Pastors – A Lesson on Enthusiasm from Jim Harbaugh

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Jim Harbaugh, upon being selected as the new head coach for Stanford in 2006 (now with the 49’ers), made this statement:

“I vow I will attack this endeavor with enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”

I love it!  At heart I love the enthusiasm of successful coaches, teams, and individual athletes.  Their determination and dedication are infectious.

It goes without saying, that what we do as pastors is infinitely more important than what any coach or athlete will accomplish.  With that in mind, are you and I “attacking” our responsibilities with “enthusiasm unknown to mankind?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about ministering in our flesh or outside the direction of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I’m suggesting exactly the opposite – to be so full of the Holy Spirit, of God-derived courage, and of motivation from an anointed calling that our enthusiasm is God instilled and just as infectious.

Pastors, I hear the same whispers you do.  Around every corner there is always a naysayer telling you to “calm down” or to “to take it slow.”  They say things like:

  • Don’t be too ambitious.
  • Don’t get ahead of God.
  • Don’t try to be the Holy Spirit to someone.
  • Don’t dream too large.
  • You can’t change the world.
  • We’re just a little neighborhood church.

I say, “Get thee behind me Satan!”  There is always going to be someone wanting to throw water on every spark of God-ordained enthusiasm in your church and life.  Rebuke them in the name of the Lord! God did not call you or me to be timid, passive, or to think small. We serve the King of Kings who has called us to serve in His Kingdom!

Consider these thoughts …

1)      You are a servant-leader in the one thing Jesus said he would build – the Church.

2)      DL Moody said, “The world has yet to see what God can do through one man fully consecrated to Him.” You can be that man!

3)      God promised, “My Word will not return void.”

4)      You have the words of life for the walking dead.

5)      You may not have earthly cheers; but you have a “cloud of witnesses.”

6)      You stamp eternity with your work.

7)      Your prayers enter the ears of One “who does not slumber nor sleep.”

8)      Size is relative, you’re work is “Mega” in the eyes of God.

9)      That little boy or girl, man or woman saved this week will be the cause of a celestial party.

10)   You are on the team of the eternal God of the universe.

For those who say, “how sappy and over-enthusiastic”.  I say, “I hope so.”

I pray that you and I will take Harbaugh’s example and:

“attack our Godly endeavor with an enthusiasm unknown to Heaven.”

Dear Pastor, So you want to quit? 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t

Discouraged

I read a shocking statistic many years ago that 7 out of every 10 Bible college and seminary graduates will be out of the pastoral ministry within three years of graduating.  At the time, I thought it must be an overstatement.  But experience and observation have proved otherwise.  The pastorate has many casualties.

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of writing the names of all his fellow seminary graduates in the back of his Bible.  As they dropped out of ministry he crossed their names off.  In something like 20 years every name was crossed off but his and one other.

So pastor, if you haven’t quit – you’ve surely thought about it, are thinking about it, or have the resignation letter written and ready to turn in.  You’re just waiting for the right Monday morning to do it.

Let me be honest.  I’ve written those letters in the past.  I’ve marked those days on the calendar 3 months out where I’ll quit if things haven’t improved (not recently by the way…lest anyone from my current church is reading this.).  I am currently in a season where I see God’s hand of blessing.  I love what I’m doing.  But I know darker days will come.

Here are eight thoughts about why you should not quit and what keeps me going…

  • The Call – Remember back to the day that you “knew” God was calling you to the pastoral ministry.  The memory of mine is, as they say, “crystal.”  I don’t believe God called me or you to pastor for 3 years, or 5 years, or until I got tired of it, or until I got the job offer from XYZ Christian Company, or until the church bully got the best of me, or __________________ (fill in your own reason).  He called you and me to preach, lead, shepherd, pray, evangelize, and be used in building up the body of Jesus Christ.  Did he revoke that call? Did he redirect that call? Maybe so, but remember your call.
  • The Reward – Yes, I’ll admit it.  The blessings of pastoring keep me in it.  To see a life change, to see a person come to faith, to be a part of a great ministry event, to have someone tell you a message encouraged them.  Those are all great things! Reflect on the rewards.
  • This Too Shall Pass – Sigh.  I hear you.  No really, I do.  Being a pastor can be tough, beyond tough.  Those difficult personality clashes – those well intended but harsh emails you receive – the outright ungodliness shown by someone who doesn’t like a ministry change – the three families that leave because they “aren’t being fed.”  These are temporary.  Look to God, stay faithful in your devotions, get around some Barnabuses.  Remember tough times and difficult people are temporary.
  • The King’s Employ – This may sound trite, but you and I work for the King.  Not a boss, not a board, not a body.  We work for the King of the universe! Dwell on that. Meditate on it. If he employed you, he has the resources to get you through this difficult time.  Remember the King.
  • Eternal Fruit – What we do will last forever.  I realize that every job and career can be used by the Lord (I worked in the secular world for about 8 years after college).  But the “everyday” work you do has eternal impact.  That message you are preparing, that visit to a new comer, that meeting over coffee to disciple a new believer, that call on a complete stranger new to your area.  Those activities put a stamp on eternity.  God uses you and your work.
  • The Enemy – I don’t see demons and the Evil one lurking behind every bush; but we are in a spiritual battle.  There is nothing that Evil would rather have you do than quit, or ruin your testimony, or become disqualified from the ministry.  Don’t give him the satisfaction.
  • The File – I keep a file marked “encouragement”.  In it I put all the encouraging cards, emails, and notes I get from people.  I read back over them when days get dark.  This helps me remember that people really do appreciate me and that what I do makes a difference.  Start a file and put all those encouraging pieces of communication in there for future reference.
  • Persecution – Jesus endured it and forewarned us of it.  In fact, he promised it.  True persecution and opposition are normal in the Gospel work.  We are in a battle.  Paul’s words remind of this on so many occasions. So expect it, but don’t let it deter you – it probably means you’re actually doing something right.

So pastor – you want to quit; but don’t do it.   Find a friend, beg for prayer, be honest with your leadership, ask for help, get counseling, ask for a sabbatical, remember the things above.

What if you’ve already quit?  I understand.  Let me suggest that you take some time to heal and rest.  Ministry challenges can zap you emotionally and spiritually.  I have a friend who pastored for 20 years and took a year off to get rejuvenated. He’s now been back in the pastorate about three years.  So do what you need to take care of yourself and your family.  Then ask the question, “Has the call been revoked?”  Really answer that honestly.  Maybe it has; but don’t let fear, bitterness, or bad experiences answer the question for you.  That call is probably still on your life – get back in the Gospel saddle.  Start small, a Bible study at work or with a neighbor.  Then begin to pray for God’s leading for your next ministry.

What if you find yourself arguing with this article? You’re saying things like,

  • “But, maybe God redirected me to another career.”
  • “But, there’s this other non-pastoral ministry.”
  • “But, my circumstances have changed.”
  • “But, my family is falling apart.”

No doubt, there are times to resign.  There are times to take a break. And there are other valid ministries in which to serve. But don’t let “difficult” times, people, or pressures be the thing that makes you resign.  AND although there are other ministries in which to serve, you need to make sure they align with your calling. Don’t let a way out become a cop out. If God called you to pastor, you will not be satisfied doing anything else.

I truly love the ministry…most days.  My work is God-ordained, has eternal results, and is beyond rewarding.  But there are those days, and weeks, and even longer seasons of difficulty.  The things above help me keep perspective and I hope they will encourage you as well.

Thoughts?

Visible Grace

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Acts 11:23 “When he (Barnabas) came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.”

Grace is like air, gravity, coldness, or amoebas.  You don’t readily see these things, but they certainly exist.

There are aspects of God and other theological terms we don’t expect to be visible.  Grace is one of them.  However, when Barnabas came to Antioch it says he “saw the Grace of God.”  It is the only place in Scripture where this phrase is used.  What did he see at Antioch which made grace appear from the shadows? What was it that enthused him to go back and get Paul?

Before we answer that, I had an intriguing thought while reading the passage.  What if Barnabus came to the church I worship with?  Would he see the Grace of God?  What if he came to your church –  would he see the Grace of God?  Just what is it about a church that make’s God’s grace become visible: the name on the sign – Grace Fellowship Church?  The type of music or the clothes people wear?  How about the “associations” it cooperates with?  Just what is it about a church that would make someone say, “I saw the Grace of God in that place”?

I believe the passage makes it clear. We see four characteristics of a church with visible grace:

1 – Jesus’ name was being lifted up.  The passage says they were, “…preaching the Lord Jesus.”  The name of Jesus Christ was being communicated to everyone: Jews and Greeks.  He was being spoken about out in the open, regardless of the crowd. They were bold and direct about sharing the name of Christ.

2 – Faith: people were being converted.  The passage says, “…and a great number believed and turned to the Lord (v21).” People were being saved by the message being communicated.  The Holy Spirit was moving and people were believing on Christ.  It was obvious to all who were in the proximity.

3 – Teaching of the Word of God.  After Barnabus came, the first thing he did was to send for a “teacher”, namely Paul.  It says, “…they assembled with the church and taught a great many people (v26).”  The teaching, studying, and learning of the Scriptures were important in this place of visible grace.

4 – Testimony.  Verse 26 makes an important statement, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”  The community saw these followers living for Christ and called them “Christians”.  This was a label given to them by outsiders not themselves.  The people watching what was going on gave them the most appropriate term they could imagine, Christians, which in essence meant: little Christs.

I recently shared with our church that I would like us to be known as “living out loud!”   That is, living our “faith” out loud.  Not “out weird”; but OUT LOUD.  This is what comes to mind when I read about the church at Antioch.  They were known for what was happening in their midst.  People were attracted to it; hearing the message; getting saved and joining the work.

If a church lifts up Jesus, helps people come to faith, studies the Word, and has a bold testimony – I think they will experience “visible Grace.”  May God raise up churches in our community, including ours, that are “living out loud” for Christ.

Black Friday Prayer

(A brief thought for Grace Fellowship Church and other believers concerned with evangelism)

Last Friday I had an incredibly sobering moment while chasing my wife and daughters through Kohls.  They had all scattered to look for some deals, or stand in line waiting to pay.  I decided to do something instead of just standing in the shoe department waiting for them to check out;  I told them I was going  to check out Christmas tree sales at another big box store.

I wove my way through Kohls in the general direction of the exit.  While dodging displays and people, I began to focus on people’s faces – face, after face, after face.  The store was packed, the parking lot was packed, and the roads were packed. I began to ponder the fact that these were people loved by God.  Each one of them was unique.  Each one had a soul. And Christ had made an enormous sacrifice to bring them to himself.

Of course, I already knew this.  The statistical “fact” of there being so many people who needed Christ wasn’t new.  The theological truth that people need Christ is something I (we) talk about often.

But just seeing the mass of people on the biggest shopping day of the year drove home these truths anew.

God has given us a tremendous responsibility and privilege to be “ministers of reconciliation.”  Not just me but we, the Grace Fellowship body.

On my way out the door, as I passed lines and masses of people, I just began to pray, “Lord…”  I caught myself not really knowing how to finish.  I mean there were SO many people, “Lord, bring the knowledge of your Son to these people and help our GF body to aggressively do our part as you lead.”

As you shop, attend holiday parties, and reconnect with family and friends in the next month would you pray?  Pray for people’s souls.  Pray for opportunities to share.  Pray for believers and churches to represent Christ to a lost and dead world.  We have the real “Hope” for this season and ask God to help us share it.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God”. (2Co 5:20 NKJ)

Partners in the Gospel (Part 3) – Creating a Community of Kindness

(Part 3 in a series exploring how we, as a church at Grace Fellowship, are striving to advance the Gospel and how we hope to more in the future)

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“And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) 

Twenty-three families came to our building on a recent Sunday night.  Were they there for worship, to learn, to sit in a Bible Study, or to pray? No.  Hunger and empty cupboards at home brought them to our food pantry.

They were greeted with a smile and given a chance to share any needs going on in their life.  Someone offered them a Bible and to pray for them (or not at their choice).  They were also given this great Gospel tract called “The Story” (www.viewthestory.com) along with some church information.  And then a personal shopper guided them through our pantry and gave a helping hand in selecting their food items. I love this ministry and the passion of those who volunteer – a passion for helping others and a passion for Jesus and his message of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.  God is using this ministry to impact people’s lives – one family or individual at a time.

The Scripture is replete with exhortation to consider the poor, widows, hurting, children, ill and bereaved.  In the verse above, Paul tells us that as believers we were, “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

A part of what we’re doing at Grace Fellowship to advance the Gospel is to keep our eyes open for the needs of others, meet them in practical ways, and share the Good News of Jesus while doing so.  At this point, we have a small food pantry.  In the first four months of its operation, we’ve helped something like 120+ families.  Can we do everything? No, of course not; but we can do something.

A couple of points regarding sharing the Gospel through meeting practical needs:

a)      We must always remember we are a Church with a food pantry; not a food pantry with a church.  It’s easy to allow “helping” ministries to take over a church’s focus.  We should help people – but we are first and foremost a body of Christ.

b)      The Gospel – while helping others, we must also be diligent about sharing the good news while doing it.  If people don’t know “why” we are helping them; they’ll just view us as doing our daily good deed.  We need to communicate that we are showing the love of Christ and then share what Christ did for us and them.  That by having faith in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life because of his work on the cross – they can become a part of God’s family. (Not sharing the Gospel can become “de-evangelism”)

c)       How much can or should we do? – This will need to be evaluated as time goes by.  We have other ministries, other ways to advance the Gospel, Gospel Communities, KidZone, etc.  We can’t do it all – but as we see opportunities, we can and should love our neighbors as we have opportunity.

There are critics of this type of ministry who categorize such efforts as the “Social Gospel”; however, by always emphasizing sharing Jesus, churches can avoid falling into this trap.  Jesus helped people!

Also, there will be other “service-evangelism” type of efforts in the future: our Gospel Communities will take on projects, our whole body will engage in some efforts, and I trust that individually we will show people the love of Christ in our everyday lives.

John Maxwell says, “You can impress people from a distance; but you can only impact them up close.”  Let’s be a church that loves God, each other, and our neighbors enough to get up close and share a helping hand – and the Gospel.

GET OUT…of the office

I’m at Bruegger’s Bagels this morning.  Their coffee is great and I’m becoming a bagel connoisseur; but that’s not why I’m here.  My books, computer, and Bible are in front of me and I’m studying for upcoming messages; but that’s not why I’m here.  I could get coffee and something to eat at home.  I could study in the GREAT office some dear people remodeled for me.

So why am I here and not studying in my office or getting something cheaper to eat at home?

I’m here because I’m a church-planter/pastor/Christian.  I need to meet people, be around people, understand the community, and develop relationships through which to share the Gospel.

I could study in my office (and I do).  In fact, I would probably get more done and be more efficient in my office.  However, sitting here reminds me of what I’m called to do.  It reminds me about the many, many people in our area that God loves and for whom Christ died.  What I need is not a quiet place to study; but a sense of urgency for souls (that sounds so old school).  But souls are in the balance. Jesus told his disciples in John 4:35 to, “…lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”

I can’t see the fields from my office or home.

So, this morning I’m at Brueggers…to study, to pray over our body at Grace Fellowship, to remind myself of God’s purpose, to meet people and to maintain a sense of urgency.

Oh yeah…and to enjoy this great Bruegger’s house blend.

Email to Pastor Bill Wilson – Metro Ministries

Dear Pastor Bill,

 

THANK YOU!

 

I came to visit Metro Ministries for a few days last spring.  I wanted to learn about the man and the ministry behind the documentary  I saw on cable late one night, “The Legend of Pastor Bill.”  My visit was truly an inspiring experience.

 

I rode with Willie on his route and helped with a couple of sidewalk Sunday Schools.  I saw him teach the Bible with passion to a couple crowds of kids and parents.  I saw your interns interact with the kids, give snacks, pray with people.  I saw people without hope hear the real hope of Jesus Christ.

 

I also rode your bus! But you were on vacation 🙂  I saw kids get on who I’m sure have tough home backgrounds; but who were very excited about going to Sunday School.  Some were quiet and some jabbered away.  Some were sleepy and some were on Captain Crunch cocaine (if you know what I mean).  But the interns and staff loved them all, had fun with them, and got them to the building. During the Sunday School the kids had a solid, fun message about the Bible; they saw some great skits; had a blast singing songs; and were told how much the staff and God loved them.

 

It was one of the most inspiring and vision-building events of my life.

 

AND – at our new church plant, we are offering a new ministry based off your model.  On Wed nights we have a “KidZone” ministry.  We share the Gospel, give the kids prizes, help them learn verses, encourage them to bring their friends, and give them Bibles.

 

We’re small; but we’re trusting God and working hard to reach our community.  The first night two weeks ago we had 20 teens, 34 elementary kids, and 10 in the nursery. We had over 104 total! You can see some pic’s attached.

 

You, your ministry staff, and Metro Ministries inspired us to offer this.  God is changing lives on Des Moines East side because of you !

 

Pastor Bill – TELL YOUR STAFF THANKS!! They are a great group of folks!  You are and should be proud of them.

 

Thank you for being a world-changer for Jesus!

 

Sincerely,

 

Shawn Barr

Lead Pastor

Grace Fellowship Church

Des Moines, IA

www.gfdesmoines.com