of God’s will we don’t know that we fail to understand the 95% of His will we already do know. Think about it. That’s why most of God’s will is followed, not found.  He has already made it clear.

Many years ago when I was a young pastor, a member of the church I was serving at the time made a statement I’ve never forgotten.  He said, “Pastor, let’s face it. Most of us know a lot more than we are doing.”  WOW!  Isn’t that so true?  I imagine that every single one of us reading this blog already knows more of God’s will than we are doing right now.  Let’s get busy following God’s will rather than worrying so much about finding it.

 

 

Important message series

25 Nov

During the last three Sundays of November, I am sharing a three message series on the church.  In this series of messages, I have dealt with some of the key questions that people have about church life today:  What is the church?  Is it still important to attend church in today’s digital world?  Why should I support a local church with all of the problems that churches have?  What is a church supposed to be doing anyway?  Here are the links to the messages/podcasts for you…

November 16, 2014     “The What & Why of the Church”   http://www.lakesidebaptist.com/media/media-player.htm?2014_11_16AM

November 23, 2014    “What’s a Church to Do?”   http://www.lakesidebaptist.com/media/media-player.htm?2014_11_23AM

Particularly for our Lakeside church family who may have missed one or both of these messages, while you have some time off work this week, I urge you to take the time and watch these vital messages. They are foundational to where we are heading as a church into the future.  Of course, all of my messages are available for anyone in the world to watch.  It is my prayer that the Lord will use these messages in a great way at Lakeside – as well as local churches in many places.

Stay faithful. Let’s BE the church!