Saturday, September 27, 2008

Whose Hand is on the Wheel?

Tomorrow I will challenge the congregation of NGWC to give the steering wheel of the church back to God as we all submit to His leadership, to those in authority, and to one another. We need God's hand of control on the wheel. At most, we should only be the glove covering that guiding hand - like the glove of the race car driver.

This an important attitude to have as we journey through the intentional interim process. We can't get ourselves out of the proverbial "woods", only God can do that as we submit to Him. We have a process and will be making plans but without divine guidance we will not get to where we need to be.

After the worship service tomorrow, we will have a congregational meeting to review the intentional interim journey and the importance of being prayerful and careful in the selection of the Transition Team which will take place during the next three weeks. Some of what I will share about the Transition Team is that they are to be:
* A group of trusted and respected individuals selected by the congregation to guide the process of becoming a more healthy church.
* A group of maturing (spiritually, emotionally and mentally) leaders who are respected for their both their skills and temperament for group work.
* Representative of the entire congregation with all of its diversity.
* A critical strategy as it communicates the message: this is the work of the congregation.
* A model to the congregation – looking for God’s movement, will and purpose for the future of the congregation.
* The group who determines when the church is ready for the L.B.A. to begin the search for the next Senior Pastor.
* A new group with a new group life leading the church toward a new day of congregational health and wholeness.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Richard Foster on Leadership

I once heard John Maxwell say that if you weren't a learner, you weren't a leader. I'm not sure what kind of leader I am but I want to be a learner. This desire drives me to be a reader. Every once in a while I read something that just gets inside me and I can't get away from it. Last week I read the following thoughts on leadership by Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline.

"Leadership is an act of submission to God. To be a leader means listening to all kinds of people and situations. Out of that listening, we are hoping to discern the mind of God as best we can. This is the price of leadership—it's an act of sacrifice. So leadership is part and parcel of the work of submission to God.
I could be perfectly happy to go up into those mountains and disappear. But at least up to this point, that has not been my lot. There is a sense of call to take leadership roles. You're serving people and submitting to God as best you can.
We all learn submission because we all have "bosses," whether we're presidents of companies or not. The easiest place to learn it is in family. Paul's words were, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ"—there is subordination, husband and wife, parent and child. We're doing that all of the time, looking to the needs of our spouse or our children, even though we have to make certain kinds of decisions they may not like. It's an act of submission to help.
I think of Pope Gregory the Great. He wanted the cloister. He wanted to pray and study, and yet he was thrust into this administrative job, and he submitted to that. And in that submission, he became a great leader. You could say that the only person who is safe to lead is the person who is free to submit."

That last sentence is what really is working on me. Neither pastors nor lay leaders in a church have any business picking up the mantle of leadership unless we are willing to lay it at the feet of Jesus. If we have to be in control or power then we are probably too dangerous to be given that authority.

What do you think? Am I hearing Foster correctly? And is Foster correct?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Who Stole My Church?

I just finished reading: WHO STOLE MY CHURCH? Here is my review and reflections.

This book is a fictional story that reflects the real world of many churches today. This is a story of the struggle between multiple generations within congregations as those who have served faithfully and sacrificially for decades are now asked to let their church change style and structure to reach the current culture. The real life pastor author, Gordon MacDonald, allow you to walk alongside an imaginary group of older church members as they discover God, themselves, and the younger generations within the church and community. As I followed these senior saints on this discovery journey I came to understand the churches I have served and now serve better. Hopefully I also gained an insight or two in how to better lead them. This group of seniors and their discoveries were in many ways like the Transition Team that leads a congregation through the intentional interim process.

The book cover says of the author. “Gordon MacDonald has been a pastor for more than forty years in five different communities. He has seen churches drop their long-standing programs and traditions … in an effort to mobilize younger members. He has also seen the bitterness and heartbreak that sometimes chokes older members who have spent their lives building that very community, dedicating hours of service and significant amounts of money in tithes. These ‘builders and boomers’ fell that their churches have been hijacked from underneath them, that someone has come in and stolen what they’ve worked so hard to create. While he understands the frustrations that come with change, MacDonald believes that finding a way to move gracefully into the 21st century is necessary for churches to survive.”

So what did I get from this book?
1) A greater sensitivity to the struggle that people face when coping with changes in the church.
2) A good review of historical changes both in the culture and the churches that gives perspective for dealing with the current era of change.
3) Some wonderful “seed thoughts” for a few sermons or Bible studies on how Jesus tried to prepare His disciples for the changes that were going to soon take place in their religious practices.

This book is well worth the money to buy it and the time to read it for anyone who is part of a congregation dealing with change.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The 3rd G

I am taking a couple of Sundays to focus my messages at HGWC on the 3rd G of the Peacemaker’s Pledge – gently restore. These two messages are under the umbrella sermon title of “How to Handle Your Hurts”. The Scripture focus is Matthew 18:12-22. I am making the case that as a Christian peacemaker there are three things that we must do about our hurts.

1) Anticipate them. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble”. He also warned that offenses would surely come. So we should not be surprised when they happen since we live in a fallen world.

2) Deal with them. As peacemakers we don’t have the options of verbal revenge or physical attack. We deal with our hurts by either overlooking them or by confronting them. The preferred option is to overlook them. But some hurts can’t and shouldn’t be overlooked. When our hurts must be faced head on then we must address them in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 – “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently”.

3) Forgive them. Whether we overlook or confront the offenses that cause us pain and hurt we have to forgive them first. During the month of October we will return to this matter of forgiveness and try to explore it more deeply with a series of sermons.

For those who want to find the blessing that Jesus promised when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” I recommend for your reading two books: The Peacemaker by Ken Sande and Making Peace by Jim Van Yperen.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Golfing at the Carolina Pastors Gathering

Many preachers play golf, most not very well even though we seem to enjoy trying. I am one of them. Because of this, one of the annual traditions at the Carolina Pastors Gathering is a Captain’s Choice golf tournament for us preacher “want a be” pro golfers.

Captain’s Choice means that all four golfers on a team hit their tee shots and then they decide which shot is in the best location to hit the next shot and then all four golfers hit their shots from that preferred location. This process continues until the ball is hit into the cup by one of the team members.

So here is my “claim to fame” golf story from last week’s golf at the Carolina Pastors Gathering. On the sixth hole I hit as good a tee shot as I can make – 230 yards and in the middle of the fairway. Two of my team members are capable of hitting the ball as far or further than I can, but on this hole neither of them did so. The team will now hit their second shots from the location of where my tee shot came to rest – about 150 yards away from the cup on the green. My three teammates all hit before me and one of them is on the green so that we can putt our next shot. This 150 yard shot requires a perfectly hit 5 iron for me. I hit this 5 iron shot perfectly. The ball lands just in front of the cup and rolls into the cup for an eagle.

I have never made a hole in one on a par 3. I keep telling myself that this feat was actually more difficult than a hole in one because it required two (not one) perfectly struck shots. Any way – even if I never get a hole in one, I at least have one fantastic golf story that I can tell my grandkids (if I ever have any) one day.

For those who read this blog because of your interest in the intentional interim work, I promise to return on topic next time. Please excuse this moment of bragging and pray pride does not enter my golf bag. Although the rest of my play that afternoon should curb that temptation.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Corporate Prayer of Confession

For those who are interested - here is the congregational prayer of confession that was used prior to the observance of the Lord's Supper this past Sunday morning at NGWC.

Pastor: Have mercy upon us, O Lord, according to Your mercy and not according to our merit. Blot out our transgressions, wash us from our iniquities, and cleanse us from our sins. We acknowledge our failures for Your Son, Jesus Christ, offered us Your blessings when He told us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”

People: but we have been rich in pride.

Pastor: “Blessed are those who mourn”

People: but we have not known much sorrow for our sin.

Pastor: “Blessed are the meek”

People: but we are a stiff-necked people.

Pastor: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”

People: but we are filled to the full with other things.

Pastor: “Blessed are the merciful”

People: but we are harsh and impatient.

Pastor: “Blessed are the pure in heart”

People: but we have impure hearts and wrong motives.

Pastor: “Blessed are the peacemakers”

People: but we have not sought reconciliation or made peace.

Pastor: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”

People: but our lives do not challenge the world.

Pastor: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”

People: but we have hardly made it known that we are yours.

Pastor: Show us our secret faults and keep us from presumptuous sins. Draw near to us and help us to desire to draw near to You.

People: Create in us clean hearts and renew right spirits within us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Day After "Confession"

Was yesterday’s “confession service” a turning point for NGWC? Only time will tell. But I am beginning to see some cracks in the dam that has been blocking the flow of the Spirit. People are listening to the challenging truths about living as peacemakers and many are responding with life changes.

Examples of things that give me hope:
1) Yesterday during the time typically called the pastoral prayer I invited those who would like to come to the altar for prayer to do so; 15-20 people came forward.
2) The lady who told me that when she went back to work after last week’s service she asked her co-workers to forgive her for some of her attitudes on the job.
3) The man who admitted he had been nervous about this “confession service” but afterwards felt lifted and encouraged because God had shown him some sins that he needed to confront and confess.
4) The lady who’s first thought when hearing about a “confession service” was that she hoped that certain people would publicly confess their sins but immediately realized she needed to confess that thought as sin.

Personally, I sensed the presence of the Lord in yesterday’s service. I felt that the communion time was especially meaningful after we had just spent about 40 minutes interweaving preaching and practicing confession. Conviction has rested upon me that I must be the first to practice what I preach – so strongly that I had to go privately to someone in the congregation during yesterday’s service and ask for forgiveness.

After tomorrow night’s L.B.A. meeting I will travel to Oak Island for the annual Carolina Pastors Gathering. This gathering of Wesleyan preachers is an annual highlight for me. The fellowship and support of these peers means more and more to me each year. And yes – we DO play golf during this event; which makes the trip a double blessing.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Confession Is Good for the Soul

“Confession is good for the soul.” My best research reveals this to be an old Scottish proverb. I could find no other historical info or background but, I guess, the statement pretty much speaks for itself. Still the question must be asked, is this proverb true? And, if it is true, why don’t we see more confession of sin in the church?

Last Sunday I preached a sermon focusing on the 2nd G of the Peacemaker’s Pledge – Get the log out of your own eye. It is easy to say, “Mistakes were made.” The challenge is to also say, “And I was the one who made them.” At the conclusion of the sermon I announced that before the serving of Communion in next week’s (tomorrow’s) worship service that we would give opportunity for confessions.

This was one of those times when I had not totally thought through how this confession thing was going to work. Upon more thought, I realized that had no training or resources for doing a structured time of confession in a worship service beyond a congregational prayer of confession or a time of individual silent reflection and confessional prayer. So I struggled and sought wisdom from above all week about how to plan tomorrow’s service.

At least I have developed a plan. This plan includes corporate, personal, private and public opportunities of confession before the congregation celebrates our common forgiveness at the Lord’s Table receiving Communion together. Check back next week for a report on this service. Naturally, my prayer and hope is that this will be a Sunday that will be remembered as a “turning point” on NGWC’s road to recovery and spiritual health.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Theological Foundations for Peacemaking

From Sunday noon until Tuesday night I did not have access to the Internet and have been busy since - this is my excuse for not posting this week until now. I still hope to get an update posted by Saturday on the progress at NGWC. But for now - I found this on the Route 59 blog (title comes from Matthew 5:9) that I read and it is so good that I wanted to pass it along to others.

Three theological principles of peacemaking as stated by Ajith Fernando who is a leader with Youth for Christ.

1. What unites us as members of the body of Christ is much, much more powerful and influential in determining our actions than what divides us. Ephesians 4:4-6 says that what unites us is the motivation to being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit (4:3). This theological motivation causes us to approach the problem with confidence even though the conflict may be huge.

2. Because God is sovereign over the affairs of this world, however serious the problem, he is able to turn it to good if we let him. So we work with believing that good will come out of this if we are obedient. Because unity is the will of God, it should come into our reckoning when we think of the goodness that will come out of the conflict.

3. However deep the hurt, we know that God’s love is greater than that pain and than the unkindness that caused it. This gives us the courage to forgive those who have hurt us and to strive for reconciliation rather than to strive to win the immediate battle. We can win the battle to retrieve our wounded ego and lose the war for kingdom principles. True success is measured not from temporary triumphs in individual battles but from the triumph of the agenda of the kingdom. It is sobering to note that this agenda encompasses every member of the body of Christ, even the one who is now our enemy.

These three principles, I believe, is why I am passionate about intentional interim ministry and trying to help congregations and individual believers make peace and learn to live in peace with one another.