Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Day 53 of 365: Offering Advice During a Pandemic

 

I was in a discussion earlier with many pastors from around our state. The topic of discussion was how our churches are doing through the pandemic. We have all suffered, learned and seen some good things through these difficult times. 


For Radiant Fellowship, we have been offering virtual church since 2010. During this pandemic however, we have exponentially ramped up our game. We went from a strategically placed webcam to a full on mixing console with direct sound from the sound board. The video is better as well. I am excited for the prospect of continuing on with our online presence. For a smaller church, we are doing what we can with what we have without having to go into debt over it. 


What has discouraged me however (and other pastors I have chatted with) are the well meaning parishioners that either watch from home or attend in person and critique the church while not pitching in. I can speak for the church that I pastor that a total of 6 people have kept this thing afloat during these difficult times. When we first had to shut down to when we were doing church in the parking lot with our FM broadcaster, we have done a lot. I am thankful that we did not have to shut down for one week during all of this. I attribute this to the amount of tech and teamwork it took to stay a float. 


I recall not long into having to do church differently and amidst my moments of panic, I received a text message saying our worship is doing the same songs. There was even one that rolled in stating we should start our kids ministry as well. These well meaning comments are fine really. My only gripe is that they were coming from people that were not willing to step in or attend in person so that they could help. Trust me when I say a pastor knows what is missing or could be ramped up during these times…at least they should. The last thing they need to hear from a person is what’s missing or what could change without offering some degree of help. 


Many pastors have left the ministry during this pandemic. Many MANY more are really tired but looking on the bright side of life. This according to an article/video by Barna,

“When it comes to emotional well-being, there are both positive and negative trends. Despite disruptions, over half of pastors (55%) have primarily felt happy in the last week, and other favorable emotions surface too (36% grateful, 26% optimistic, 16% content). Yet another half (51%) admits they were tired. Two in five say they primarily felt exhausted (41%), sad (41%) or panicked (39%) last week. Other concerning emotions less commonly felt include a sense of being powerless (17%), angry (16%) or indifferent (5%). There are some signs that leaders could be receiving support, however; over one-third felt helped (37%) or strong (35%).”


I say all of that to say this, when you offer a suggestion to a pastor…rethink it. If you are not willing to step in and help then it might not be so wise to offer your constructive criticism. We will get back to normal at some point but many churches (the one I pastor included) run and rely on volunteers. I am so thankful for all that they do and will not even consider asking them to do more. We’ve come this far and we will make it to the end. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Day 52 of 365: I Suck?

You Suck! Those were the words I received in an anonymous text this afternoon while talking to my dad on the phone. I had just come home from church and really enjoyed the morning seeing many come back to church after being away for awhile. No matter how many times a critique or mean comment comes my way, it always takes me by surprise. It’s never easy to deal with. 

It is easy for me to let my mind wander and think about who might have sent it but that proves to be frivolous. The reason being that this coward or cowards are using an anonymous texting service. This is very indicative of the society we live in today which has been fostered since the internet first got going. 


Our world is in a place where everything can be debated, rated and heavily critiqued. We make it so easy to do so. I remember my times of being a youth pastor the kids talked about a website called “hot or not”. You could literally rifle through pictures of the opposite sex and give them a thumbs up or thumbs down. Online reviews via Yelp, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc. took off as well. We almost have made it a hobby to critique things. If you had a good experience then you rate it well. Perhaps that dining experience was not so much; a barrage of online reviews which spreads like wild fire will then begin.  


Negative comments and reviews somehow standout. You can get 20 nice compliments but the one that crawls into your headspace is that negative one. Don’t believe me? How many times have you looked at reviews for a product you wanted to buy off Amazon? You can read all of those positive reviews but the minute you read a negative one, you decide not to purchase the item. It happens a lot. 


This world would be a better place if we heeded the advice from many of our parents/grandparents. You know the saying “if you don’t have anything nice to say; then don’t say anything at all.” We have to learn to play nice and for those on the receiving end of these gripes...we must develop thick skin and press on. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Day 51 of 365: Cigars

 

Do you know what the difference is between a $10.00 cigar and a $50.00 one? I asked a cigar shop owner this very question and the response I received was intriguing. He said, “there is no difference really. The fact that you paid $50.00 for one however means that that cigar demands your attention.” He went on to tell me how when you slow down to enjoy something you will notice all the little details of it. 


This got me thinking quite a bit lately which is really good because this question was asked almost 8 years ago. There is a saying in the Zen religion that goes like this “When you drink tea…drink tea.” Both of these sayings are reminders of how much we ought to live in the moment. That we would do well to live each day as though it matters. 


James chapter 4 verse 14 says “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Isn’t it funny how the Bible, Zen and cigar theology all point to the need to slow down and not worry about tomorrow? Yet, we don’t. 


Let me just say that if self-help books really helped then we would be living our best lives. We get so wrapped up into the next day or that next thing on the schedule that we really find ourselves not enjoying the here and now. Some people have a hard time sitting down and doing nothing. It’s as if they almost feel guilty for doing that. It's not okay. 


So many times us as Christians are living chaotic lives that even in our downtime we are thinking of the next thing to do. How about we live a little. If you have kids take them sledding or some other activity. Do something for yourself like read a book, take up a hobby or find some time to nap. We will find that our lives will be happier if we live in the now verses always worrying about the next thing. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Day 50 of 365: Dealing With Criticism

 

So the other day I received a short and to the point email. All it said was “Hi there, I really do not appreciate Classic Rock.... (signed…blah blah).” I left the name out to protect the innocent and curmudgeonie. This person was referring to the current series I am in. Now, I have taken a lot of hits over the years and this one really wasn’t so bad. As my mom would say “just consider the source” and so I am moving on.

I wonder how many people reading this has ever been criticized? Have you ever done something that you were proud of only for it to be taken down? This happened when I wrote my first book. There was a structured take down by a few people. Much like this random email…you get that warm hazy feeling like when you have been kicked in the stomach. 


I suppose one could get cranked up and not think about what you say back to this person but what does that accomplish? I can tell you first hand not a whole lot of good. How do I know this? Let’s just call it experience. The whole critique was on one small item and yet how is it we can be utterly dominated by it? This doesn’t just apply to pastors but business owners, realtors, beauticians…on and on the list goes. 


What I have come to learn is that the goal with all criticism is to become a non-reactive presence. Proverbs 15:1-2(NIV) A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.  The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness. It’s not healthy to take that criticism and immediately start throwing punches. Why? Because you don’t know what else is in the room. 


What else is in the room? The first thing to ask when someone confronts you is that simple question…what else is in the room? You make a big mistake when you take the first critique and try to address it. Proverbs 20:3(NIV) Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling. You can go after that first question and completely miss the question behind that question. I have discovered many years ago that you do not have to defend yourself. First impulse is usually to defend. The first thing however is to ask questions so that you can address the issue behind the issue. For example…what is the question behind the question. What is the critique behind the critique? Fear behind the fear? Issue behind the issue?


For some people in churches they see something they don’t like and it is a trigger for how things were at their previous church. We see this in marriages don’t we? Now the truth is sometimes you threw the first punch. The goal however is to be a non-reactive presence. Don’t respond right or reply with an email right away…it will not be your finest work. The trick is to take a breath, say a prayer and not respond. Your greatest gift to them is being a non-responsive presence. Matthew 5:9(NIV) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Bottom line from what I have learned over the years regarding random pot shots is to control myself. Trust me when I say a person really doesn’t want to meet Bob. He’s not a very nice guy when backed into a corner. This saved, redeemed pastor Bob is much nicer. You see, you will develop great power if you are not tossed to and fro by the latest email or random text message. No critique ever comes at the right time. People like when others are spinning out of control. Don’t give into it.

What did I do with this email? I simply replied back stating we are all entitled to our opinions. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Day 49 of 365: Keeping Cards

 

I found these cards the other day in my stash of memories that my dad passed along to me after my mom passed away. After my mom passed away my dad began weeding out many things that he no longer wanted to hang on to. I did not begrudge him for doing this because he was planning on making a move to Waupaca. 


My mom held onto a lot of things one of them being greeting cards. One entire drawer of her dresser was filled with cards. A majority of them were ones she received from relatives, etc. The ones I found though were very special to me because they were from the days she was only 20 years old. 


I always wondered why my mom would hang onto cards and then it hit me after she passed away. In my office, I have two cards from her that she gave me the year she passed. One was for my birthday and the other was for father’s day. Each year now when it is my birthday or father’s day, I take a moment to read those cards. It is as if my mom just wrote those cards to me and it makes me so appreciative. 


To this day I save cards from my wife, kids and dad. This may sound morbid but to be honest, I realize we do not know what is going to come our way from day to day. A simple way to remember a person is by keeping cards. For those of us that lost someone close, we know how hard the holidays are along with birthdays. A simple card does not take up a whole lot of space but when the time is right, you will be glad you saved them. 

Day 48 of 365: Joy In The Journey?

 

Joy in the journey? This was a phrase thrown around quite a bit when I posted this picture a few years ago. This picture of a church bulletin from my first service at Radiant Fellowship has been something I kept in my “momentos” file in my desk. Yes, I have a file where I keep pictures, newspaper clips, etc. When I came to the church in Waupaca and received this bulletin it was very nice and I was honored. Truth be told though, I was also a train wreck. 


The things I went through in ministry to get to this point were nothing but painful. Joy was a word that I did not equate to the moment when I saw my name in that bulletin.


Just a few weeks prior to coming up to Waupaca, I was hopeful. The pastor I served under made some poor moral choices and I thought since I was the youth and associate pastor of that church for 8 years that I would be considered as the new pastor. I submitted my resume with great anticipation only to be told a week later sitting at a Perkins with the interim pastor to pull my resume. I asked why because Tracy and I loved that church. We were told “because the board doesn’t want you there.” 


Fast forward just a few weeks and there I was in Waupaca. Sure, I could have taken two other positions but this one felt right. Little did I know a year and a half later I would go through a storm once again. 


I say all of that because when someone goes through a very difficult time in life. The last thing you would want to say to them (though well meaning) is that there was joy in the journey. Honestly, I can say there was zero joy in that journey. God certainly redeemed that situation but to say there was joy? Probably no. I am pretty confident many in the Bible would agree with those sentiments.

This is the life of a pastor though. There are MANY joys in the journey but there are certainly many non-joyous moments as well. Through it all though I have learned to trust in Jesus and let him direct my steps. 


Side note: I have since shredded this bulletin since I don't even consider that to be a part of this current church.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Day 47 of 365: I Love Blogging

As it stands right now my blog has had 196,317 views. To me that is staggering to think about even though I have been blogging since 2010. This number ticks up each day by a few more unless I get really opinionated and then it tacks on about 200+ views per day. 

One of the things that still gets me about my blog is how it has ruffled so many feathers when a majority of the posts are simply my opinion. I have received a ton of positive comments for blogs that I have written over the years. Blogs ranging from being green to my thoughts on movies. 


The thing that stands out to me the most though have been the ones that told me my writings have ruffled feathers at their church. This happened at a couple of churches in Milwaukee, Waupun and even in my own city. My cousin who was on the board at a church in Waupun told me that I was regularly talked about in the lobby at their church regarding my writing. There were a couple of times that the pastor would blast me from the stage. Some might get offended when that happened but I always considered it a badge of honor. I am not saying I was always right because Lord knows that was not the case. 


Regardless of all of that, I will keep on blogging my thoughts as I see it through the eyes of a pastor. It is funny how some can get so worked up over another persons opinion. Here is my thought about blogs (since they are one persons opinion); don’t take them so seriously and if you have opinions about things then start your own blog. It’s actually kind of therapeutic. 

Day 46 of 365: Jesus Lingo

In Christianity we can say some pretty goofy things. I have, you have….we are all guilty of it. My biggest pet peeve Christianese saying though has to be when missionaries say “We are going to take God to…..”. I realize what they are saying but the fact is God is already there. It doesn’t matter if it is Sudan, Manila or the inner city of Chicago. A missionary is not going to be taking God anywhere. He is already there. 

Yesterday a local church posted a video in an attempt to get their congregants back into church. Let me clarify that I understand the desperation in wanting to see this happen. We have been on again, off again with meeting in person more times than I care to mention. People have become conditioned to the virtual church thing and it shows with in person attendance. 


In this video though one of the workers from the church said “Jesus is looking for you.” I have to admit this gave me the ebgbs because I knew what this person was saying but once again…Jesus has found you. It is very reminiscent of when God was looking for Adam in the book of Genesis. He asked Adam “Where are you?” He knew…it was more of an inner question however. 


I have learned a long time ago to leave these catchy little phrases alone. The heartbeat of God in the New Testament is the local church. I am convinced of that. There is a lot of joy when any church can have all of it’s congregants there. Fact is the church suffers greatly in volunteers, fellowship, tithes, social events, etc. when there are so many missing. I just think instead of saying “Jesus is looking for you” it would be better to just say “we really miss you”. Jesus has found us…nuff said.

Day 45 of 365: If God is Prodding You...

 

Listening to the voice of God is a very important thing in the life of a Christian. For me, I can honestly say the way He speaks to me is through persistent prodding or having a peace about something. Yesterday was one of those times I listened to God in what I should do. 


Back in 1994 when I worked in a Christian bookstore, we stocked a new holy hip-hop compilation called, Microphone Theology. This featured new up and coming artists. The very first cut was one called, We Mobbin by a group called S.S. Mob (Soul Saving Ministers on Board). It was phenomenal and a breath of fresh air. From that day on I kept an eye out for any new albums from this group. The lead person was a guy named, Shon. His name in the group S.S. Mob was King Shon and to this day has a very distinct voice and persona. 


These days Shon works with huge names in hip-hop like Drake and others. His business called Gold Street Entertainment is very successful. I have messaged him here and there and we always had cordial conversation. Yesterday though I felt the prodding to send him this message…

“Hey Shon, 

I realize we have never met. We have chatted back and fourth though. Back in 1994 I remember stocking the compilation Microphone Theology. The first track on that album was, We Mobbin. After that album hit our store, I kept my eye open for other albums from S.S. Mob. Living in Milwaukee, I knew those albums were going to hit...and they did. 


I am now a pastor at Radiant Fellowship (www.radiantfellowship.net) in Waupaca which is two hours north of Milwaukee. It's a smaller rural church working it's way through this pandemic. I have been here 17 years now. 


With all of that said, I know you hear from a lot of people each day. What I am not sure is that you hear the words, I am proud of you. Shon, what you have done in the industry is absolutely amazing. It is evident that God's blessing is on you and so from a 46 year old pastor that once sold many of your albums, I would like you to hear those words from me. I am proud of you man. You've come a long way. Keep on keeping on. 


God Bless,”


It wasn’t very long that I received this message back from him.

“WOW WOW WOW .. man of God & wow .. you have left me speechless and deeply moved because you’re right I don’t hear those words & only God could’ve told you that. I have maybe a few pastors over the years that are very proud of me and then some in the hundreds watch me ( online in my Instagram esp just watching ) still waiting for me to fail somehow not saying one single word.  I cherish this today Bob and I thank you .. God spoke through you today for me I’m so blessed I’ve been showing all of my staff ( I jus mentioned this a few days ago & many times here & there over the years, 

My roots come from a Hispanic ministry & im black so they see me as a person but not as a son ) .. so I give you triple thank you’s to tell you thank you again for blessing me today I’m glad I was able to be a blessing to you and still am .. 

I can’t describe to you the feeling I have but I thank you man of God .. thank you Pastor Bob thank you.”


What I am saying is that it does not matter who the person is and on what level they are. If God is prompting you to speak life into someone else then do it. I was so blessed by the fact that it was the right timing for this guy.

Day 44 of 365: Lent

 

I will have to admit that lent is something I have never really practiced. Being raised in an Assemblies of God church (pentecostal), this was something never really practiced…and here’s the thing…that’s ok. 


Lent is something that historically has been practiced by methodists, lutherans and catholics. It is the practice of giving up something. According to the BBC “Millions of people do this during Lent as a sign of sacrifice and to test their self-discipline. Christians believe that this is to represent Jesus Christ's sacrifice when he went into the desert to pray and fast for the 40 days before later dying on the cross.” 


It is a common thing to give up something that they hold dear. For some it is social networking and others it might be a certain kind of food. My pastor friend said for lent he is giving up prayer and reading the Bible. Of course he was just kidding so settle down. 


I have no problem with lent or the people that practice it. What I do have a problem with is the ones that consider it a Biblical practice. Honestly, when someone makes the practice of lent to be a Christian attribute…it is at that moment legalism creeps in.

What I mean by that is if a person judges you on something that is not even scriptural, there is a problem. This is how legalism works. Let’s say a new church starts singing, How Great Thou, Art. A person might stand up when that song hits the chorus. Over time more people will stand and/or raise a hand during it. Well, other people might not stand but if the majority is and said person is not then they are looked almost down on.

This can be said of lent. If you practice it…keep on keeping on. If you do not then that is okay as well. What really matters is that you are serving the Lord. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Day 43 of 365: Christian?

 

It would appear I snoozed a lot of people on Facebook 31 days ago. Sometimes I am not sure what is worst. Christians using scripture WAY out of context or Christians that keep blasting the church or those that have no religious affiliation simply firing off ignorant comments about current events. Simply wanting to spread hate under the moniker of "trying to make a difference." 


Fact of the matter is that those who are not Christians and act out, I have way more of a tolerance for them than I do for the ones that call themselves Christians and are constantly posting toxic stuff. It’s pretty easy…Jesus said “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If a Christian is posting a lot of hate….plain and simple….they are not a Christian. 


We all have our flaws but when you are constantly being a hateful person, you are the furthest thing away from Christ. Don’t believe me? What about where Jesus said “By their fruit you will recognize them.” Plain and simple…don’t see fruit…you can’t possibly be a Christian. For a Christian to steam roll those who do not think like them (applies to politics) are like someone who runs a person over only to ask if they can help them up. 


I am convinced that if you want to be a witness for Christ these days then be nice. That’s it…that’s all there is to it. If you want to keep tarnishing the title of Christian then keep on keeping on. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Day 42 of 365: Today Was a Tough Day

Today marked one of the toughest Sundays I have had in a long time. Quite a few factors played into it to be honest. The temperature being in the tank at -15 degrees along with snow removal made for a miserable pre church experience. I am grateful for a great snow blower but the fact one is snow blowing in -15 degree temps made things a bit frustrating. It’s not that it snowed a lot but we did receive some the day before and then the blowing took place. 

Once I came inside there was the minor task of not only being the speaker but also the coffee maker, sound man, virtual church tech and more. Can I just say how difficult it is to run the tech end of life while needing to deliver a sermon? Yeah it’s not my favorite and should this predicament happen again we simply won’t meet in person. It will be only virtual. 


The redeeming factor in it all though was the fact that my friend, Glenn Kaiser was willing to record a worship set for the church. All one has to do is Google that name and you will see all of this man’s accomplishments. What is refreshing about this scenario is that there are still a handful of artists willing to this type of thing. Many Christian artists these days (and this has been the case for a long time) don’t really do these kind of things unless there is talk of a healthy honorarium and more. There are still artists that do Christian music for ministry.


To be honest I am glad this day is over in that aspect. COVID has been difficult on churches and I am glad we have made it this far. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Day 42 of 365: 25 Years in Full Time Ministry

 

While kicking back this evening and scrolling through memories on Facebook, I was reminded that 25 years ago today I entered into full time ministry as a pastor. It’s funny how that seemed so long ago. Those were good days when I first took the position. Never once in ministry as a pastor did I apply to be on staff. The way I became a youth pastor was through a Christian skate night that I would DJ every Friday night. The pastor from Bay View A/G brought his group up to skate. My youth pastor and this guy spoke and eventually I was asked if I would like a youth pastor position. 


After staying at that church for 8 years, I decided to resign and move along thanks in part to the advice of a friend in the district office of the Assemblies of God. Even though this past August we celebrated 15 years at Radiant Fellowship, the fact is that I have been there for 17 years. I choose not to keep that first segment as youth pastor in my memory. It was an awful time for me and my wife. 


Anyway, here’s to another 25 years in ministry! I think I am going to celebrate tomorrow by stopping at Kwik Trip for a rice crispie square. 

Day 41 of 365: A Role Model to My Daughter

 

Ever since I have been married to Tracy (19 years this June), I have enjoyed doing things for her. From showing up at her work with a Starbucks and flowers to surprising her with gifts…this is something I enjoy doing. My favorite was when my kids and I brought a picnic lunch to her at work this past summer since we could not go in. This probably trickles over from the fact that my love language is physical gifts. She knows she is loved because I tell her every day but I have always been a gift giver. I am quite confident that I got this trait from my mom. 


It has been in the back of my mind that the kids are watching everything I do. This really came alive to me when I surprised Tracy with a new car this past November. Her car was getting A LOT of miles on it and so I decided to trade in my Chevy HHR with 180,000 on it. Now I use her old car as my cruiser. I used that trade in towards a new ride for her. It was a fun thing for me to do. I loaded the kids up in it and drove to the place where she works. After taking the plates off of her car and putting them on the new car, I then put the new car where she normally parks complete with a bow on it. I parked the old car down a ways in the parking lot. After watching a movie on my iPad complete with snacks, Tracy came walking out of work. The kids got to see first hand Tracy’s surprised look. 


When we got home that night we ate dinner. Emma said “Mom…you got a good man. He knows how to treat you.” This lead into a conversation with her from Tracy regarding how a man should treat a lady. Of course it is not always going to be a car, but to show acts of love and kindness is huge. Just this morning Tracy said she was freezing so after I got done removing snow at home and church, I stopped at Dunkin for a mocha. Emma saw that and was happy for Tracy. A simple mental note on my part made for another thoughtful gesture. 


A few days ago, I surprised the family with plans for spring break. I addressed everyones envelope with a label that said “TOP SECRET: NAME”. For Tracy’s I did not use her name but rather Sweet Cheeks McGee. Emma once again could not stop talking about it, laughing, etc. She was truly enthralled by that name. That I would call Tracy that. It was another teaching moment for her. Emma read the envelope yesterday once again and just said "Sweet Cheeks McGee" followed by a giggle. 


Since that day I have said, “you be sure when you eventually date that the man treats you the way I treat your mom.” I went on to say “any guy that wants to date you will have to be approved by me (jokingly) so that he knows how to treat a lady. If he doesn't pass...I will punch him”. Fact is there have been many times where I have taken James and Noah (though still very young) to surprise Tracy at work so that they can see how a man should treat a lady. No doubt they see me doing laundry, dishes and cooking dinner as well.


The Bible talks a lot about mentoring the younger ones. It is so easy to get wrapped up into the day to day dealings that one can forget the little things which really turn out to be big. When you are a parent there are always little eyes watching how you treat your spouse. I would imagine the same applies even when your kids are grown up. It is always important to model to your kids what a Godly husband or wife ought to be. Of course there will be some not so glorious moments…this is life. As a whole though we ought to do our best. I am a romantic and love pampering my wife. I am glad….it’s an answer to prayer really that my daughter is taking notice so that she knows not to settle for a shlub but rather someone who is going to love her the way her daddy loves her mom. 

Day 40 of 365: Church and Technology

 

During rona season it is vitally important for churches to be wired in. It doesn’t matter the size of the church, you can be virtual with fancy high end equipment or bare bones. At the end of the day if you have a smartphone, you can run a full on virtual church experience. Of course there are some higher end ways of doing this. I am absolutely convinced the way we do church will forever be changed due to this time in life. 

I recall a time in 2007 when I proposed to setting up a virtual church page on our website. It was met with doubt and hesitancy. The fear was that people would end up staying home, not giving, not getting involved, etc. Little did that group realize just a couple of years later we would dabble with online church. In 2009 we began streaming our services via services like Periscope, UStream, etc. Since that time we have been offering our services online. With Facebook and other social networking sites offering streaming services FOR FREE it has never been easier. 


These days it is a way of life for the church. Contrary to popular belief you do not have to spend thousands of dollars to get it done. I was shocked when I heard of one church spending just over $10,000 to be online. This was over the top for their needs. Bottom line is if you are pastor and wondering how to do the online thing…email me: PastorBobAdams@gmail.com and I would be glad to show you how to do this. 


Technology should be used regularly in churches. If you are opposed to it and struggling to stay afloat in these times please realize it is okay to do this. Even more so you can learn…it’s quite easy. 

Day 39 of 365: A Forrest...Forrest Gump Life

 

I am only 46 years old (47 on April 29th) and am always so thankful for all the people that God has placed in my path. The opportunities he has afforded me since I began working at the age of 16. I began working at a toy store in Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa, WI. The store was called Circus World later to be purchased by Kay-Bee. I was brought on to be the video game guru. The hot system of the day was the Sega Genesis. 


During my breaks I would meander down to Family Christian Bookstore to rifle through the latest and greatest in Christian rock/metal. My common question for the store manager was if Ken Tamplin or Shout had anything new out. It was just a matter of time until I was asked if I would like a job there to help with the music sales. At 18 years old I took the job. This lead me to be wooed to two other Christian bookstores in Milwaukee to assist in their music department. The stores were ProBuColl’s and Something More. 


Those years as a music buyer I got to meet many Christian artists. I was also afforded the opportunity to attend many concerts, etc. with a press pass which means I got to rub shoulders with many artists. I would regularly get calls from Steven Curtis Chapman, Toby Mac and more to make sure we received the latest promotional materials for their albums. Those were really good days. 


To this day I feel like I have lived a bit of a Forrest Gump life. With all of the meet and greets, I can honestly say I enjoyed those days. There were even a few times when I would lead the devotional or sing at the chapel service for Nascar drivers before the big race at the Milwaukee Mile. 


I now remember my roots and lean on them once in awhile like this coming Sunday. Our worship leader is taking a couple of weeks off. This lead me to sending a message to a musician I really enjoy. Glenn Kaiser was/is the lead singer of the Resurrection Band. Pioneers of Christian rock. Not only have I had the pleasure of hosting Glenn on several occasions but during rona season, he has offered to record a worship set for the church I pastor. 


Moments like those always remind me of how grateful I am for the path I have gone through in life. God has quite the way of orchestrating our lives. 

Day 38 of 365: Used Car Syndrome

One of the mistakes I made a long time ago as a pastor is thinking that doing kind works will actually help grow the church. I was sorely mistaken. A family member who was the pastors personal secretary in a neighboring town in a church of 500+ told me this “we have a policy…if we want someone to leave…buy them a car.” Allow me to explain. 


You will always find a church where someone that attends will be down on their luck or honestly simply doesn’t want to work and views unemployment as God’s gift to them. The church leadership will begin to scheme and figure out ways to bless this person. Somehow they think if they can provide a car to this needy person that they will use it to find a job since they now have a set of wheels. In most cases it will not a be a new car but it will certainly be a new to them car. 


I realize this is very transparent but the problem with handing someone a new car who does not have the means to keep it up is that it will never end. It could to lead to conversations of needing gas cards or shaking down mechanics to help maintain it. Oddly enough in ALMOST every case where I have been a part of something big like putting a new roof on someone’s home to saving a person from losing something to collections, it is just a matter of time until that person leaves the church.


Let me clarify that churches ought not do these handouts in hopes of having a "we did this for you and now you will stay at bring people" mentality. Why do I want to clarify that? Because it is not a healthy way to view people. Churches should never give hoping to get something in return. That is a sick mindset. We ought to serve out of the love of our heart. 


It is good to help people out but if you are reading this and think surely this would never happen in a church…you haven’t been around long enough. This happens on larger levels as well but I will spare you the details. The best thing you can do for someone who is down and out is to help out in portions otherwise you will have a celebration moment. A video perhaps that you can show in church regarding what your church did but that will fizzle rapidly and again, said person will end up leaving the church. 

In the words of the great James Hatfield “You know it’s sad but true”. 

 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Day 37 of 365: Sermon Prep and a Team

Something I have been milling around lately is how many of today’s worship songs are written by 2, 3 or more people. This takes songs like Rich Mullins’ Awesome God and makes it a rarity. I am not saying this is a bad thing but I feel the days of one artist writing a song might very well be a thing of the past. Now you get chart toppers like Oceans, etc. There are countless other songs that are sung all across the world in churches that were written by many different artists. What you get is churches dropping songs of the past that may have “run their course”. Kind of makes you wonder how a worship song can run it’s course but perhaps that is for another blog. 

This same thing happens in larger churches regarding the sermon. I have colleagues at other churches (and I can only speak for Assembly of God churches) where the pastor comes up with the direction in which he wants to go with his sermon. This is then put before the “imaginative team” or whatever catchy phrase is used for a think tank of staff members. They will take the pastors message and essentially tell him what is lame, what is good, what could be reworked and where a human video might fit into it (sorry being a little snarky on that last point). What they end up with is a message melded together by many people weighing in much like a worship song that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. 


It really is like an indie (independent) artist gigging at bars, etc. playing their own music and singing their own hand-written lyrics versus the likes of top 40 radio. I won’t make a comment here of how the better music really likes with the indie artists. 


A pastor of a small church is much like that indie artist. From message content to the artwork for that message series…many pastors do it all when it comes to crafting a message or message series. What you get is a well prayed through and put together message. Sure there might be a thing or two that will cause others to judge but that happens in any church. 


Bottom line, the craft of putting together a message by one pastor is slowly becoming a thing of the past in the larger churches. We ought to celebrate the pastors of both smaller and larger churches that put their own messages together. The creative genius and time spent in prayer is to be honored. 

Day 36 of 365: Small Churches

 

One of the biggest struggles for a little church is the fluctuation of forward motion and losing a few steps once again. When someone comes into a smaller church they are smitten with the quaintness of it. Do you know how many times someone has come into Radiant Fellowship only to compliment it and tell me “I sure feel like God is up to something here.”? That happens a lot actually. Let me clear up a few misconceptions though. 


First, one of the worst usages of “Christianese” is to walk into a smaller church and say “I sure feel like God is up to something”. The fact is, God is always up to something be it in a smaller sized church or a large megachurch. God is always up to something outside of the church. We see things all the time but even more so is the stuff God does behind the scenes. To say something like that is right up there with a missionary saying “we are going to take God to….so and so country.” God is already at so and so country and with lingo like that…that person might actually stifle the work that God is doing there already. 


Second, many people are afraid of small churches. Usually they are the ones that attend after leaving a larger place of worship. As I said earlier, they are smitten with the size and quaintness of the smaller church but once they realize it is run by mostly volunteers…all of a sudden they understand things might not be as polished. There will be details that fall between the cracks or a certain ministry might not even exist. This is the life of a small church. You work with what you have and 9 times out of 10 it is with quality people giving of their time to make church and ministry happen. You might even find a pastor that is not perfect and will use lingo not typical of a pastor (whatever that looks like). This might be due in part to the fact the pastor wears many different hats. From pastor to "counselor" to maintenance man to custodian. Us pastors of small churches know we are not perfect and don't necessarily word things properly. A lot falls on the shoulders of a pastor in a smaller church. Show some grace.


The fact is a smaller church will never EVER be like one that is larger. A smaller church with only 40-60 people will never measure up and to be honest that is okay. They might not have the latest/greatest sanctuary and they might not have numerous “employees” on staff and to be honest they will never carry the debt many larger churches have….to all of that I say, that is ok. What they can offer (at least for Radiant Fellowship) is a place where you will always be greeted with a smile. A place that keeps the main thing the main thing and that is ministry to it’s own and outreach to the city. It is a church where physical goals, ie, building programs are not the thrust of it’s ministry. There is a church in town that is raising $40,000.00 for a new sign. To that I say good for them...go for it! If people are willing to support it then run with it. For a church the size of Radiant Fellowship though, $40,000.00 for a sign would actually pay off all but $15,000.00 of our mortgage.  Ministry is and always will remain the goal. When you keep the main thing the main thing which is ministry and outreach…it doesn’t matter what size you are…you win. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Day 35 of 365: Who's The Problem?

This will not be a very long blog. I have been giving a lot of thought to people that go through friends. The ones that make friends and then lose them. They could lose them for any number of reasons but nonetheless they go through friends rather quickly. Perhaps a person that goes through friends like crazy might be wondering what it is about everyone when. The problem might be the one losing all the friends. 

That same principle applies to people that go through jobs like crazy. The ones who always seem to be working for a mean boss. Once again the problem probably isn’t the boss if you are  getting a new job every year. The problem might be the one always leaving saying nothing is working out. 


Perhaps (okay, I know it does) this trickles over into churches. I have seen it over and over again where someone will come into the church. They will air out all of their grievances about their former church and enter into this honeymoon phase at the new church. I can understand this happening if said person did not switch churches every other year but that is kind of rare. It’s just a matter of time until the pastor or fellow congregant says something and they are gone. Gone with both guns blazing and many bow down to find out why when in fact this is this persons M.O. I literally had a couple come to our church quite a few years back and tell me “after a few years we flake out and go to another church”. Well that is what happened. I have learned in these cases to let it go and move on. 


Bottom line if you are a person going through friends, jobs, churches, etc. every few years, I can assure you the friends, jobs, churches are not the problem. You need to check your heart.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Day 34 of 365: Some Messages Bomb

 

It’s no mystery that the best day for a pastor is probably Sunday morning. The day when he gets to deliver a message, fellowship with other believers and be with the church. A week of working on an outline finally comes to fruition. Then....well....sometimes it goes really well and other times not so much. 


For me I felt today was a not so much kind of day. I realize that we are our own toughest critics but I am feeling pretty confident that this Sunday’s message was a bit rough. To me it felt a bit scattered and pulled in different directions. The heart of the message was there but yeah....not a strong delivery. 


I think it is okay for us pastors to think this way about our own ministry or “work” if you will. People in all professions have their off days and today was that for me. I suppose there are many reasons that I felt that way today. Honestly, I can say when there is a lot of snow going on it throws me off. Reason being is that I am usually at church throwing salt and more before service. This year I am thankful for someone to offer assistance in clearing up the snow before service if I removed it the night before.


Extra tasks before service really throws me off as well. I recall a few years back when my son decided to pack the vent to the furnace with rocks. I was trying to figure it out right up to the time I had to speak...and well...it was horrible. I am thankful that other duties come after church. These days on Sunday mornings more times than not it feels like a 2 or 3 person show. After church I don’t just leave, I have to shut all the lights off, put away all the coffee and wash everything, hang out until everyone is gone, etc. Since March of last year it’s been difficult. 


Moving forward though I have learned to do some tasks on Friday so that when I roll in on a Sunday morning most everything is setup and ready to go. There are still a lot of tasks to do afterward but the message is done by then. 


So there...a moment of transparency that pastors (self recognized) do have off days as well when it comes to delivering a message. Trust me...in my head this whole thing played out VERY well ha ha. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Day 33 of 365: Discipleship?

 



This picture sums up how many Christians function. I would never broad stroke and say ALL Christians because that simply isn’t true. Many though lack basic discipleship in their life to understand how God works. When life’s struggles come and people are faced with a monumental task, diagnosis or even day to day living…it is evident scripture is used out of context often. This happens each Sunday when many pastors deliver a sermon. I certainly have been guilty of using scripture out of context. I think back to some of the messages I gave as a youth pastor or even my early days as a pastor and cringe. 


I am not going to get into a discussion how we should rightly divide the word of God but I would like to expound on a couple of topics in regards to scripture. Something that I feel is severely lacking today is discipleship. Discipleship in it’s most slimmed down definition is teaching biblical precepts, while modeling and guiding others toward living righteously as followers of Jesus Christ. Perhaps that is why I love one of the core values of the church I pastor. That specific core value says “caring relationships are the best context for true discipleship.” This might also be the reason I am not a fan of boxed discipleship studies. It’s because discipleship is not effective unless it is coupled with mentorship. 


A question I am asked often is if we have life groups at our church. My answer is usually no. We have tried it again and again in the past to no avail. Either the host family runs out of zeal for it or quite honestly, it’s difficult to find a discipleship in a box curriculum. What I believe to be far better discipleship is when a person or group of people come with me to serve with our outreach ministry. Perhaps our men’s ministry where we simply get together for a meal and enjoy conversation with a group of guys that in a heart beat would do anything for anyone is more effective than watching a DVD. We have conversations pertaining to the Christian life but we also put it into action through serving and showing how to live the life of a Christian. 


Unfortunately, Christendom is infatuated with speakers that are polished (externally), etc. Many are not into being taught discipleship from someone who is doing their best regardless of kids being crazy and not fitting the “norm”. To quote my friend Pastor Bob Beeman "It is such a balance that people don't understand. When we think of discipleship, we think of sitting in a boring classroom tolerating a curriculum that everyone hates. But when you couple it with real life situations and relationships, then it becomes relational." 


Perhaps more on this in the future. 

Day 32 of 365: My Biggest Cheerleader

 

It’s no mystery that I have been through quite a bit as a pastor. Most of the garbage I went through took place between 2002-2005. This was the time frame in which the board in Milwaukee at the church I served on essentially took a dump on me. Fast forward to the spring/summer of 2005 and it all happened again with the pastor I served under here in Waupaca. 


Through all of this that I went through my mom used a phrase that really summed up a lot of scenarios. Whenever something happened or if she heard something going on she would say “oh…those dummies”. It’s safe to say my mom was my biggest cheerleader. This really how it ought to be by the way. A mother's love runs deep. 


When you are pastoring a church it is always helpful to have a cheerleader in your corner. Pastors especially in smaller churches go through a lot of garbage. Knowing that my mom was always there to hear me out was vitally important. Sure my dad was there but his replies were typical for a father. Short, one or two word answers. 


Let me encourage you pastors of smaller churches to find someone that is there in your corner through thick and thin. The key thing about my mom is that she was also well aware of my shortcomings. Having her as a friend in my corner, I could be vulnerable in the strengths and weaknesses. A pastor simply cannot go wrong with someone like that in your corner. Perhaps that is why I miss her so much…she was my mom but also my biggest cheerleader in ministry. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Day 31 of 365: A Sunday Morning

If there is one thing I dislike very much on any given Sunday is to feel rushed before church. Confession time…even though I have pastored Radiant Fellowship for over 15 years there is not a week that goes by where I do not feel some sense of nervousness. Perhaps it is PTSD from the early days where I stood by the door hoping and praying that people would attend after all the garbage this little church went through shortly after it’s public launch. I think it is just good old nervousness however. 

My Sunday morning begins at 6:15 (keep in mind church starts at 10:00). By time I am cleaned up and have breakfast it is 7:00 which is the time I like to be at church. There are a few reasons why I like to be to church that early. The first is that our worship team is lead by a great group of volunteers. From the leader to the instrumentalists, I am so appreciative of all that they do. I really don’t care to ask for anything extra of them so I make sure the lights are on, sound system is going and that Pro Presenter is all set. I usually setup Pro Presenter on Friday mornings mind you along with loading in my sermon presentation.


Along with turning everything on, I also try to make the first two pots of coffee for the worship team or whoever rolls in as we get closer to church time. I make sure the bathroom lights are turned on and that the heat is going. This is a real concern up here in da nort woods. 


Once all of those things have been done, I enjoy some quiet time in my office where I spend time looking over my sermon, praying and more. Nothing is more irritating to me than to roll in late. Forty five minutes to a half hour before service starts you will find me walking around the church or lobby chatting, laughing and welcoming people. 


When you have been a part of a church this long and have seen so much. One begins to realize that yes ministry happens once the music/message but even more ministry happens before and after service through conversation and praying for one another. 

Day 30 of 365: Sermon Prep

 

Sermon prep is one of those topics that looks different for every pastor. For some pastors sermon prep happens in a local cafe while for others it happens on the fly. There are some pastors that are bi-vocational and simply download sermons. There are all kinds of ways for a pastor to prepare for the Sunday sermon. 


What I have been doing for years like many pastors is to simply pray and ask God for guidance. This is not to say the examples I listed above do not do that. I am sure they do…in fact all pastors should. What I enjoy about a social networking world is that it becomes easier and easier to know which way a sermon or sermon series should go. I may find inspiration through trending topics, what is popular in pop-culture or what seems to be going on in the political world. I admit I do not do many expository messages. That is taking a passage of scripture and working through it in a sermon format. I am more of a topical sermon giver (is that a word?).


My favorite place to prepare a sermon is within the comfort of my own home office. Rarely do I use the little office at the church to knock out a sermon. There is nothing wrong with it but the office at church is where I go over my sermon one more time on a Sunday morning before service. In my home office it is cozy with a few books, desk, computer and a killer sound system for music. This really helps when I am doing sermon series like the one I am currently in entitled Classic Rock. I can play the song over and over through a good sound system. It inspires me to put a rough draft together. 


Each Monday I come up with a rough draft for the following Sunday. I usually let that sit open on my computer to brew for the week. Throughout the week I will make changes, add stories, delete things, etc. My goal (which usually works out) is to have the finished sermon by Thursday night. This is not to say what I have finished is final. There have been plenty of times where I switched gears and went in another direction due to the Holy Spirit impressing on me a new thought or idea. Even when I was a youth pastor I was never one to prepare a sermon the day of or the night before I was to deliver it. I do recall one pastor priding himself on throwing a sermon together the day of. Let’s just say he is not pastoring any longer. People that attend a church where the pastor is full time deserves a sermon that is well thought out so that they know their pastor is hearing from God on this. 


It’s safe to say that sermon prep is one of my favorite things to do. That and tech Tuesday where I post sermons, put together the weekly email and more. I am a nerd. So there you have it…that’s what sermon prep looks like for me. 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Day 29 of 365: Weak Excuse For Leaving Church

Here is something I have been wrestling with quite a bit lately. I realize this is going to be very opinionated but so are 90% of my blogs. Come to think of it...that is why people have blogs. So that they can express personal thoughts and opinions so here we go. 

In the life of any church...ANY AND ALL CHURCHES there will be people that leave. People that are simply done for one reason or another. Now being a staff pastor or senior pastor for the best part of 24 years I have heard many reasons for leaving a church. Some that are completely understandable and others that leave a pastor thinking....really? 


One of the flimsiest reasons a person has given me for leaving church was “this church is really not taking me to where I once was spiritually.” I would agree that a church ought to give you something to think about. In fact it is argued that there are five distinct purposes for a church. They are...

  1. Spiritual maturity
  2. Community
  3. Discipleship
  4. Service
  5. Growth (numerically and spiritually)


I can understand if a person is striving to live a life of virtue and these needs are not being met. If you are not being prodded and stretched then it might be time to look elsewhere. However, if said person is expecting these things to come automatically while depending heavily alcoholic beverages, poor lifestyle choices, cheating, etc. well then, I think perhaps one needs to quit putting so much responsibility on the church and start cleaning their own closet. 


A church should spur one onto greatness, community, faith, etc. but let me be clear...you have to want it. The problem with the Pentecostal movement that I grew up in and that many others did as well is that we think somehow one trip to the altar will clear that all up. I think it can give us a change of heart but if you are not willing to put that faith into action; well then you can blame the church all you want for your lack of growth. Nothing is going to change however. You will run to the next church only to be let down once again because you are doing nothing in your personal life to cause a change. 


So as I stated earlier, I think some people have a legitimate reason for leaving but really it comes down to the question of what are YOU doing to take YOUR spiritual walk to the next level? The church is a supplement to what you are already doing. 

Day 28 of 365: Just Help

Here we are just one month into the new year and already I have one surgery down that just might take care of my deductible for the year. All of the work they did on my nose one would have thought they could have reduced the size of it but alas, that did not happen. Oh well...here’s to wishful thinking. 

What always amazes me though when I go through these difficult times with my health is people’s generosity in surprising my family with pre-made meals. This weekend we were blessed with a yummy chicken alfredo dish and a fantastic homemade chicken pot pie. We did not ask for them but they showed up. 


This is what I have come to know about helping people. Many times when you ask a person going through a time of loss, surgeries, etc. what they need....they don’t honestly know. The best thing a friend, family member or church friend can do is just show up. Cut the lawn, bring a meal, drop off a gift card it is all appreciated that is IF you are allowed to come to their house. I have heard of cases where the person did not want anyone to come to their home. In that case...you tried. 


Scripture states “our Father knows what we want before we even ask for it...”, I wonder how much that trickles over into the life of a Christian knowing each other’s needs AND HELPING before the one needing help even asks. Hmmmm......

Friday, January 29, 2021

Day 27 of 365: You Need Help!

An interesting thing happened today as I am recovering from sinus surgery. At this point in my life, I am afraid to go to the doctor. It very well could end up with me being referred out to a specialist only to have another surgery. Within the span of one year I have had 6 surgeries. Simply crazy if you ask me. 

I have made mention of this surgery simply because I am a pastor and not showing up at church on Sunday might cause a few people to talk. So, I kind of have to put it out there. Besides that, I believe in the power of prayer. Sure, I made it through the surgery but I attribute that to great medical staff and prayer. 


So...back to the interesting thing that has happened to me today. I received a message from someone who said “you really think what your going through is difficult? Trying going through......”. Now, I certainly won’t say who this person was but what kind of sickness do you need to have in order to try and one up another person’s illness? You wouldn’t believe the crap a pastor puts up with but this certainly rates near the top. That and a person messaging you on the day of your first surgery saying they are leaving the church...another classy move.


If at any point a person becomes so insecure with themself that they need to try and one up another person’s illness...it is time to seek professional help. Honestly, all of the health stuff I have gone through...is not me. What is me is the mountain bike riding, middle of winter kayak riding, hiking, camping fun guy. I can’t wait to get back to all of that once again.