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An Important Look Into Your Church’s Culture – Part 11

October 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Honestly, I thought I was finished with this blog series after ten installments. But this weekend, a conversation brought one more idea to mind that I think is important enough to share.

When you pastor a difficult church–one that’s been struggling for awhile and has frequently demonstrated unhealthy behaviors–you can easily slide into a view of reality that’s not terribly encouraging. Sure, you have good reason to fear the next expression of dysfunction, the next conflict, the next issue that will remind everyone why this church never moves forward. Some churches get a bit of momentum only to have their unhealthy culture swallow it up once again.

But when you’ve been instilling healthy values for awhile and even begin to see a few new and younger faces among your people, you may not realize that things are getting healthier. When I began my work as a pastor at one church, I envisioned myself on a surfboard, paddling furiously to stay ahead of a tidal wave of dysfunction and unhealthy behavior. That had been the church’s history, and I was told stories about those awkward moments when things would suddenly and nearly irreversibly turn sour.

The wave was real, so the paddling was non-stop.

But somewhere around the five-year mark, the wave diminished. Things began to be healthy. The threats of dysfunction dissipated, washed to the floor of the ocean by the healthy people that had joined us and the healthy patterns our long-time friends were now living. AND NO ONE TOLD ME!

It’s a fact, for the entire ten years of my time as pastor of that church, I was paddling…and paddling hard. I loved my church and was proud of them, but I never realized that the wave had dissipated. In fact, a few weeks after I had moved to another place of ministry, one ministry friend who was filling the pulpit in the interim told me “that’s the healthiest church I’ve ever been a part of!” Wished I had known that…

The point is that when you lead a struggling church, you may have a difficult time seeing that congregation any other way. When good moments arise, you may fear trusting them and choose to protect yourself by keeping your expectations in check. Some of the wounds, the particularly painful moments of the past may cause you to miss the moments you could be celebrating today and tomorrow.

Bottom-line? Things may be better than you realize. You may have made more progress than you think. Likely you’ll need a new set of eyes to help you see that, but let me encourage you to find the rays of hope in your congregation and bask in their warmth a little bit. This broken church isn’t as broken as it once was. In fact, some good things are happening as your values and commitment to Christ are being fleshed out in the congregation.

There may be more to rejoice in than there is to fret over. So look for some of that today, and take these words as permission to smile a bit.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 355

October 26, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. Jesus answered (John 21:22).

It seems like a simple phrase, meant to introduce the statement that follows. Who’s talking now? Jesus. And yet, that very idea seems extraordinary. Jesus answers Peter’s question. Perhaps this jumps off the page a bit because it is a moment where Peter doesn’t understand what is happening or what will happen. He doesn’t like the future Jesus has described for him and wants it to make sense. And Jesus answers. So often, Jesus doesn’t answer–at least not as clearly as He does here. Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” He could as easily be saying to Peter, “Blessed are those I have not answered and yet believed.” Because things don’t always make sense to us. Questions linger in the quiet air. And yet, we walk forward, trusting God’s plan, following the steps He has shown. Jesus answered and every time He does, we ought be amazed that the Eternal God would engage our uncertainty. But we ought equally never forget that His goal is for us to trust Him and just keep following.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 354

October 21, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. “Lord, what about him?” (John 21:21).

It’s a question we’ve all asked. When comparing our experiences and relationship with God, we want an explanation as to why another believer’s experience is different. Why did they get healed? Why did they receive miraculous provision. Frankly our real question is usually, “why didn’t we…?” Most folks confuse fair treatment with identical treatment. If one child gets an ice cream cone, they all should. If one action brings a negative result, then every such action should receive the same response. We want to make sense of every moment, and identical treatment is one way we seek out. But this is a relationship, and God has deeper purposes for each of our lives. So your blessing comes when I’m learning sacrifice, and your good news comes on a day when there isn’t any for me. Jesus will respond to Peter’s question with, “follow Me.” That’s the decision we must make. Our journey with God is not a calculated path of steps and results that can be charted on a clipboard. It’s a life where faith is taught and grown within us. It’s a relationship where trust is built, often through the moments that don’t add up. So your step today will look different than the one I’m expected to take. “Just follow Me…” Jesus whispers.

 

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 353

October 20, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:19)

Now Peter knows the full story. The road he imagined has twisted before him several times in the past few weeks. Moments of great promise and determination…moments of defeat and bewilderment…moments of hope and restoration…and now a moment of truth. Death will be the destiny. Jesus has made that clear. No uncertainty. John knew exactly what His Master was telling the muscular fisherman, and Peter knew it too. No metaphors of mission. Jesus had once asked if the disciples could walk the path that He himself was about to walk. They had said, “Yes!” not knowing the true nature of that path. But now they know. They had seen His journey unfold. Now Peter, at least, will face such a path. Likely so will they all–at least that’s what breakfast that morning seemed to affirm. “Follow Me!” rang through the crisp air with new meaning. And now knowing what that would mean, each of them laid their futures before Him.

 

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 352

October 14, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. “…when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).

Peter will die. This is the difficult truth Jesus lays before His gregarious disciple. Peter had pledged to die for Jesus and then crumbled at first sign of threat. But he will die. Like a shepherd, he will sacrifice for the sake of the sheep. He will die feeding them. And he will die, much in the same manner that he saw his Master die. In this moment, Peter’s place among the disciples is clearly restored, but restored for a darkening future. He’s not alone either, for every man tasting breakfast on that beach that morning will taste a similar fate.

 

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 351

October 12, 2016 Leave a comment
  1. Jesus said, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:18).

The call to shepherd in this moment doesn’t seem to just be a generic explanation of ministry life. Jesus likely isn’t just maxing out His favorite analogy, nor is He simply reshaping Peter from his fish-focus. No, Jesus may be saying something much deeper. In this more general use of the word “sheep,” Jesus speaks to His humbled friend–the one who claimed to be ready to die for Him. He could have said, “Die for them, Peter.” That’s what shepherds do. They willingly lay down their lives for sheep. What follows demonstrates that Peter knew what Jesus meant. In His next sentence, Jesus goes on to explain a bit of what that day will be like for this gregarious fisherman–a day not unlike the one Peter had just watched Jesus live. Feed sheep, doesn’t just mean be a shepherd on life’s grassy hillsides. It means you’ll give up everything else, even your very life.

 

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 350

  1. “Lord, you know all things…” (John 21:17).

Sometimes this is our only defense. When we try to be what we want to be but can’t seem to be, we find both hope and fear in the knowledge that our Savior knows all things. He knows what we long to be. He sees us in our failure. Who would understand this better than Simon Peter? Jesus had warned him of his impending failure, even insisting on praying for His over-confident disciple. “No way will I deny you!” Peter wanted to scream (and kinda did). Sure enough, Jesus knew–He knows all things. He knows us better than we can know ourselves. He knows what we long for and what we will ultimately choose. He knows…and thankfully He still loves.

 

Categories: Leadership Journeys