Posted tagged ‘ministry’

Villain Pastors and Victim Clergy

May 8, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                May 8, 2014

 

 

I’m not paranoid…no matter what the voices behind me are saying!

Call me a “reflective observer!” Yes…I like that term. It sounds like a quiet parent at a child’s athletic contest…somewhat an anomaly, I know, but still possible.

My reflective observation, however, is in the bleachers watching our culture’s annihilation of pastors and clergy. Different arenas have different strategies for making this happen.

Last night I was watching one of my favorite shows on TV after I got home from a nice thirteen hour day of ministry. The day was a typical assortment of appointments, meetings, visits, planning, leading a study group, and getting details taken care of. As I watched the TV show (on DVR, mind you!) a “preacher” entered the picture of the episode. He was even referred to as “Preacher”, not pastor, but I don’t think our culture differentiates between those who names…and very rarely is preaching seen in a positive light any more.

The preacher in this episode put a bad taste in the midst of my popcorn-chewing mouth as soon as he entered the picture. He was loud, condescending, and superficially pious.

As the show went on the preacher’s ulterior motives came out. He was really a drug-pushing pimp using his church as a front to line his pockets with cash. It reinforced stereotypes. That is, pastors always have dark secrets in their past, or selfish motives for what they are doing in the present.

Rarely does TV convey pastors as either intelligent or faithful. Such ingredients don’t make for exciting TV. Who wants to watch someone who actually walks his talk?

Self-disclosure here: Some pastors DO annoy me and act like jerks, but those things don’t necessarily come with the territory.

But that’s not the only way clergy are getting pancaked!

In recent times a number of pastors of mega-churches are walking away from their flocks because the demands are killing them. A phrase that one pastor used was “mouse on a spinning wheel”. He was always moving ahead, but stuck in the same spot. His church was growing by leaps and bounds…as were the demands on his time. His success made him an in-demand speaker at conferences. He was being sought to write a book.

He gave it up! Spent! Used up! The red light was indicating “Empty”!

So just as the media casts a picture of the devious preacher fooling the flock, the church so often crushes pastors with their flood of issues and needs.

For many people that are involved in churches it isn’t intentional! Most people in congregations love their pastor to death. But every congregation has a section, small or large, that doesn’t care as long as they are cared for. The toll that clergy face for some church attenders is like filling the environment with styrofoam cups. Everyone knows it isn’t good ecology, but I need my coffee!

Clergy self-care is becoming a much bigger issue in pastor circles these days, mainly because a huge majority of pastors are self-less. Needs of their church attenders are held as a higher priority than the pastor’s own health…and pastors surrender. If a pastor was the only one in a lifeboat he might still jump out to safe…the boat!

Our culture, most of the time, doesn’t understand these things, and, sadly enough, very few of our congregations do either.

Adult Bullies in Churches

February 18, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     February 17, 2014

 

                                  

 

    We shouldn’t expect it to be different from how it has been. The church has always had bullies. John wrote about one in his third letter. His name was “Diotrephes.” (3 John 1:9-10) He had a reputation for gossiping maliciously, being inhospitable, and keeping others from being hospitable. Diotrephes didn’t invent bullying. He just excelled at being one.

The Sadducees were bullies. They were also “sad, you see!” Sorry, reverted to my Southern Baptist childhood Sunday School class there for a moment!

In this age when there is a growing emphasis on “anti-bullying” in our schools, at our workplaces, on our sports teams, and in our neighborhoods, we must realize that churches have the worst kind of bullies. They are the worst because they clothe the bullying in spiritual language and act like Jesus has ordained their actions.

Churches are also the worst place for bullies because we believe strongly about grace and forgiveness. We’re suppose to love our brother…even the ones who will use that to intimidate us. As one person said many years ago: “Churches put up with people that no one else will.”

Adult bullies in church come in all legal ages. They are not gender-specific, or based on a certain level of income. They come in all shapes and sizes, some with frowns, but others with smiles that fool.

How do adult bullies in church do what they do? One vehicle that is used is making people think it’s all about the person instead of the mission of the church. Bullies think they are irreplaceable, that the church’s one foundation…is them! Part of their intimidation, strange as it sounds, is getting people to buy into that idea. When that happens other members of the church start saying things like, “We can’t afford to lose them. They give so much money!”

     Money is a power play for much of our culture, but it should never hold that kind of sway in the church. Money is a way of showing gratitude, not getting people to follow what I want to do.

Adult bullies in churches use fear to keep themselves in power. Fear fosters spiritual immobility.

Other bullies in the church use their special talents to hold people hostage. “If she leaves who will teach the elementary age Sunday School class.”  

     “There’s nobody else to play the organ. Give him what he wants.”

     Talents become a trump card, not a way of performing an act of service.

So what does the church do when adult bullies throw their weight around? Love them, but hold the door open for them also. The church is bigger than any one person. The mission is more important than any one threatening individual.  The agenda of the Kingdom of God is more urgent than the preference of any “self-proclaimed king.”

There are times in any church’s life where it is essential for someone to step up and give words of conviction or exhortation. That’s not bullying, that’s motivating. there are times when a church needs someone to lead the charge. That’s not bullying, that’s spearheading a charge.

It is easy to forget that Paul compared the church to a “body”, where every person is a part, and every person is important. God’s plan is for a smoothly functioning Body of Christ. The reality is we often fall short. The reality is that there are periods where the Body is functioning smoothly, that there is a rhythm…and then long gaps of dysfunction.

May the Lord help us!

Waiting For A Word

January 23, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   January 22, 2014

 

     I wrote a couple of days ago about Tom Randall’s being held in a Philippino jail. Evidently, this is not a cell like the one Marshall Dillon watched over in Gunsmoke. This is a cell with about 40 men in it, all of them…waiting.

Waiting is an active part of our lives. Waiting in traffic, waiting in the dentist office, waiting for a parent-teacher conference, waiting in an airport terminal, waiting for an answer. Waiting halts us and frustrates us, because we don’t know when the next step will occur…or what the next decision will be.

For those of us here in the U.S. we’re waiting for a word as we go about our routines and conquer our “To Do” list. For Tom and Karen, and their friends Toto and Jake, the waiting is taking on another form. How do you wait in a cell with forty other guys?

You pray, try to remember moments from your past, battle through discouragement and delays. What I’m praying for is that Tom and Karen would be encouraged, stay encouraged, and hope would be a flame that grows brighter within them.

From reports I’m seeing on the “Free Tom Randall” Facebook page, he’s battling an illness that is weakening his physical condition. The danger sometimes in waiting is that things digress. For Tom that’s physically, for others it’s is emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. For many it is the slipping away of all four areas.

If prayer is all we can do on this side of the ocean let us do it with perseverance and power. Although it’s hard to believe, I believe that God, first of all, hears our prayers and, secondly, knows when the optimal time is for them to be answered. Waiting is part of the road leading to the resolution.

And it’s hard!

In Karen’s post today she said a group of pastors had come to the jail and prayed with the men. They were a huge encouragement.

We don’t see all the pieces until we get to the opening for that last piece to fit into and then it makes sense, or as much sense as it can to us. Perhaps a group of pastors from that area coming and praying with Tom is a seed of growth that will happen. Perhaps almost 25,000 Facebook likes is a beginning of a movement about helping not just Tom, but the people he has served and loved.

We must wait, but I pray that our waiting will not be without a celebration moment at the end.

Free Tom Randall!

A Guy Named Tom

January 21, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  January 20, 2014

 

                                     

 

I went to college with a guy named Tom Randall. He had grown up in Detroit, gone to Redford High School, and had a tough outer core about him. We ran cross country and played basketball together at Judson College. Tom was one of the most popular students on our small campus. Being 6’5” made him stand out in the crowd, but he was also an amazing athlete, a stand-out basketball player.

This past week he was arrested, along with two other men, in the Philippines and charged with sex trafficking. Our tendency these days is to hear that someone has been charged with a crime and decide he is guilty as charged. Sex trafficking is a horrendous crime that is rampant across the world. To be charged with it immediately gives most readers a picture of the person as cruel and heartless.

Since I’ve known Tom since 1974, and I’ve seen his journey, I am firm in my belief that he is innocent. The evidence of his life is my convincing of his innocence.

Let me tell you a little bit about him. He became a follower of Jesus in the spring semester of his senior year of college. I would say his decision to be a Christ-follower was the result of the influence of a multitude of people upon his life…guys who played on the basketball team, professors, college administrators, coaches, and his wife-to-be, Karen. Shortly after Tom became a believer he began working in a factory in Elgin, Illinois, making a little bit of income as he faced graduation. He would go into the Director of Admissions, Press Webster (a memorable first name for us all), and talk to Press, and then he would look at all the Bibles that were on one of the bookcases in Press’s office.

“Press, what are you doing with all of those Bibles?”

      “Well, Tom, they are just there.”

      “I’ve got guys down at the factory who don’t have Bibles. They could put those to use.”

      “Well…okay Tom, take a couple of them.”

So Tom would take a couple…and then a couple more..and then a couple more. A little while later Press, who often had to travel for the college, came back to his office to discover his shelves of Bibles were empty.

“Tom, did you take all of my Bibles?”

     “Yes, Press! Do you have any more? I gave them out to the guys that work at the factory.”

     “Did you have to take all of them?”

      “Press, they weren’t doing anybody any good just sitting on your shelf!”

     That what the beginning of his ministry. Soon after college he went to the Philippines where he played professional basketball for a while, and then was involved in a sports ministry where he would travel around in the country, play basketball, and share the gospel. He began a ministry in the Philippines in 1979.

Because of health issues he and Karen had to come back to United States about fifteen years ago and Tom became the Chaplain of the PGA Champions Tour. He would do Sunday chapels, Bible studies, and be available for counseling for any of the senior golfers.

The last fifteen years or so he and Karen have traveled back to the Philippines for a couple of months each year. Their practice is to be their for the month of December. Tom has also taken a basketball team on a tour for a week each year, playing games in different locations, and then sharing the gospel. Their ministry, World Harvest Ministries, continues in the Philippines.

Now, after a lifetime of work and ministry, he’s being held in a jail. Karen has shared that he has been able to give Bibles to several of the other cellmates that are in the crowded room with him. So, in essence, he keeps being a proclaimer as a prisoner.

I don’t know how this will turn out. He has a hearing on Wednesday, January 22. He has a legal team that is representing him. For now we are praying and waiting. I hope you will also.

The evidence of his life is my convincing of his innocence.

     I encourage you to check out one or more of these social media information sites about Tom and Karen’s situation and their ministry.

Facebook pages:  “Free Tom Randall”

“World Harvest Ministries”

web site: “tomrandall.org”

Shoes for Joey

December 10, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         December 10, 2013

                                          

(The following story is based on something that actually happened to me today. The names suggested, however, are fictitious.)

Mrs. Brown, the school social worker, had a problem. Actually, it seemed like every new day brought a compounding of problems, but today she knew that her problem had two feet and one and a half shoes.

Joey, a fourth grader, had been a little suspect with his school attendance recently. His mom would call in the morning about every other day to say that Joey was ill and wouldn’t be at school that day. The afflictions ranged from a cold to a headache to him running a fever. Over the past month Joey had been to school ten days out of a possible twenty-two.

But today he was there, and Mrs. Brown was starting to piece together some things. Joey had been absent on days when it was cold and snowing, and recently there had been a number of those kind of days. Today the sun had come out to raise the temperature to the upper thirties…a heat wave compared to what they ahd been experiencing.

Joey was at school today, and today Joey’s challenge became clear. Joey needed shoes!

Mrs. Brown got on the phone and called Pastor Mike at the community church down the street, and she told him of her problem.

“I know this is a lot to ask, Pastor, but do you think your church could help? Believe me! Joey’s toes are sticking out of the front of his shoe.”

“I’ll be there in an hour. What size does he wear?”

“Six.”

“Consider it done!”

“Thank you! You don’t know how much this means.”

“Mrs. Brown, whenever there is a need that we can help with put us on speed dial. We consider ourselves to be partners with you in the raising up, caring, and safety of the children of our community.”

“And we need all the help we can get.”

She hung up the phone and breathed a sigh of relief. Joey came from a broken home. He split his time between his mom and his dad. Mrs. Brown was more than a little concerned about him. Sometimes kids come to school wondering if life is going to get any better. It broke her heart especially at this time of the year. So many of the students she dealt with saw Christmas as a depressing time, not a time of joy.

An hour later Pastor Mike got buzzed in through the front door and entered the office with a shoe box in hand.

“I hope these fit.”

“We will soon find out. I’ll have Joey come down to the office to try them on.”

A few minutes later a skinny young boy with a nervous look on his face came into the office. Pastor Mike stood to the side, but noticed that the front of one of Joey’s shoes was held together with duct tape that had been wrapped around and around the shoe like first aid tape trying to bring healing that was beyond it. The tape was fraying and splintering on the sides, and the other shoe looked like it was about to lose the tip. Both shoes were rubbed raw of any tread on the soles.

“Joey, I want you to try these shoes on,” said Mrs. Brown.

Joey had a confused look on his face.

“Go ahead! Just try this one on.”

“But Mrs. Brown, I don’t know if my mom would say I could.”

“I’ll talk to your mom. You let me worry about that part.”

“He slipped his old shoe off and worked his foot slowly into the new shoe with bright shoelaces. A smile rose to the surface.

“Now, I want you to give me your old pair and I’ll take care of them.”

“You don’t think my mom will be mad?”

“Joey, I’ll talk to your mom.”

The young boy thanked the lady and left the office beaming.

“A new pair of shoes,” he thought. “I don’t remember the last time I had a new pair of shoes.”

Mrs. Brown watched him stroll out of the office with a little skip in his step. She looked at Pastor Mike, and with tears streaming down her face she asked, “Did you see the look on his face? I haven’t seen him smile a single time this whole year until today.”

“Think about it, Mrs. Brown. Up until just now every time he looked down at his shoes he was reminded of his poverty. Now he can look at his shoes and be reminded that there’s hope.”

To The Newly Ordained

August 19, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         August 19, 2013

     My son! I hope you don’t mind that I call you that, even though we aren’t blood relatives. But I feel, in many ways, you are my son. Lord knows I’m old enough to be your dad!

I thank God for your obedience to the call. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for you. I can remember there were a number of times in the past three years where you were discouraged, tired, ready to lay things aside for a while. Going to seminary full-time, being a father and a husband, being involved in various ministry initiatives at church…your plate runneth over!

And now your name is preceded with the title “Reverend.”

I know it doesn’t change who you are. Humbleness is a part of your DNA. If someone refers to you as “Reverend” you will probably look behind you to see who they are talking to. The titled doesn’t change you. You are who God has transformed you into. That happened a long time before you got an official title.

See the title as simply a confirmation of those who have journeyed alongside you these past years that you are called…you have a special calling that has been placed upon your life.

Sometimes the calling will weigh heavily upon you. As you stand at a pulpit you will see the faces of people who need a word of hope for their lives, a word of encouragement. And yet, there will be other times when you stand at a pulpit there needs to be a “hard word” said. You must always seek to led by the Spirit of God. the temptation to throttle a congregation will be strong some weeks, as well as the tempting to be soft. Seek to lead the people of God closer to a holy fellowship with God. Don’t get carried away by personal agenda and political referendums. Stay Word-focused!

My son, as you enter a hospital room, or meet with someone who is about to enter into surgery, or gather with a family of a deceased loved one, understand that you are a representative of Christ. In fact, you are more than that. To those who are grieving you are the presence of Jesus. Without making you think that you are a Savior, you are in those moments Jesus to them. They are looking to you for a “word from the Lord”, a prayer for healing, comfort in the most trying times.

I know in your eyes you are “small” (Your word!), but to the family of a person who is about to have open-heart surgery you are a rock. Rocks are seen as being planted, strong…something that can have tough things, like the hard questions of life, brought to and there on’t be a shying away.

Be steady! People are sometimes fickle. They get attracted to the latest and greatest, but when the road gets rough, when the weariness of life leaves them gasping,  they look for that pastor who is steady and a servant. Seek to move the people of God ahead. The faster you expect them to move the gentler you must be.

People will follow the leader, even with some grumbling, if they are sure that the leader loves them and desires the best for them.

My son, always be teachable, no matter your age! Seek wise mentors who are not only close at hand, but also far away. And, hear this…seek mentors who are teachable. If you accept the guidance from someone who no longer seeks the wisdom of others, two people are about to take a plunge.

Finally, your family comes before the people of God. There have been many great pastors who have lost their families. That, my friend, is not God’s design for this whole calling of being a pastor. You must be wise in your spirit. Sometimes the people of God can overwhelm you with demands and responsibilities at the expense of your role as a father and spouse. Keep a balance. Discern what is really crucial and what can wait. Your daughter’s school production is more important than a meeting of the Finance Committee. Protect your family time while letting the people of God know you care.

There are so many other things I could write to you, but some of them are best learned on your own. Always know that I’m praying for you, and will be there for you no matter if you’re on a peak or trudging through a valley.

You are called! Fight the good fight!

Trading Pulpits

January 24, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           January 24, 2013

 

Last Sunday was the seventh year in a row that the pastors of the five neighborhood churches in our area traded pulpits. A Mennonite can become a Lutheran, a Presbyterian can experience being a Baptist, and a Methodist can be anyone of the aforementioned. We change preaching venues on a Sunday in mid-January to early February…and go at it.

The congregations love it. In fact, most of the members of each congregation look forward to it. When the Lutheran pastor came to our church a few years ago and delivered an eight minute message I had people the next Sunday asking when he could come back. I enjoy speaking in different churches because there are plenty of jokes I can tell about being a Baptist pastor. I’ve got a lot of bizarre stories as well, because “truth is stranger than fiction.” Being a Baptist pastor for almost 34 years now I can attest to the truth of that statement.

The value of trading pulpits for one is that as pastors, we visibly display our belief in, and commitment to, a church that has many shapes, sizes, emphases, colors, and looks, but one Lord, one Savior, and one Spirit.

The other value is a growing sense that other churches aren’t the enemy. Or even the competition. Just as I say that it takes the church and the school to partner together in creating a healthy community, I also believe that it takes our churches linking together in proclamation and ministry to be light in the midst of darkness.

There are many things that Dan Holt, Senior Pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, and I can spend our time disagreeing on, but what we are united about is that Christ means Hope and Life and Truth. Of our eight pastors serving in the five congregations I am probably the most conservative theologically, but we don’t belabor our differences. We respect and value each other. To often value gets attributed only to people who resemble us.

Last Sunday I spoke in the Methodist church. I told them early on that the good news was that if I screwed anything up not to worry, Pastor Larry would be back next week. I had a good time delivering the word of the Lord. I’m almost afraid to say this, but they were perhaps even a little more receptive to what I was saying than my own congregation, because I was a new voice to them. Sometimes the familiar voice is respected and honored, but not necessarily heard with as much attention.

When our neighborhood pastors meet again the first Wednesday in February we will talk about how it went. There will be a heightened sense of connectedness with one another because we trusted each other, and our congregations trusted us to provide someone who would be faithful in bringing the Word of the Lord to them.

It was good!


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